Employees often talk about feeling “burned out,” but are they really?
True employee burnout is more than needing a temporary break from work or feeling briefly worn down by an intense project. Instead, it’s a state of chronic job stress that results in overall exhaustion, frustration, and a defeatist attitude that negatively affects an employee’s personal and work life.
The condition can happen for any number of reasons, such as a work-life imbalance, unrealistic work expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, being in an emotionally draining profession, or simply feeling out of control. And it’s more common than employers might think: 26% of U.S. employees report symptoms.
If there’s any good news about employee burnout, it’s that it doesn’t develop overnight. It creeps up slowly, which gives employees and employers time to watch for and quickly address these warning signs.
The 7 Most Common Signs of Employee Burnout
By paying attention to and looking for the most common indicators, employers can customize their wellness program strategy to prevent the condition from escalating—or from developing at all.
1. Emotional, Mental and Physical Exhaustion
Are employees reporting feeling drained when they first wake up in the morning? Do they talk about struggling with sleep issues? Employees suffering from exhaustion will find they’re dragging themselves to work and then unable to start or focus on a task.
Employees losing interest in the things they previously found enjoyable—like socializing with family and friends—can be an early warning sign. At work, employees may stop participating in meetings, avoid taking on new projects, or stop returning phone calls and emails. As they continue to disconnect from the environment around them, employees often lose enthusiasm for their job, resulting in a lower quality of work.
3. Increased Absenteeism
Overtaxed employees are likely to take more sick days. Some hope the day off will restore their spirits. Others use the time off as a way to avoid projects, managers and employees that cause them stress. Or some employees may come in late and leave early to avoid interactions with co-workers and supervisors.
Formerly extroverted employees who suddenly become distant may just be having a bad day or experiencing stress in their personal life. But if this isolation continues, or if formerly social employees become angry when someone tries to speak with them, it may be a sign of a bigger problem. Isolation is even harder to detect in introverted employees, since the withdrawal from relationships might be misinterpreted as just part of their personality.
5. Higher Sensitivity to Feedback
Employees may begin taking criticism more personally, reacting to it with increased defensiveness, anger, or other signs of stress. Feedback is often blown out of proportion: "I guess I can’t do anything right."
6. Emergence of Physical Symptoms
Exhaustion and stress can often manifest themselves as physical symptoms, including panic attacks, chest pains, increased heart rate, nausea, and headaches. Employees may lose their appetite and even lose weight, or they may start to gain weight from using food to cope with their stress.
7. Decreased Productivity
As the condition worsens, so will productivity and performance. Stress prevents employees from concentrating on the tasks at hand, and feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to catch up might make them feel as if their efforts aren’t worthwhile.
How Wellness Programs Can Help Prevent Burnout
Fortunately, a corporate wellness program offers a terrific opportunity for employers to get out in front of the problem and create a work environment that tackles stress head on. Instead of only focusing on fitness and nutrition, employers can incorporate elements of emotional, occupational, and financial wellness into their programming. As a result, stress is not only treated, but prevented at the source.
Options to add to your program might include any of these strategies:
When stress rises, it’s easy to lose sight of the many good things in life. However, when your wellness program challenges employees to practice gratitude and turn it into a habit, it can completely transform their perspective. For example, WellRight’s “Be Grateful” challenge encourages employees to write down three things they’re grateful for, for a period of 30 days. It’s also a great idea for employers to practice gratitude, showing their employees how much they appreciate them. When employees give (and receive) thanks, they see more value in themselves and in their work.
Focus on Others
One of the best ways to feel better about your own problems is to turn your focus to helping other people. Try adding a challenge or task to your wellness program that spurs employees to find ways to make other people happy. Our "Smile Big" challenge is a fun game, daring employees to make 60 different people smile in a 30-day period. By elevating the moods of other people, your staff will find that their own moods brighten as well.
When employees experience work stress, that stress can easily spill over into their off-the-clock time. Whether they’re working longer hours or just keeping their mind on work while at home, burning the candle at both ends can quickly lead to burnout. Employers can show caring for the employee’s well-being by incorporating family-based challenges into their wellness programs, and making sure employee workloads enable them to carry out these challenges.
A major way to prevent employee burnout is for people to feel they’re not alone. One-on-one coaching (which WellRight offers not only to employees, but to their families) as part of a wellness program can help employees manage their stress, create achievable goals, and gain the motivation to accomplish those goals. The result? Improved engagement and boosted self-esteem.
When employees are discouraged and have diminished faith in their own skills, the fun “quick wins” offered by a wellness program can help them regain pride in their abilities. Rewards based not only on accomplishment but on effort keep the playing field level, giving every employee a chance to shine.
Battling Burnout With the Right Wellness Program
Employee burnout is a very real phenomenon and can have significant effects on an employee’s productivity, emotional well-being and physical health. Burned-out employees also take a toll on their employer. The business suffers from lost productivity and increased absences; they can also lose experienced employees and trusted mentors, potentially hastening attrition for the new employees expected to fill big shoes.
Decreasing employee burnout through a wellness program that emphasizes emotional wellness can help both employees and businesses. These programs can help employees rediscover their passion for their lives—or discover a new one—which increases engagement, loyalty and productivity. It also has an important domino effect: Happier, healthier employees influence colleagues, which translates into a better, more productive company culture and work environment.
WellRight’s robust wellness program takes a holistic approach to well-being—addressing employees’ health in every aspect of their lives. And because it’s fully customizable, you can add new challenges as different needs arise, so you can serve your employees right where they are.
Want to make sure your wellness program has the best chance of succeeding? A healthy work environment can foster better emotional and physical health for your entire organization, and can boost engagement in your wellness program. Learn how to make your own work environment healthier with our ebook.