When employees are unable to do their work, business suffers. Companies need their employees to be performing at their best. High performance drives morale and engagement, which in turn affect productivity and the bottom line. But sometimes the quest for success can increase employee stress and lead to fatigue and burnout. Although the two words are often used interchangeably, they actually describe two different things:
Fatigue is a state of extreme tiredness. It can be very detrimental to employees and the business but is usually a short-term condition that can be remedied.
Burnout is a state of physical or mental collapse. It’s very serious and can lead to employee disengagement and turnover. It’s often considered a long-term condition and can be very difficult to reverse. 1
Burnout in particular is on the rise, thanks to the demands of today’s fast paced, technology-driven workplaces. For example, employees often feel compelled to check their e-mail at midnight, avoid taking vacation, or feel as though they always need to be “on.”
Burnout can quickly spread throughout an organization—with dire consequences. A study by Aptitude Research Partners found that “organizations that have above-average rates of burnout are 66% more likely to lose top performers than their competitors.” Additionally, of the companies that participated in the survey, “67% . . . have experienced productivity or quality issues due to employee fatigue and burnout.” Even in light of these and similar studies, however, very few organizations are making employee burnout and the resulting loss of employee engagement a top priority, with only about one-quarter of the respondents categorizing it as “one of our top organizational concerns at the moment.” 2 At the same time, Gallup has found that organizations with highly engaged employees are 22% more profitable than their competitors. 3 Similarly, research by Willis Towers Watson indicates that “organizations with . . . sustained employee engagement . . . have operating margins three times higher than those of companies with the lowest levels of engagement.” 4
THE DRIVERS OF BURNOUT
Maybe one reason companies aren’t making burnout a priority is that they don’t know how to deal with its primary causes. Aptitude Research Partners identifies workload and work environment as the top two drivers of burnout:
- Workload refers to planning and scheduling. When managers create schedules with “both predictability and flexibility,” everyone wins—and no one is scrambling around trying to cover the operation.
- Work environment is the organizational culture based on communication and setting expectations. Employees need to know how to balance their personal and professional lives so they can take care of themselves. Fortunately, technology can help reduce the negative impact of these drivers and support healthy habits.
Both employees and organizations can use technology to minimize the effects of burnout. Because one of the key drivers is workload, giving employees more control over planning and decision making in their work schedules could create greater flexibility and be perceived as a benefit. Two ways to do that are:
- Employee self-service that provides employees with access to their personal records and payroll details. Enabling employees to request time off, change their contact information, and view other personal details directly not only helps the organization in terms of administration but lets employees find immediate answers to common questions. It’s useful for hourly workers, too, who can easily provide their availability or shift preferences. Being able to work when they want makes employees happy and can reduce burnout.
- Workforce-management solutions (such as online scheduling and shift swaps) that give employees flexibility. With close to 70% of U.S. adults now owning smartphones, 5 it makes sense for employers to consider technology solutions for scheduling that let employees use the tools to which they already have regular access. In addition, research by Aptitude Research Partners found that companies with “shift-swapping capabilities . . . [are] 55% more likely to . . . [have] higher-than-industry-average levels of engagement and 53% more likely to . . . [have] below-average turnover.” 6
Managers, too, can use technology to deal with the drivers of burnout in real time. They can take proactive steps to reduce burnout by making sure employees have schedules that include adequate rest periods. Their options include:
- Human capital management (HCM) solutions that give managers data on proper staffing levels in time to manage overtime and redistribute workloads. Although it’s true that organizations may have to scramble occasionally, that should be the exception—not the norm. Organizations that provide predictable schedules are 174% more likely to have an engaged workforce.
- Absence-management programs that provide managers with the ability to set expectations and monitor resources. Today’s automated absence-management programs can also infuse a bit of fun by using gamification techniques to change employee behaviors. When organizations have a process in place to manage absences, they dramatically reduce their turnover rates.
The key to limiting the contagious nature of burnout is to give employees control over their work and to implement programs that focus on allowing employees to work when they want to work. As scheduling predictability increases, last-minute scrambles for shift coverage decrease (and fewer employees have to pick up the slack). The time to think about employee burnout is before it becomes an issue for the organization. So start taking proactive measures now!
Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender (www.hrbartender.com), a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When not tending bar, she is president of ITM Group, Inc., which specializes in training solutions to help clients retain and engage talent. She can be contacted on Twitter at @HRBartender.
1. Mollie Lombardi. 2016. “Moving Beyond Burnout: Strategies to Sustain Engagement and Retain Workers.” Aptitude Research Partners, June. www.kronos.com/showAbstract.as px?id=23622330010&rr=0&LangType=1033&ecid=701610000005jmCAAQ.
2. Lombardi. 2016.
3. Gallup. 2013. “Engagement at Work: Its Effect on Performance Continues in Tough Economic Times.” Gallup website, March 21. www.gallup.com/services/176657/engagement-work-effect-performance-continues-tough-economic-times.aspx.
4. Willis Towers Watson. 2014. “ Driving Success through Employee Engagement.” Willis Towers Watson website, Junevw www.towerswatson.com/en-BE/Insights/Newsletters/ Global/strategy-at-work/2014/driving-success-through-employee-engagement.
5. Monica Anderson. 2015. “Technology Device Ownership: 2015.” Pew Research Center website, October 29. www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/29/ technology-device-ownership-2015/.
6. Mollie Lombardi. 2016. “Running on Empty: Helping Your Skilled Workforce Avoid Burnout.” Aptitude Research Partners, May. www.kronos.com/showAbstract.aspx?id=2 3622329605&rr=0&LangType=1033&ecid=701610000005jmCAAQ.