By Henry Albrecht, founder and CEO, Limeade.
Leading CEOs will never say “wellness” is a top priority. Instead, they care about increasing revenue, providing great customer service or disrupting their market. Most see “an engaged workforce” as a path to these results. Even today’s successful “well-being” programs, which look nothing like their early predecessors (annual biometrics and flu shots, anyone?) are largely ignored by CEOs, and rarely connect to the purpose of the company.
Yes, many employers have embraced a more comprehensive whole-person approach to well-being, one that addresses emotional, physical, work and even financial well-being. But these alone can’t solve burnout.
These evolved “well-being” programs look beyond simple health outcomes and have a direct connection to improved employee well-being and critical business outcomes like employee engagement and reduced turnover.
For example, 88 percent of employees with higher well-being feel engaged at work, compared to 50 percent of employees with lower well-being. And 98 percent of employees with both higher well-being and a higher perception that their company supports their well-being say they want to be working at the same company in one year.
But even with this data at their fingertips, most C-suite leaders still find well-being too fluffy, hard-to-measure and irrelevant to their businesses. So, they have to look even more broadly. And the well-being industry needs to evolve and become relevant, or die.
When companies take a broader look at the results associated with an engaged and energized workforce, they’ll find real ROI within programs that were once seen as traditional wellness or well-being focused. ‘Engaged’ here doesn’t mean having well-being — it means a deep connection and sense of purpose at work that provides extra energy and commitment. And that’s what drives business results. Until employers combine well-being with employee engagement in their strategies, measurement approaches and programs, they will never solve employee burnout.
From on fire to burned out
Because it sits at the intersection of something CEOs largely ignore — well-being — and something they pay attention to with increasing frequency — employee engagement — it’s not typically measured in one place. (Until now.) And you can only manage what you can measure.
Employee burnout is created by ongoing and intense job-related stress. This shows up in employees as exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy, especially among the most talented and engaged employees.
Burnout is also associated with absenteeism, intention to leave the job and actual turnover. But for people who stay on the job, burnout leads to lower productivity, and decreased job satisfaction. Plus, it has negative impacts on team members. Burnout is often “contagious,” spreading toxicity across a team or spilling over into life outside of work. Cynical people just do worse work. It’s proven.
To burn out, an employee must be highly engaged and care deeply enough to get to the point of feeling burned out. Those at most risk for burnout are the top performing employees that employers can’t afford to lose.
In a new report, the Limeade Institute determined that burnout emerges when a highly engaged employee begins to have low well-being. Sadly, this is often a result of work pressure and lack of support from the employer.
“You have to be on fire in order to burn out,” said Dr. Hamill, lead researcher and Chief Science Officer of the Limeade Institute. “While both disengaged and burned out employees are at high risk for turnover, burnout is not the same as disengagement. If an employee isn’t feeling the energy or commitment from being engaged at work, then they’re most likely disengaged — not suffering from burnout.”
The Limeade Institute found employers are actively driving out top talent by causing the burnout and leaving it up to employees to deal with alone. The most common causes of burnout are not individual, but rather organizational; think work overload, role ambiguity, lack of feedback, lack of support and a perceived lack of fairness.
Burnout is acutely rampant in healthcare, particularly among caregivers. According to research from the Mayo Clinic, more than half of physicians report one or more symptoms of burnout. Similar research found the prevalence of burnout among nurses is as high as 70 percent and as high as 50 percent for physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. And Stanford Medicine research highlights that it costs them between $250,000 and almost $1 million every time they need to replace a physician. They estimate physician burnout costs at least $7.75 million a year. Keeping just a dozen physicians from burning out is worth millions to just one hospital.
Technology to combat burnout
To combat burnout, it’s important to uncover groups at the highest risk. This can be done through simple surveys that ask people if they’re feeling burned out or through more robust employee engagement and well-being surveys that cover a wider range of topics around stress, workload, manager support and more.
For example, Limeade added a burnout risk indicator on its Engagement Dashboard to help employers identify trends in engagement and turnover, and pinpoint employee groups who are highly engaged but have low well-being (the formula for burnout). Knowing which groups are at highest risk gives employers a place to start. Based on these insights, companies can offer employees professionally developed and science-based activities that promote work-life balance, sleep health, stress management and other activities to improve physical, emotional, financial and work well-being.
While it’s important to offer activities that help combat burnout, it’s equally as important to address the root causes to understand what lead to an employee feeling burned out. This is where managers play a key role. Managers have the power to make life at work better for employees by listening, building safe places to talk and otherwise authentically supporting their people.
How to snuff out burnout
Employers must recognize the role they play in employee burnout. With strong managers and an understanding of what causes burnout, employers can more readily prevent their top talent from burning out. To prevent burnout, consider:
- Connecting employees to their purpose
When people are connected to their purpose, they’re more connected to their work and the company’s mission.
- Fostering a well-being mindset
When managers understand how employees react to stress, they’ll be more likely to help their employees avoid burnout. Encourage managers to remind employees that’s it’s important to take care of themselves.
- Building social connections
We’re social creatures and rely on each other for support. Employers can boost community among employees by building community and social networks to help employees get the support they need when they’re feeling stressed.
- Providing recovery time
Everyone needs a break to recover. Managers should adjust workloads and notice when people are in overdrive for too long. Give time to refresh and re-ignite. And have your leaders model this, too.
While burnout is an individual and organizational virus that targets your most committed people, it can be prevented. And it’s up to employers to take action. Take time to understand what parts of your organization are at highest risk for burnout and why they’re feeling this way. Start with your managers — empower them as your front line against burnout by providing them simple tools and resources. Implement purpose-driven social networking and give employees the time they need to recover. Not only will this help prevent burnout, it will help foster a culture that puts your employees’ well-being and engagement first, the hallmark of all great companies.