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7 Ways to Address Stress & Burnout in the Workplace

We’ve all seen a meme or cartoon that pokes fun at “Monday morning blues,” but if dreading going to the office is more than a passing laugh and becomes chronic, it can lead to serious health concerns.

The average person spends over 90,000 hours at work throughout their life, and 8 out of 10 people don’t effectively manage stress leading to (well, you guessed it): burnout.

What’s new?

Burnout is now considered an occupational phenomenon included in the World Health Organization’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). No longer considered a temporary situation, burnout is when an individual reports a chronic symptom that is physical, emotional or mental.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling exhausted or having no energy
  • Increased mental distance from one's job, or negativity or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficiency

Why should I care?

  • These staggering statistics should raise a red flag for all employers.
  • Turnover: A recent World Health Organization survey found 46% of employers who noted employee burnout is responsible for up to half (20 to 50 percent, specifically) of their annual workforce turnover.
  • Claims Utilization and Cost Drivers: BenefitsPro reports that employees who are suffering from emotional or behavioral health issues average 6x more ER visits and 2-4x more claims costs.
  • Return on Investment Opportunity: Employee assistance program (EAP) services are often underutilized by employees, especially for concerns that they deem as “temporary” emotional setbacks. Rahul Mehra, MD estimates a 30% savings in mental health claims, ER visits and pharmacy claims for self-insured employers who commit to a robust, well communicated and responsive EAP service.

How does burnout occur?

“The Cult of Busy,” a report produced by the John Hopkins Health Review, cites the current “busyness syndrome” as a key driver of burnout and it has created significant health concerns. The increasing pace of work/home demands and a blurring of professional and personal time boundaries (thanks in part to unlimited technology access and connectivity) are contributors to “busyness syndrome.” According to “HR Online,” additional workforce contributors include:

  • Unfair compensation (41%), unreasonable workload (32%), and too much overtime/after-hours work (32%)
  • Perceived lack of control
  • Values mismatch

How Can I Address Burnout in the Workplace?

Be proactive by taking the following steps at your organization:

  • Promote and communicate your EAP. Your program should be more visible than an 800 number on a poster in your cafeteria. Invite your EAP vendor to open enrollment meetings, an all-staff event or have them write a post for your intranet or newsletter.
  • Offer training and guidance geared towards various job functions (for example, managers are often affected by burnout differently than a new-to-the-workforce employee). Hold periodic sessions that allow employees to voice concerns, address inefficiencies and discuss symptoms of stress or burnout – thereby allowing employees to feel supported and heard.
  • Understand and recognize the symptoms of burnout. The symptoms include an inability to concentrate or remember important things resulting in mistakes, increased absenteeism and accidents, disengagement or lack of interest, lower productivity, irritability with coworkers and clients and excessive cynicism.
  • Provide on-going training for managers in Mental Health First-Aid, to learn to recognize symptoms of burnout and to be well versed in the EAP services for employees. This is not “one and done” training but should be offered on a regular schedule.

7 Policies and Actions to Reduce Burnout in the Workplace:

  1. Many organizations take steps to train employees on new business initiatives, but few proactively manage burnout. Don’t have a subject matter expert in-house? Bring in experts to speak on the topic, provide webinars or promote phone apps that offer current tools and techniques. Add these topics as regular components at company and department meetings.
  2. Encourage your employees to take breaks throughout the day – managers who don’t take their lunch break send a message to other employees to follow suit. Promote active ways of communicating (get up and walk vs. sending an email) during business hours that add to activity throughout the day, as well as connecting and collaborating with other team members.
  3. Encourage employees to use their vacation time and lead by example.
  4. Define an employee’s role by ensuring that they have an up-to-date job description and understand the expectations of their performance in that role.
  5. Don’t ignore the “Fun-Q” (IQ, but fun). Simple activities that bring laughter or promote comradery, such as a game during lunch or afternoon break, can create an atmosphere of inclusion that boosts positivity long after employees return to their desks.
  6. Reduce the blur between home and professional time by adhering to limits. Managers who email or post content after hours send a message to employees that they should be doing the same, which extends the workday.
  7. Promote both informal and formal employee discussions. An open-door policy encourages employees to share concerns and/or ideas that can be affecting their performance, which can, in turn, affect your bottom line.

To learn more about addressing burnout and stress in the workplace, check out this article on 7 Ways to Support Mental Health in the Workplace.