Employee burnout doesn't come from the individual, it results from the workplace environment this person is in. Excessive workload, chronic stress, unrealistic goals, and lack of work-life balance are all causes of burnout. Why is it important to know more about this topic and tackle it?
Because it results in a happy and satisfied workforce. The second reason is that, unfortunately, the number of people suffering from mental health issues related to work is increasing.
More than half of Millennials (the biggest active demographic group) have experienced work depression and Gen Z is following the same path. As a company, you can’t ignore this issue and need to know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout, the prevention practices, and how to treat it if necessary.
Definition of employee burnout: not the same as depression
A stress syndrome but not a medical condition
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a syndrome related to mental health, but it is not classified as a medical condition like depression. Employee burnout mainly results from chronic stress at work. Exhaustion (emotional, mental, and physical), depersonalization, cynicism, and loss of efficiency are major effects. It can severely impact your staff’s mental health and have serious consequences on your business too.
Specific to one aspect of life
Another difference between burnout and depression is that the second is a state of mind that results from every aspect of life. However, burnout only involves our mental health condition in our work environment. But, it shouldn’t be ignored or minimized as it can have severe consequences on the health of your employees.
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A fine line between a temporary state of mind to a constant condition
This work-related condition is usually caused by an abnormal amount of workload and stress. If this working pattern prevails in your company, there is a risk that some of your workers will experience burnout. As we just mentioned, the consequences can be irreversible and even lead to depression. However, if the situation is taken seriously and changes are made, a healthy work environment can help them break free from this negative state of mind. We will discover how a bit later in this article.
Signs and symptoms of work depression: emotional, mental, and physical
The physical warnings
Our bodies always send us clear signs when something isn’t right. Physical warnings are often the easiest to observe both from the person experiencing work depression and from the others around them. Here are the most common physical signs and symptoms of burnout:
Change in body weight (loss or gain)
Body pains (headaches, gastrointestinal issues, stomachache, muscle pain)
Constant feeling of tiredness
Sleeping disorders (insomnia, trouble falling asleep, excessive amount of sleep, or sleep deprivation)
High blood pressure
Excessive consumption of food, alcohol, or drug
Loss of appetite
Personal needs neglecting
The emotional shifts
Is one of your team members suddenly aggressive or more irritated than usual? When people are dealing with work depression, their emotions are shifting. As a manager or HR leader, it is an easy way to spot if one of your coworkers is experiencing these negative emotions. Your colleagues can experience:
A sensation of inner emptiness
Sentiment of alienation
Feelings of loneliness
Loss of self-confidence
The absence of a sense of accomplishment
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The psychological signs and symptoms
From a psychological perspective, there are some mental signs and symptoms that are reoccurring with occupational burnout. Here are some examples to help you and your workforce identify them (and treat them as soon as possible):
Cynicism toward work and other people
Loss of job purpose
Decrease in productivity
💡Important reminder: a sign is subjective and felt by the people themselves while a symptom is visible and perceivable by others too.
Latest burnout statistics and numbers: the real impact of this mental health condition
An actual issue among the youngest generations of workers
Burnout statistics are clear, 59% of Millennials declared already having experienced burnout. In regards to Gen Z, we would expect them to be the least exposed to burnout as they are the youngest generation in the workplace. This opposite is unfortunately true. This group tends to experience work depression the fastest. Why? The main reasons for Gen Z burnout include:
normalization of hustle culture
inability to relax
low workplace capital (being the youngest makes them feel they can’t say no or set boundaries)
lack of workplace connection due to the pandemic (they started their career during lockdowns, remotely, and often without a proper onboarding experience).
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A real cost for companies
An interesting study from the Harvard Business School released in 2015 reveals crucial numbers about the cost of stress at work when it comes to healthcare. Researchers found that expenses related to occupational anxiety represent between $125 and $190 billion dollars per year. This amount can be divided into three main categories: approximately $48 billion results from a high workload, $40 billion from a lack of insurance, and $24 billion from work-family issues.
A severe problem affecting both employees and organizations
It is easy to see employee burnout as an individual problem, but it is not. First, work depression often comes from within the workplace. Second, burnout affects both your workforce and your business. With 91% of workers declaring that burnout affects their abilities, it is no surprise that one of the signs of employee burnout is loss of productivity. Furthermore, team members facing this mental health condition are 63% more likely to take a sick day or be absent. Lastly, work depression also increases employee turnover. HR departments consider that up to 46% of resignations result from intense stress at work.
