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Who Loses in the Economics of Burnout?

Burnout is officially a medical diagnosis and costs employers thousands. It’s an epidemic that sends companies and their teams into inevitable downward spirals. Here’s what we can do about it.

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In 2018, Stacy Baker was at the top of her game as an administrative assistant in the hectic fields of engineering and architecture. Her unique background in operations management plus a B.A. in English Language and Literature made her the perfect fit to keep the gears of production and communication turning.

However, there was a problem. Work piled up past 8 p.m. each night, forcing her into the “unholy trinity” of responding to emails, checking messages, and shooting off “last minute” memos well after working hours. In fact, it had gotten to the point where set “working hours” were more a dream than a reality.

Today, while her situation has happily changed since becoming part of my team, it is certainly not uncommon. It’s a recipe for the problem du jour of the modern office: employee burnout.

Most shockingly, the employees most susceptible to this are the ones who love their jobs and find meaning in what they do.

Our Burnout Epidemic

Gallup reports that 67% of full-time workers “experience burnout on the job.” While it may seem like just another part of the job, it has severe economic consequences. The report continues, sharing that burned out employees are:

  • 63% more likely to take sick days,
  • 260% more likely to hunt for a new job,
  • 13% less likely to be confident in their performance,
  • 50% less likely to discuss performance goals with their bosses,
  • And worst of all, 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.

This is a losing recipe on three fronts: the company, the customers, and the employees. 

Whose Problem is It?

Burnout is a problem—and the economic impact is clear. Are you ready for more sobering news, though?

Harvard professor Joel Goh estimates workplace stress — a leading cause of burnout — is responsible for about 8% of U.S. healthcare spending and contributes to 120,000 deaths per year.

Worse than hitting our bottom lines, burnout is a deadly issue. So, who’s responsible to address it?

Traditionally, the narrative is that it’s a personal issue rather than an organizational one. However, in their book Time, Talent, Energy, authors Michael Mankins and Eric Garton assert that when employee productivity is low and burnout is high, organizations are at fault.

They found three culprits: “excessive collaboration, weak time management disciplines, and a tendency to overload the most capable with too much work.” The pair explain that each robs workers time to concentrate on complex tasks, spend time generating fresh ideas, and stifles needed downtime for restoration.

While there are many avenues to correcting each factor, the big idea is the data spotlight the number one culprit in burnout is a business itself. If it’s a businesses’ fault it should also be the business offering paths to wellness.

3 Ways to Combat Employee Burnout Right Now

As a CEO, I take this seriously because I want my company to grow, my customers to be served well, and my employees to thrive. After learning burnout is officially a medical diagnosis, it urgently prompts this question: What can I do to prevent (or correct) it?

Here are three things we have seen work and I believe every company can do to some degree.

#1. Ask and Observe

Scientifically, burnout has three expressions: exhaustion, cynicism, and ineffectiveness. While each may be present in the same person, not all are required to harm wellbeing (and thus performance).

Look for these key indicators through wellness surveys, one-on-one meetings, or simple observation.

This means, as leaders, we focus on serving our team. And getting ahead of burnout and all its various symptoms is a key part of our job.

#2. Increase Flexibility 

My company is somewhat unique, so this is not a one-size-fits-all action step. But as a premium subscription staffing company, we have over 100 Fortune-500 trained executive assistants, project managers, marketing managers, and more in 17 U.S. states — and we are fully remote.

Without fail, our employees tell us one of the best things we do is let them set their own schedules and location. This means they can make work work for them while living anywhere in the country.

Obviously not every company has this luxury. But can you allow for more flexible hours during the week (even one day per week)? Can you proactively offer remote options?

#3. Foster a Balance-Friendly Culture

Last, create a culture of work-life integration. This decreases burnout while increasing output. It may sound like a silver-bullet that’s too good to be true — but as the future of work, data show flexibility is often worth more than higher pay to workers. And flexibility fosters highly-meaningful balance.

The ROI of Well-Being

So, what’s next for your culture? Is it one where burnout is a constant presence employees should deal with on their time off? Or, is it something you’ll commit to addressing (and even preventing)?

Not only is it the right thing to do for your employees and culture, it’s one of the best economic drivers as well. Your company wins, your people win, and so do your customers.

In my book, the ROI of well-being speaks for itself.

What is your experience with burnout — either personally or organizationally?

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