Employee burnout levels are on the rise, and the question that all employers should be asking themselves is - why? Unfortunately when unpacking the reasons for burnout employers will find that the causes can be pretty nuanced, and seemingly out of their control.
In order to truly tackle all the causes of burnout, employers need to educate themselves on their own workforce. This means understanding the nature of their industry and the demographics, local cultural and societal impact, and the vulnerabilities that may exist their workforce.
Why is it so important to prevent burnout? Workers’ burnout is a syndrome that stems from an afflicted individual’s experience at work. Caused primarily by prolonged stress and constant demand, burnout is the escalating process of approaching one’s mental or physical breaking point. Burnout manifests in various emotional, mental, and physical symptoms and can even develop into chronic health problems.
According to Deloitte’s employee burnout statistics, more than 70% of employees reported feelings of burnout. Not only does burnout have major repercussions on an employee’s life, it also results in astronomical costs to companies. As burnout levels have steadily increased, so too have the number of people quitting their jobs; the cost of time, money, and energy spent as a result of high turnover can be staggering for employers.
Of course it’s not all about money. Many companies are seen as pillars in the local community, and are connected to it in both an emotional and political sense. In communities where the risk of economic insecurity may be higher, companies arguably have more of a responsibility to protect the well-being of their workforce, and their local community.
What is Economic Insecurity?
Economic insecurity is a topic of increasing concern for the labor market. Simply put, economic insecurity is the inability of a person to consistently meet their needs by paying for essentials like food, housing, medical care, or other necessities, or the fear of not being able to do so in the future.
What factors most put people at risk of economic insecurity?
- Sickness and disability
- The loss of a partner
- Lack of education
- Insufficient employment
- Gender, race, and ethnicity
- Older and younger generations
According to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, in the years leading up to the pandemic, 1 in 4 households (1 in 3 households with children) experienced significant hardship, such as the inability to afford adequate food, shelter, or utilities. This means roughly 106 million people in the U.S. are economically insecure.
In addition, the arrival of the pandemic resulted in massive unemployment, which plunged millions into economic uncertainty. Even despite government intervention, by the end of 2021 20 million households reported having too little to eat, and 10 million households were behind on rent. In early 2022, approximately 3 million fewer people were employed than before the pandemic.
The stress from worrying that you may be unable to put food on the table or pay your bills is an obvious detriment to mental health. But curiously, even the fear of economic insecurity can be more damaging to mental health than actual, realized volatility - even when there is no apparent threat. In fact, research has shown that this fear remains constant throughout all income levels.
For employers, this means that even if their workforce does not include a large number of employees facing economic insecurity, the fear of it alone could have their employees hurling towards burnout.
How Economic Insecurity Drives Burnout
During COVID, research uncovered an unexpected trend, an uptick in employee engagement coupled with a decline in employee well-being. Researchers determined that the reason for this unusual correlation was due to the fact that the increase in engagement was being driven by fear, rather than purpose.
What does this have to do with burnout? It’s simple; fear based engagement drives burnout. It was due to millions of employees worldwide suddenly finding themselves threatened by the uncertainty of the pandemic that engagement levels went up. Economic insecurity, too, can keep people highly engaged out of fear.
Mental health is one of the most significant contributors to life satisfaction, even more than physical health or wealth. When employees constantly fear economic instability, whether justified or not, anxiety drives their work habits and triggers behaviors that ultimately lead to burnout. Sadly, this could lead to their fears being realized, actually jeopardizing their economic security.
Preventing Job Burnout: What Employers Can Do
For employers wondering how to stop burnout at work, there are new policies and approaches to management that can be implemented. Not to mention, employers can take advantage of their company’s digital transformation for the sake of burnout prevention by leveraging their HR tech stack and employee monitoring solutions.
The first step to tackling burnout in the workplace is to understand the causes, symptoms, and risks of burnout. Employers need to be aware of how vulnerable their workforce is to burnout and why in order to take the correct approach. When it comes to economic insecurity, employers need to educate themselves on how it actually affects their employees so they can better find ways to accommodate their needs and well-being.
Launch a burnout awareness program to educate the company at all levels. It’s important that employees and managers know how to identify the signs of burnout as well. Employers should also implement periodic employee burnout surveys. Engagement surveys are no longer enough, in order to prevent burnout employers must measure employee well-being in tandem.
Employers can additionally focus on well-being by offering wellness programs and health-related perks for employees. These can include yoga, fitness, or meditation classes or even coaching sessions on self-care and time management. However, although employee wellness programs can be helpful, they can’t be wholly relied upon to solve the problem of burnout.
In order to really prevent burnout, employers must take a holistic approach to employee well-being. This means understanding who is at risk and the nuances of your workforce, ensuring employees have plenty of resources and manageable workloads, offering the flexibility needed to alleviate stress and economic pressure, and ensuring purpose-driven engagement.
Offer employees flexibility in when and where they work to help alleviate some of the time, cost, and stress associated with commutes, which can be substantial for employees struggling with economic insecurity. This is also helpful for parents, who are often even more at risk. Online employee monitoring software can help supervisors more easily manage remote and hybrid employees and detect signs of burnout early on.
Above all, it’s important for employers to make purpose-driven engagement a priority. A workforce driven by fear is not sustainable in the long term and will cost you and your employees dearly.