A long-haired woman sits at a table in front of an open laptop with her hands covering her eyes, looking exhausted. She's wearing glasses, which sit at the end of her fingertips, pushed out of the way by her hands.
Signs of burnout include exhaustion, lack of motivation, and disinterest, all of which can manifest in both an employee's daily life and their work. — Getty Images/filadendron

The American Psychological Association estimates that nearly three in five employees experience burnout: the negative impact of work-related stress. Burnout can manifest as a lack of interest, motivation, or energy, as well as a lack of effort at work. Unfortunately, burnout is estimated to cost the economy more than $500 billion annually.

Understanding what causes employees to burn out is the first step toward creating a supportive, inclusive work environment that enables everyone to do their best work. Let’s dive into the top causes of employee burnout.

Workload

When someone has too much to do, and not enough time to do it, they can quickly get too stressed and inch towards burnout. Even high performers can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount they are expected to accomplish each day. Too big a workload can lead to employees making errors, missing deadlines, and having low morale. Avoid over-assigning work to one team member, and keep open lines of communication so employees feel comfortable turning down too much work.

[Read more: 9 Reasons Your Best Employees Are Quitting]

Unfair treatment

Many companies are taking a hard look at their diversity and inclusion policies and employee benefits to make sure employees are treated like people, not just workers. However, unfair treatment remains one of the top causes of employee burnout.

“When employees strongly agree that they are often treated unfairly at work, they are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout,” reported Gallup. “Unfair treatment can include everything from bias, favoritism and mistreatment by a coworker to unfair compensation or corporate policies.”

One way to avoid unfair treatment is to create clear policies around employee conduct, pay, evaluations, and promotions. Implement a strong no-tolerance rule for discrimination of any kind.

Lack of recognition

Employees who feel that their hard work doesn’t mean anything are more likely to burn out. Underappreciated team members are less likely to continue working productively if it seems like there’s no recognition for their efforts.

“Whether it’s a casual thank you or a formal award, being recognized for a job well done is one of the best anecdotes to a stressful week, a disheartening setback, or a tight deadline. It creates pride, loyalty and motivation and is a great way to stave off burnout,” wrote Great Place to Work.

Too big a workload can lead to employees making errors, missing deadlines, and having low morale.

You don’t need to spend a lot to make your team feel appreciated. Taking small moments out of the day to provide positive feedback where needed is all it takes. Celebrate small milestones as well as big ones, and encourage peer-to-peer feedback in addition to top-down motivation.

Lack of connection to others in the workplace

There’s an old saying: “People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.” Having poor relationships with not just managers but other employees in the workplace is another contributing factor to burnout.

“Employees who have best friends at work identify significantly higher levels of healthy stress management, even though they experience the same levels of stress,” reported The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

It can be difficult with some employees working remotely, others in a hybrid arrangement, and some in the office to keep everyone connected. Make sure to set aside time and space for people to connect, whether it’s in a designated Slack channel for non–work-related chats or at a weekly team lunch. And pay special attention to managers who may have a greater impact on their direct reports’ experiences.

[Read more: How to Spot Employee Burnout (And Prevent It From Happening in the First Place)]

A rigid, inflexible work environment

No one works well under a microscope. Micromanagement and rigid rules, policies, and deadlines can backfire, making employees feel like cogs in a machine rather than people. Consider how you can create a more flexible work environment to enable your team members to thrive under the circumstances that work best for them. A work-from-home policy or flexible work hours can help employees best schedule their time to avoid burnout. Avoid the types of expectations that can cause people to feel stressed or uptight.

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Published January 13, 2023