Job burnout? How to rec­og­nize it, how to cure it

Many HR lead­ers say burnout is the No. 1 cul­prit of turnover


If you woke up this morning feel­ing ex­hausted, stressed and won­der­ing how you can pos­si­bly make it through a long day at work, you’re not alone.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of em­ploy­ees feel that way and don’t know what to do about it. Burnout — that trou­bled feel­ing of phys­i­cal or men­tal col­lapse from over­work or stress — is go­ing to be a huge prob­lem for com­pa­nies and their work­ers in 2017.

Al­ready, 95 per cent of hu­man re­source lead­ers say burnout is the No. 1 cul­prit of turnover, ac­cord­ing to a new study of 614 HR of­fi­cials con­ducted by Kronos In­cor­po­rated, a Mas­sachusetts-based work­force man­age­ment so­lu­tions firm, and Fu­ture Work­place, a New York tal­ent man­age­ment firm. Although burnout is a prob­lem at com­pa­nies of all sizes, larger or­ga­ni­za­tions re­ported more of prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly those com­pa­nies with more than 2,500 em­ploy­ees.

For some em­ploy­ees, burnout stems from a per­cep­tion of un­fair pay, un­rea­son­able work­load or work­ing too many hours. For oth­ers, it is the re­sult of poor man­age­ment, a neg­a­tive work­place cul­ture or in­suf­fi­cient tech­nol­ogy to do their jobs, the sur­vey shows.

Many com­pa­nies are well aware that a high per­cent­age of their em­ploy­ees are burnt out and ready to bolt. How­ever, or­ga­ni­za­tions re­ported in the sur­vey that they have too many com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties to fo­cus on fix­ing the is­sue in 2017 and lack ex­ec­u­tive sup­port for im­prove­ments. But there is a way out. Overcoming burnout, and the fa­tigue, ir­ri­tabil­ity and ex­haus­tion that are symp­toms of it, starts with break­ing the cy­cle of de­struc­tive be­hav­iour. Stop and think how you got to your cur­rent state of burnout. Have you mis­man­aged your time, failed to del­e­gate, or al­lowed your work to take an emo­tional toll? Is your burnout the fault of your em­ployer’s un­fair ex­pec­ta­tions, lack of guid­ance and scant praise or ap­pre­ci­a­tion? Is your pro­fes­sion one with high stakes and you’re fail­ing to take the nec­es­sary breaks?

Once you pin­point the cause, “don’t ac­cept burnout as the way things are,” says Shari Roth, a lead­er­ship coach with CAP­I­TAL iDEA in We­ston, Fla. “Take ac­tion.”

Make time for a one-on-one with a man­ager in­stead of agree­ing to un­rea­son­able de­mands, drown­ing in ex­pec­ta­tions and en­dur­ing the frus­tra­tion of not get­ting any­where, Roth sug­gests. “Get clear on what’s im­por­tant and de­velop a plan to­gether. A lot of peo­ple don’t get feed­back, don’t feel val­ued, and don’t feel that their work is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and that’s where the burnout comes from.”

An­other cure for burnout is train­ing. Some peo­ple have jumped into man­ager po­si­tions with­out any know-how and need help with lead­er­ship skills. Oth­ers need help man­ag­ing ex­ces­sive stress. Roth sug­gests ask­ing for train­ing, or if the bud­get is tight, speak to peer man­agers or out­side pro­fes­sion­als for guid­ance.

To be sure, some work­ers will quit their jobs, par­tic­u­larly af­ter watch­ing co-work­ers suc­cumb to burnout. Al­ready, em­ploy­ers are see­ing a surge in ap­pli­ca­tions as the econ­omy im­proves and em­ploy­ees are eye­ing the greener pas­tures. “A lot of cop­ing with burnout is know­ing what you can change and what you can­not change,” says Juan Sanchez, pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment and in­ter­na­tional busi­ness at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity in Mi­ami. “When you have the over­whelm­ing feel­ing you can’t get re­sults, it is time to make a change.”

For their part, em­ploy­ers need to be cog­nizant of the signs of burnout. When a top per­former misses dead­lines, be­comes un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ir­ri­ta­ble or un­able to solve prob­lems, some­one at the com­pany needs to ini­ti­ate a con­ver­sa­tion. It could be a men­tor, a peer, a man­ager or the HR di­rec­tor. “It’s im­por­tant to feel there is some­one at your work­place to talk to,” says Paula Allen, vi­cepres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources for prop­erty man­age­ment firm FirstSer­vice Res­i­den­tial in Hol­ly­wood, Fla., which has 6,400 em­ploy­ees.

Too of­ten, that doesn’t hap­pen. When a burnt-out em­ployee comes to meet with her in HR, Allen con­sid­ers her­self for­tu­nate. “Usu­ally they leave and don’t tell you why,” she says. “When some­one does come in, we can usu­ally fig­ure out what to do. But you’re lucky if you have those con­ver­sa­tions. Of­ten, they are not com­fort­able telling their su­per­vi­sor they are strug­gling.”

At­tor­ney Michael Ehren­stein has put sys­tems in place at his law firm to pre­vent the epi­demic burnout in his pro­fes­sion and cre­ate a cul­ture of bal­ance. As a part­ner at Ehren­stein Char­bon­neau Calderin in Mi­ami, he en­cour­ages firm mem­bers to have out­side in­ter­ests to en­sure work-life bal­ance: “At their first in­ter­view, I ask them, ‘What do you do for fun?’ If they can’t an­swer, then I know they are too big a risk.”


Many hu­man re­source lead­ers say burnout is the No. 1 cul­prit of turnover.

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