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Employee Burnout: An insidious problem stealing productivity

Jul 08, 2020

Stress, anxiety and change are even more prevalent than ever, understandably so. 

In a recent study conducted by BI WORLDWIDE, we observed that 7 out of 10 employees feel that the COVID situation has been one of the most stressful times of their professional career. Employees are not just worried about their current health condition but also considering forthcoming health and wellbeing risks. We are seeing a major shift in behavioural health routines like sleeping patterns, exercise regime, the quantity, type and frequency of food intake. Stress, anxiety and change are even more prevalent than ever, understandably so. This makes it extremely important for the leaders to support both physical and mental health of their employees and not let it become an insidious problem stealing the overall productivity.

Preventing burnout is one of the ways to achieve that, but understanding the employee burnout in detail and the reasons causing it would be critical to curb it. Let’s have a look at the meaning and what could be the probable causes:

WHAT’S EMPLOYEE BURNOUT: A state of extreme fatigue and/or disengagement from work resulting from chronic stress through a prolonged harmful work period.

The emphasis should be on what creates a situation for an employee to experience burnout and what makes a work period harmful. When an employee perceives work as ‘too much work’, this itself is an aggregator for stress and makes the work period harmful. The various reasons leading to burnout could be- not getting the usual (unplugged) break, the lack of meaning or mission in their work, not feeling appreciated at work, job is not challenging to push their limits.

In a survey conducted by BI WORLDWIDE, this is how differently employees responded to questions depending on whether or not they were burned out 



It’s evident that employees in the healthier workplace feel supported, challenged and seen. This brings us back to the point that leaders need to ensure a healthy work environment for their employees. The question is how?

Let’s look at 5 practices that will take employees out of the state of burnout

  1. Listen and be empathic

This is not skippable, it’s something the leaders need to do and is very critical. It might seem obvious when you get stuck in numbers, processes and in your own world, you unknowingly omit this from your schedule. Every employee is facing unique challenges of their own, you can’t apply ‘one size fits all’ strategy and strike this off your job list. The need and ask from your employees is to listen to them and comprehend with them about how they should deal with the current scenario both professionally and personally.

  1. Acknowledge and Recognise

The second thing you can do is acknowledge and recognise their work. Not only that, but be appreciative of the fact that it is done in an incredibly challenging environment. Things have changed to a great deal, your employees never thought about working under such circumstances or communicating with their clients and colleagues in the way they do now. This is something to be acknowledged and recognised, and has to be timely. It will also make your employees feel that they are no more spinning on the wheel and getting nowhere.

  1. Ignite Meaning

The word to focus here is IGNITE. Everyday work that your employees are doing, the need is not to create the meaning but just a little encouragement to get them excited. The meaning is already there, this is more like reminding them about ‘How’ and ‘Why’ the work they’re doing is creating an impact at the organisational level. Empower them to take decisions so they feel in control about how they’re getting the work done, this can add more meaning. Putting too many regulations might lead to the state of burnout, avoid them completely. Let them thrive.

  1. Encourage rest when needed

Various studies show that some employees complain that they aren’t getting the rest they need. You as leaders should encourage them to take PTOs (Paid Time Off) if they like it or bring it up as long as it fits the work flow. What you should concentrate on is the quality of PTO, let them be entirely unplugged. If you want them to act like adults, treat them like adults, trust them to take it only when it’s appropriate, and trust when they ask for it they need it. This will further reduce burnout. Make it a priority, and let them lead.

  1. Get back to the basics

It is important for the manager to reinforce on behavioural health basics to their employees .The benefits of daily activities like getting appropriate amount of sleep, eating right things, getting exercise, being mindful and being in the present at the moment. There are the pillars of healthy behaviour as it has a profound impact on how people feel physically, mentally and emotionally as well. Share tips and tricks of healthy eating, meditation, exercise routines, these will nudge them in leading a healthy life during this time.

Employees have moved to a new environment and have adapted to remote working and handling family responsibilities simultaneously. It has been observed that the past 3 months were not just focused on working from home but also to protect themselves, their families and overall communities from the global pandemic. The situation is unique for all and it brought with it some unique challenges. For leaders, it’s imperative to ensure well-being of their employees in all regards- physical, mental and financial.  Ensuring well-being at this point will pave the way forward for a harmonious rapport and an increased commitment between the employees and the organisations.


This article is a modified excerpt from a webinar by Charlie Heidrick, Research Manager at BI WORLDWIDE and Lianne Jacobs, Product Analyst at Vitality Group. To access the recording to the webinar, click here.

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