Workplace Wellness

How Wellness Programs Can Help Reduce Employee Burnout

Written by Kate

Stress is not an uncommon occurrence, particularly in today’s workplace. But when left unchecked, sustained or excessive exposure to stress not only has a negative impact on employee health, but also on their ability to maintain their productivity. Given how much time employees spend at work, it’s crucial for organizations and their employees to work together to keep this stress in check. Wellness programs are great vehicles to help make this partnership happen. But before we dive into the how, let’s demystify a few things. 

What is Employee Burnout? 

Burnout is not mere stress. According to the WHO, stress is a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. That in itself is not harmful. In fact, some amount of stress can even be helpful for motivation

Contrary to popular misconceptions, burnout is a more specific psychological syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. Unlike everyday stress, burnout is more insidious and resistant to typical quick fixes like a weekend getaway or a meditation session.

The condition is characterized by three key dimensions, namely: 

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. This may make an employee lethargic and unproductive from a physical standpoint. 
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s career. This can manifest as anger, checking out, or a negative attitude change. 
  3. Reduced professional efficacy because of lack of motivation to do your job or even work at all. 

According to a recent Gallup poll, 74% of workers have experienced burnout at least once. 

What Causes Employee Burnout?

As stated earlier, employee burnout is a byproduct of prolonged stressors in the workplace. A Gallup survey of 7,500 US workers ranked the stressors as follows: 

  1. Unfair treatment at work: Workers who feel unfairly treated are 2.3x more likely to experience burnout. 
  2. Unmanageable workload: Employees who exceed 50 work hours per week are more likely to experience burnout, and the risk is even higher after 60 hours.
  3. Lack of role clarity: Unclear roles mean that employees may spend time and energy on tasks that aren’t priorities or value-adding. The wasted efforts can cause feelings of inefficacy and fuel cynicism. 
  4. Lack of clear communication and leadership support: Employees who strongly agree that they feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout regularly.
  5. Unreasonable time pressure: Employees who feel they have enough time to do all their work were 70% less likely to experience burnout. 

How Does Employee Burnout Impact Organizations? 

Since burnout affects an employee’s physical, mental, and emotional health, it can impart a substantial cost on employers. Here are some statistics to keep in perspective: 

  1. Employees who experience burnout frequently are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the ER. 
  2. Burned-out employees are 2.6x more likely to seek a different job actively. The cost of replacing an employee can be as high as 2x the employee’s annual salary. 
  3. Employees who experience burnout are half as likely to discuss issues with their manager and 13% less confident in their performance. 
  4. Employees who experience “high rates of toxic behavior” are 6x more likely to report intentions to leave in six months or less.
  5. Employee burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in healthcare costs annually in the United States alone. 
  6. Burnout increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol, and even death for employees under the age of 45.
  7. Burned-out employees are at 57% increased risk of workplace absence greater than two weeks due to illness. 

What Can Be Done to Mitigate Employee Burnout? 

Dr. Ben Wigert, Gallup’s Director of Research and Strategy for Workplace Management, maintains that employee burnout isn’t inevitable. The solution lies in how the organization manages employees and the overall employee experience.

Christina Maslach, PhD, social psychologist and leading expert on burnout, agrees. Maslach suggests that employers reevaluate the upstream causes rather than just focusing on the individual employee. Here are 5 ways to create a workplace environment that enables the worker to thrive and do well:

1. Cultivate Psychological Safety

89% of employees say psychological safety is essential to their well-being. Psychological safety allows employees to openly voice concerns, questions, and ideas without fear of negative consequences. When they feel safe to speak up, workplace issues and stressors can be identified and addressed early before they escalate into larger problems that contribute to burnout. 

2. Offer Best-in-Class Wellness Benefits

Today’s employees want more than a competitive remuneration package; they desire holistic well-being. According to a recent survey, 93% of employees believe well-being is as important as their salary. 87% would even consider leaving a company that does not focus on well-being. 

The best employee well-being benefits to consider: 

  • Robust health insurance coverage that includes mental health services. This helps to proactively manage stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges that can contribute to burnout if left unaddressed. 
  • Generous paid time off, sick leave, and family leave policies.  Without these benefits, employees may feel forced to work through periods of high stress, illness, or life events, multiplying burnout risk.
  • Wellness programs like gym memberships, nutrition counseling, and meditation/mindfulness training to develop resilience. 
  • Innovative benefits like onsite childcare, nap rooms, subsidized meals, and flexible schedules. This makes it easier for employees to fulfill personal needs and integrate work with life’s other demands without draining their resources. 

3. Prioritize Sustainable Workloads

It is a manager’s job to ensure employees have reasonable, manageable workloads. At a high level, this might involve analyzing processes and staffing levels and then redistributing responsibilities or increasing headcount before employees become overwhelmed.

At the granular level, it can mean addressing issues proactively. Consider providing the right technology, training, and resources to enable employees to work efficiently instead of burning out while struggling with inadequate tools or knowledge. Incentivize productivity over face time or hours worked to reset cultural norms.

4. Implement Human-Centric Job Design

Workers want autonomy. They also want meaningful work. Here are some stats from the Society for Human Resource Management:

Employees with jobs that helped them:

  • Fulfill a life purpose were 41 percent more likely to get interested and absorbed in their work.
  • Achieve life goals were 34 percent more likely to work beyond what was expected of them.
  • Realize their personal values were 52 percent more likely to feel committed to their employers.
  • Become who they were meant to be in life were 41 percent more likely to dislike stopping work.
  • Do what they do best had 33 percent weaker intentions to quit.
  • Do good things in the world had 24 percent weaker intentions to quit.
  • See their connection to a vision and mission were 58 percent more likely to feel committed to their employers.

In short, work that keeps employees stimulated and progressing toward meaningful goals shields against stagnation and disillusionment—precursors to burnout.

keeping employees stimulated

5. Prioritize Learning and Development

The discussion about employee burnout is incomplete without mentioning the elephant in every workplace today: AI and automation. According to a 2023 Goldman Sachs report, roughly two-thirds of US jobs could be partially automated by AI. However, the researchers also point out that “jobs displaced by automation have historically been offset by the creation of new jobs, and the emergence of new occupations following technological innovations accounts for the vast majority of long-run employment growth.” 

Organizations should invest in robust learning and development programs that provide upskilling and reskilling opportunities. This allows employees to enhance their capabilities and take on new challenges and roles better aligned with their interests as industries transform.

Leadership should also prioritize developing emotional intelligence, digital literacy, and cognitive flexibility – competencies that will be critical for thriving alongside AI/automation. 

Final Thoughts

Employee burnout is a complex challenge with far-reaching consequences if left unaddressed. Luckily, there are lots of strategies to combat it. From cultivating supportive environments to prioritizing continuous learning, there are many ways to foster a more engaged, efficient, and resilient workforce.

Ready to transform your workplace and enhance the well-being of your employees? Our wellness benefits platform is helps organizations like yours build a thriving, supportive environment that actively combats burnout. Don’t let stress undermine your team’s health and your company’s potential. Schedule a call with one of our benefits specialists today to learn how you can tailor a wellness program that meets your unique needs. Let us help you make a meaningful change!

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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