Employee Burnout: How to Stop the Working Dead Apocalypse

One day, you enter the office and realize that things are going awry. A once enthusiastic and proactive business analyst seems lax and shows up to work late. At regular meetings, you notice one of your best project managers sitting in the corner with their arms crossed, refusing to take part in the conversation in any way. Several employees from the Customer Support team are getting more client complaints. Your office manager looks frustrated, and you don’t even want to approach unless it’s a total emergency. Your HR department reports of unexplained employees absences from work. It seems like you’ve become the director of “The Working Dead.”

According to the Kronos survey, 46% of HR leaders state that employee burnout is the reason for up to 50% of annual turnover. Harvard Business School research shows that companies lose from $125 billion to $190 billion a year because of psychological and physical issues of a burned out workforce. So why does employee burnout happen? Is there any way to secure your company?

Why employee burnout happens and how to fight it


Communication issues

Build a strong sense of community; make every employee feel like they belong; your company culture should be based on an open-door policy; ensure that all of your employees’ questions are addressed.

Lack of  rewards & recognition

Recognize your employees’ work; show that you value their contributions; highlight the positive changes they’ve made; don’t emphasize their failures over their accomplishments; offer various rewards, including free gym membership, free snacks, team building activities outside the office, company-branded gear, job-related master classes, gift cards, etc. If you want to scale employee reward initiatives, you can introduce gamification technologies that let you recognize and thank employees on the go wherever they are.

Lack of feedback & support

Support your employees all the way through; provide on-demand feedback. If you see that they have troubles with task completion or their performance rate is lower than usual, don’t shrug it off. People analytics can be very helpful with spotting who needs support and when.

Poor training

Train your managers: your managers should know that employees may face burnout, because they’re given vague or unclear instructions of what they should do. They should have a deep understanding of their role and job requirements. Also, managers should be taught how to handle burnout if it happens in your company. They are required to spot the red flags to deal with a burnout issue before it escalates. Managers have to consider how to keep their employees motivated in the long-term.

Train your employees: in addition to employee training, which deals with the elimination of knowledge and skill gaps, training helps to keep your employees engaged, motivated, and make them feel appreciated. You should teach them how to prioritize tasks and manage their time wisely. Moreover, teach workaholics to balance their work and life, because sooner or later but they’ll be running on empty.

Violated work-life balance

Keep in mind that not all your employees are ready to follow the Steve Job’s principle of “working 90 hours a week and loving it.” Offer paid vacations and sick leave; flexible work hours (if it’s not possible within your organization, then keep reasonable work hours); and allow your employees to work remotely from time to time, when possible.

Routine, mundane tasks

Assign tasks sensibly; distribute workloads evenly; make job routines interesting and challenging; give your employees an opportunity to apply their skills to complete a task; Try to rotate your employees’ responsibilities, so that they can apply themselves in new roles and enrich their experience.

Lack of transparency & accountability

If you plan to introduce some changes, let your employees know about it. Moreover, ask their opinions or offer a vote. Your employees should feel that they have control over the work they are responsible for. Treat your employees fairly by letting everybody know how decisions are made in your company and keep them informed of changes that affect their jobs.

Employee burnout as a global issue

An important thing to keep in mind is that burnout can affect anyone. It doesn’t depend on the b position, it depends on the company a person works in. Organizations all over the world have seen various burnout manifestations with differing levels of intensity, from taking sick days to suicides. Indeed, burnout consequences can be serious, so let’s compare how different countries deal with employee burnout.

  • China

According to the China Youth Daily research, approximately 600,000 people die every year of “work exhaustion”. In Chinese, there’s even a word “guolaosi” that is defined as death by overwork. As a sad example, at Foxconn, an electronics contract manufacturing company, Ma Xiangqian, a 19-year-old worker, committed suicide due to work overload. His pay stub showed that he had worked 286 hours in the month preceding his death, including 112 hours of unpaid overtime. Moreover, after this case, there had been 12 more suicide attempts by Foxconn workers.

Edith Yeung, head of 500 Startups for Greater China, says that more and more chief executive officers invite their employees to participate in meditation classes right in the company conference halls to ease stress and tension.

  • Japan

The Japanese also have their own word for death by overwork: “karoshi”. Mr. Uchino, the manager of quality control at Toyota, told his wife that he felt happiest when he had a chance to sleep. He had to train other workers, write reports, and attend meetings when wasn’t on the production line. All of his overtime duties were seen as voluntary work without any compensation. Mr. Uchino passed away at 4 am at work due to karoshi. A report stated that Japanese employees work longer hours than employees in the US, Britain, and other developed countries. According to the health ministry, they used only 8.8 days of their annual leave in 2015.

As a way to deal with burnout, the Japanese government encourages people to leave work at 3 pm every last Friday of the month to spend time with their friends and family, go shopping, or travel.

  • France

France is known for its 35-hour working week adopted in 2000. Not so long ago, the French government also introduced a new law, the right to disconnect. It was a response to the trend that even when not at work, employees were doing their jobs, responding to business matters anytime and anywhere. The law states, “companies with more than 50 workers will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff is not supposed to send or answer emails.”

  • Germany

According to Gallup research, 2.7 million employees are feeling the consequences of burnout. However, three key elements can prevent burnout and increase engagement: recognition, required equipment, and an “employee opinions matter” policy.

Daimler, a multinational automotive corporation, in attempt to secure employees’ private time, came up with an innovative approach. When somebody emails employees who are on holidays, they will receive a response like this:

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.

  • India

“Anyone can suffer from burnout and today, practically everyone is suffering from it, but we hide it,” says Dr. Altamash Shaikh.

It’s understandable that every company wants to see its employees productive and motivated. In India, a lot of organizations (including Genpact, Lemon Tree Hotels, and PwC) try to ensure that their employees’ work-life balance is secured. Thomas Cook India, a company that offers travel related services, has 24×7 jobs where its employees’ attendance is monitored. Workaholics who regularly work overtime are tracked and counseled to prevent burnout. Moreover, the company makes sure that employees use at least 60-70% of their available leave by the year-end.

Prevention is better than a cure. This is the principle organizations should stick to while dealing with employee burnout. Create a work environment where your employees would be happy and motivated. Engage them by incorporating smart technologies in training, providing on-time feedback and rewards, and don’t forget about work-life balance.

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