Employee burnout, if ignored, can have disastrous effects on your business. With issues including increased errors, lower productivity, interpersonal conflicts, increased absenteeism and high turnover, for example, its impact is severe. It’s the reason many companies lose their employees – especially talented ones. Burnout is not just a health problem; it’s a talent issue.
Now recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon, the inclusion of burnout in its classifications reflects its seriousness and the need for companies to properly manage it. But why has burnout become such an prominent issue? There are a number of key issues.
We are all working longer hours to get more work done, but this does not necessarily equal increased productivity. A recent study involving 1,560 full-time Taiwanese employees revealed that the longer the working hours, the stronger the possibility of burnout. In China, the gruelling “996” work schedule, which involves a 9 am to 9 pm workday six days a week has become the norm in tech companies and is impacting China’s workforce. According to a 2018 government-led survey on mental health, there was an increase in the number of Chinese tech employees who reported burnout, fatigue and depression due to intense work stress and insomnia.
It’s easy to simply recommend that organisations reduce working hours, however, the problem is far more complex. For example, despite years of labour reform in Japan, karoshi (death from overwork) remains a prevalent issue. A 2016 Japanese government white paper on karoshi revealed that 22.7 per cent of the over 1,700 companies surveyed had employees who clocked in more than 80 hours of overtime each month.
This overtime culture is the unspoken norm not just in Japan but across Asia, where workers feel they should not leave the office before their managers. This issue of ‘presenteeism’ is causing employees to experience physical and emotional exhaustion, and over time, burnout.
Other leading causes for stress and burnout also include lack of control over job responsibilities and work-life boundaries, with employees unable to take steps to improve their job experiences and well-being; and managers or clients sending work demands through e-mails and text messages after work hours, and employees feeling obliged to respond, thus blurring the work-life boundaries.
What can organisations do to reduce burnout?
HR departments need to create a range of effective retention strategies that foster a positive work environment and prevent and ameliorate turnover caused by burnout. Examples include:
- Onboarding and orientation systems that are available to every new employee that provide clear information and support, enabling them to contribute and thrive from day one
- Mentorship programs that are effective learning platforms, offering guidance and assistance
- Employee compensation packages that are attractive and include not only salaries but also bonuses, paid time off, health benefits, retirement plans and other attractive perks that distinguish one workplace from another
- Recognition and rewards systems that show your employees you appreciate their hard work
- Work-life balance strategies that encourage staff to take vacation time, and provide time off in lieu to compensate for additional hours. Offering telecommuting or flexible schedules are key in helping improve work-life balance for employees
- Training and development opportunities so smart managers can invest in their workers’ professional development and help them to grow – whether through conferences or industry events, tuition reimbursement or education training
- Communication and feedback platforms that encourage ideas and questions and highlight concerns are essential for employee retention
- Dealing with change by implementing clear guidelines, communication and support practices so employees can handle these changes effectively in today’s fast-paced corporate world
- Fostering teamwork and a culture of collaboration that accommodates individuals’ working styles and lets their talents shine
- Team celebrations for significant milestones for individuals and the team to feel valued and appreciated
A company’s employees are its number one resource. If the health and well-being of the workforce is given the importance it deserves, engagement increases along with productivity and motivation.
Ultimately, we need to address the issue of burnout as it’s a win-win situation – when employees are happy; the company benefits from their productivity and the best talent is retained.