According to a recent CareerBuilder poll, more than 50% of employees say they work under a great deal of stress, and 77% say they feel burned out on the job. While they often go hand in hand, there’s a big difference between stress and burnout.
From working under pressure to meet an important deadline to putting in overtime to ensure the success of a major project, stress comes in many forms. Though it can be sharp and intense, stress is often temporary and manageable. And in many cases, a little bit of stress can be healthy.
Burnout, however, is more serious and can often be the result of prolonged, unmanaged stress. When an employee is burned out on the job, they check out. They no longer focus on their responsibilities or achieving company goals. And, if left unchecked, burnout can spread to other employees ultimately affecting your business’ ability to stay productive.
So, how do you know if your workforce is heading toward burnout?
Increased cynicism and irritability
Employees who have reached the point of burnout often have little patience for new company initiatives. To them, the glass is always half empty. They become eternal naysayers and will actively seek reasons to avoid taking on a new project or find a way out of participating in team activities. They are often short, irritable, and easily angered and their relationships with coworkers and colleagues quickly deteriorate. Disengaged, burnt out employees can easily suck the life out of a team, and their cynical attitudes can be contagious.
Loss of productivity
Happy, engaged employees thrive on hard work. They understand their contribution to the company as a whole and strive to be more productive and efficient with every new task they take on. Burned out workers, on the other hand, have lost the drive for success and can be nearly impossible to reengage. They are no longer motivated by accomplishment, and the quality of their work takes a dive. Increased errors, missed deadlines, and an overall haphazard demeanor in their everyday activities not only take a toll on their own personal productivity, but can easily affect those around them.
Obviously, the last place a burned out employee wants to be is at work. Workers who go from only occasionally missing a day or two of work to regularly calling in sick or burning through their vacation time may have hit a wall and are taking every opportunity possible to get away. A missed day here and there doesn’t typically cause any harm, but when it becomes a regular practice, other employees are forced to pick up the slack, which can not only lead to productivity issues, but it can have a serious impact on morale.
The first step to fighting employee burnout
Simply put, it’s about communication. When you start to see the signs of a burned out workforce, it’s vital to open the lines of communication to try to understand what is driving their discontent. Create a safe forum for your employees to share what’s on their mind. Let them know you aren’t looking for someone to blame, but rather what changes need to be implemented to help create a more positive and productive working environment for everyone. Once you have pinpointed the problem areas, be quick to take action.
We all get a little overwhelmed from time to time, but it’s important to recognize the difference between normal stress and burnout at work. A company’s most valuable asset is its employees. Putting forth extra effort to ensure your team is fully engaged at work is a major step toward ensuring your business stays innovative and competitive.