Why employees feel burnout, and what organisations can do to reduce it

The Steer Workplace team

Employee burnout is estimated to cost organisations approximately $1.5 trillion globally, yet 90% of managers claim not to be worried about it.

So what exactly leads to burnout? Here are four potential causes and five ways organisations can combat them. 

Lack of managerial and leadership support

According to Gallup, employees who feel supported by managers are 70% less likely to feel burnout. Employees look up to their managers and leaders for acknowledgement and recognition for their achievements, and for appropriate support in case of challenges and difficulties faced in the workplace. The type of leadership and management attitude which leaves an employee feeling unrecognised, unappreciated and unjustly treated; can significantly increase the chance of employee burnout.

Uncertainty and lack of clarity

Uncertainty may wear a variety of faces when it comes to the workplace. Perceived job insecurity, lack of clarity about job design and unclear management expectations can all keep an employee ‘on edge’ and contribute to anxiety and chronic stress. As research in The New York Times suggests, job insecurity can reduce mental and physical health, reduce job satisfaction, decrease performance at work and increase burnout.

Furthermore, those who feel insecure about their jobs tend to participate less in their own wellness, contributing to a downward spiral that results in increased chances of illness, injury and burnout.

Lack of Job Autonomy

Wigert & Agrawal from Gallup found that there is 43% less chance of employees experiencing extreme burnout if the control that they have over their job is high. Being able to make choices about the tasks to be done, when to do them and the amount of time to spend on each task appears to be vitally important to employees. Further research indicates that greater control over one’s job can even reduce that individual’s risk of dying!

Never ending “Crunch Time”

We all have periods of time when the workload is considerably higher than normal, which is fine. But if that overwhelming, high stress period lasts too long or happens to become permanent, employee burnout becomes inevitable. Amongst the biggest drivers of employee burnout, 30% of employees blame unrealistic results, deadlines and expectations, while 29% say it is due to working on weekends and for long hours. The situation has been worsened due to Covid-19, as 67% of respondents to recent research believe a lack of clear boundaries between home and the workplace prevents them from being able to unplug from the office.

How can organisations reduce burnout?

Ignoring burnout seems to shirk our responsibilities as employers and runs counter to the organisation’s interests.

So here are a few actions to reduce the chance of employee burnout:

• Leadership needs to ensure that managers are equipped with the right tools and information to delegate work, provide support and guidance, motivate and work on employees’ developmental goals.

Employee well-being is not an option but a necessity that should go hand in hand with other business initiatives.

• Involve employees in the process of job design and work together to define the level of autonomy, task significance and job feedback.

• Leadership and management need to ensure that unreasonable workloads are not expected of employees. It is common to have a higher workload on some occasions but do not expect the employees to sustain this heavy workload long-term.

• Keep communication lines open so that employees can come to management when they feel burnout and work with them to develop a sustainable work system.