Causes of employee burnout and best practices to prevent it: the people-first rule
Create a strategy based on open conversations, listening, and genuine support
Communication is fundamental to reinforcing your relationship with your coworkers, enabling you to work together efficiently, and noticing any emerging negative feelings. Listening to your employees is the first step. Sometimes simply listening to your coworkers and allowing them to express themselves helps them feel better. The next step is to offer help and support. Also, remember that you shouldn’t assume you know why they are depressed and what is the correct solution. Only they can tell you.
Measure employee satisfaction regularly
If the level of satisfaction on your team is low, it is very likely that burnout is becoming prevalent in your work environment. To increase this key human KPI, conducting workforce satisfaction surveys is a must. They allow you to spot what drives your staff down. You can then tackle these areas of improvement to reduce the chances of seeing a drop in employee happiness, engagement, productivity, and retention.
One of the main causes of employee burnout is a lack of work-life balance. Do your workers have enough time to spend with their family and friends or to do personal activities? Having time to switch off from work is essential to maintain a healthy state of mind. To prevent work depression, you need to provide solutions for your workforce to foster this balance. Introducing a hybrid work model is among the best practices to improve this aspect of your company culture.
Be aware of the employee burnout signs and symptoms
Before “judging” people because they always seem tired or you notice their performance level is decreasing, it is crucial to learn the signs and symptoms of work depression. Behaviors that might look like negligence or disengagement can actually be indicators of employee burnout. Spotting them right away will prevent the situation from getting worse by taking care of the problem immediately.
Promote and perform positive leadership
Poor or bad leadership is also one of the major causes of work depression. Being in a toxic work environment where trust, recognition, and support barely exist can have devastating consequences on your team’s mental health. For this reason, a positive and employee-centric approach to management is a core pillar of burnout prevention.
Recommendations to support workers experiencing burnout: time, appreciation, and reconnection
Talk with your employees
Not only is communication essential in burnout prevention, but it also plays a significant role if work depression still arises despite your efforts. Talking with your employees enables you to understand the source of the problem and find efficient solutions together. Of course, your team members will be more eager to have a transparent conversation and open up about complex topics if you’ve already built a trustworthy relationship. This is why adopting a positive and people-focused management style should always be your priority. It allows trust from both sides and helps handle difficult situations.
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Answer workers’ needs and expectations as much as possible
After understanding and getting to know the source of stress, you can start to act on it. Study your employee’s pain points one by one and analyze what kind of support you can offer. Could you distribute the workload among your team differently? If the volume of tasks for this employee is too high for one individual, could you hire an extra team member? Is a flexible hours policy possible to help your coworker balance their personal and professional lives?
Encourage time off and flexible work
Working from home gives your workers more time for personal activities and reduces the stress of commuting. Flexible work can help relax employees, improve focus, and find balance again. To overcome work depression, they also need to take some time off, ideally a few weeks. It is crucial to switch off completely in order for them to reconnect with themselves, their values, and who they are to overcome this feeling of being lost and empty.
Get external and professional support specialized in employee burnout
Offering an employee well-being program is a huge plus for any company. It fosters workers' happiness and can be truly valuable if, despite your preventive measures, burnout emerges within your organization. Even though you are a great manager or do your best as an HR team, supporting an employee suffering from work depression can be challenging. Therefore, getting some help from outside the workplace is often helpful. You can put them into contact with a mental health specialist or suggest they participate in life coaching sessions, for example.
You are now fully equipped with all the knowledge to detect, prevent and handle employee depression if it happens in your organization. The key to overcoming this issue is to be more people-focused. The goal is to create a work environment that enhances employee well-being, satisfaction, and trust. Being employee-centric will help you notice the signs and symptoms of burnout and encourage your team to communicate any challenges they encounter. Focusing on their expectations usually includes allowing a more flexible way of working to improve work-life balance. Hybrid work is answering this need by letting your employees plan their week with on-site days and home office. Work flexibility requires good organization. Are you looking for a tool to manage your hybrid team and workspace better?
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Paulyne is a hybrid work specialist, who writes about sustainability, flexible work models and employee experience.