How to Treat Burnout and Restore Employee Morale
Many writers who cover workforce issues latch on to a good catchphrase — a soundbite that will get clicks. The current favorite is “Quiet Quitting,” which is a term that was recently coined on social media platform TikTok. Employees are not actually quitting, however. Instead, they are fulfilling their responsibilities within the boundaries of the standard work hours and avoiding the extra above-and-beyond work that is often expected, and maybe even required, by their employers.
These “quiet quitting” employees are psychologically disengaged from their jobs, or what we know as “burned out.” With all that is happening in the world, the effect that it is having on employees is not a surprise.
According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” The World Health Organization defines burnout as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from a job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to that job and reduced professional efficacy.” Sound familiar?
The Mayo Clinic suggests that job burnout may be attributed to a lack of control, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, extremes of activity from monotonous to chaotic, a lack of social support and work-life imbalance.
Those possible causes of burnout all seem to be at play in the print and promo life. The past few years have been a stressful combination of supply chain interruptions, fluctuating prices, and the rescheduling and cancellation of events. Add in the stressors encountered at home — amplified for caregivers — and companies have a serious issue to address to keep and restore their teams.
Burnout is at Every Level of the Company
Generation Z — the newest members of the workforce — are experiencing burnout to a greater degree than any other group, and millennials are not far behind. A study by the software company Asana found that 84% of Gen Z and 74% of millennials are burned out. Baby boomers are far less burned out, with only 47% of them feeling burned out. The study also found that burnout leads to lower morale, less engagement, more mistakes and greater miscommunication. Those outcomes, in turn, add to the burnout and the downward spiral of engagement and morale.
Executives are feeling burnout at an even higher rate than other employees, with 86% shown to be burned out based on a Wiley Research Survey of more than 5,000 professionals. Expecting burned-out executives to restore burned-out employees is a tall order.
While burnout is typically considered a psychological condition, the physical manifestation of burnout cannot be underestimated. A study by the American Psychological Association found that before the pandemic, 6% of workers reported physical fatigue. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, that number jumped to 38%. Nearly every aspect of most people’s lives has been affected by the pandemic and the result is a burned out, broken workforce.
Real Help for Your Employees
Spoiler alert: Companies will not be able to quickly restore their employees back to prepandemic levels of psychological and physical health. There is not a switch that shuts off burnout.
Health experts and workplace management gurus have many strategies about what might work. But the workforce has been taken into uncharted areas and nobody knows for sure what strategies will help employees to, again, like their jobs, companies and work. Here are suggestions based on a review of the experts, along with my own anecdotal and lived experiences:
1. Teach your executives and managers how to express empathy. It demonstrates that your company cares about individual members of its team, not just the generalized well-being of the workforce. It creates connection between employees and their supervisors, and can go a long way to keeping communication open.
2. Don’t cut corners. The cutbacks that many companies made create additional work with little or no additional compensation for the employees who performed the work of those empty positions. Take a long look at the financials and where money can be found, pay additional compensation to those doing the extra work.
3. Bring your team together in the same physical space. If remote working has become the norm, create opportunities for employees to meet each other in person. Remote working might be embraced for convenience, cost savings and other benefits, but it also appears to have a negative effect on engagement and increases burnout. Building connections between co-workers improves engagement and decreases stress. It is possible that the employees who work remotely do not realize that the arrangement may have a negative effect on their work experience.
4. Form a mentoring program at your company. These relationships are where employees can receive encouragement and support from each other. It’s one more friend in the workplace and a trusted relationship that will encourage burned-out newer employees to stay and give burned-out established employees a sense of purpose.
5. Create a culture of open communication that connects all levels of the company. Establish company-wide policies and discussion opportunities. Owners and C-level employees should encourage and seek out chances to talk and connect with employees who have less seniority. Executives should have frequent and clear conversations with their teams to check in on their well-being, provide status of how the company is performing and to answer questions that the employees may have.
Creating Reasons for Employees to Stay
Ultimately, burned-out employees will leave the company. They many languish and then resign, or they may be so ineffective that they are asked to leave. A holistic approach to renewing our teams is creating reasons for them to stay. These five strategies are a good start. We have all learned that every aspect of life and work seem to be in constant flux since early 2020. Review policies and expectations regularly and ask what the company can do to make employees want to stay. With this regular consideration of what is important to employees, companies can continue to provide their teams with what they need to be renewed in their work.
Adriane Harrison is the vice president of human relations consulting at PRINTING United Alliance.
Adriane Harrison is Vice President, Human Relations Consulting at PRINTING United Alliance. Adriane assists members with a wide variety of HR matters involving statutes, regulations, policies, procedures, culture, and staffing, as well as the gamut of day-to-day HR issues. In addition, she supports professional development by conducting webinars, participating in panel discussions, and speaking at industry events on human resources issues. Currently, Adriane is the Chairperson of the Graphic Communications Workforce Coalition, a member of the Women in Print Alliance, and a founder of the Women’s Print Mentoring Network.
Adriane received a journalism degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago. As an attorney, Adriane practiced in both the public and private sectors. Her work was in the areas of Constitutional, commercial, securities, and criminal law. Adriane and her family live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.