The World Health Organization defines burnout as: a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and recognizes three identifying characteristics of the phenomenon:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  3. Reduced professional efficacy

Burnout has gained its status as a bona fide buzzword for good reason. A recent survey by Indeed found that 52% of workers were feeling burned out, up 9% from pre-COVID times; while a 2021 American Psychological Association study showed that 3 out of 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, such as lack of interest, motivation, and energy. The impacts of burnout go beyond an unhappy workforce. In fact, employees struggling with burnout are:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick day1
  • 23% more likely to visit the ER1
  • 2.6 times as likely to look for a different job2
  • Less likely to participate in meetings or projects, which can have a negative influence on company culture

All of these factors contribute to lost productivity, a drain on both financial and non-financial resources (e.g., other team members needing to take on more from a burned-out colleague, or resources spent on replacing employees that have resigned due to burnout), and overall a workplace environment that is far from ideal. Although every industry is struggling with burnout, healthcare and higher education are industries with unique challenges. Both require a higher onsite presence than other industries and have experienced a lot of change related to the pandemic.

At this point, you have likely heard the term burnout and understand its prevalence, but perhaps don’t have a clear path forward to prevent or mitigate the issue.

What to Do About Burnout

If you notice a team member seems less engaged or enthusiastic, tangibly overwhelmed, is declining in performance, or just less present – these are all flags for burnout. Often burnout can be nipped in the bud before getting to a more extreme state if you know the signs and have tactics in place toward resolution.  Often supervisors will notice these signs early in the process, which means training related to burnout and compassion are imperative.

From a quantitative perspective, we’ve seen organizations successfully respond to employee burnout by implementing or boosting the following:

  • Facilitation of work-life balance, by offering resources to help employees find that balance
  • Regular monitoring of responsibilities and schedules
  • Encouragement, or even a mandate, to use paid time off
  • Flexibility regarding hours, place of work, etc.
  • Management training including how to deal with burnout, and establishment of best practices
  • Creation of clearly defined career paths and professional development opportunities
  • Open, frequent, and honest communication
  • Wellness programs and tools
  • Protocols for recognizing accomplishments where the work matches the reward

On the more tangible side, wellness tools like Headspace, Calm, and Noisli have been developed to tackle stress, focus, and productivity. There is also a range of virtual counseling and mental health platforms available for employers to provide additional support to employees. At Spring Consulting Group, we have access to a platform called Spring Health, which offers counseling services, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and more.

Burnout solutions must align with your organizational goals and demographics. I mentioned that industries like higher education and healthcare have different forces at play, which need to be accounted for in a burnout strategy. It can be a challenge to know where to begin but expanding on current offerings can be an easy first step as well as surveying employees to understand what services would be considered value-add to most participants. The key is to know burnout is negatively impacting your population and if unaddressed it will compound an already burdened attraction and retention strategy. The time is now to make it a priority and find solutions.