Burnout Isn’t Just About Being Overworked

Burnout is impacting your team. Research from Indeed shows burnout affects a majority of workers, with more than two-thirds of people also believing the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates those feelings. Yet many companies fail to effectively address burnout. That’s because they often have a narrow view of what causes burnout.

Job burnout has three main symptoms: exhaustion or having no energy to perform at work, lack of passion or excitement for the job, and decreased efficiency. People often look at burnout with black-and-white thinking: you’re burned out because you’re either overworked or not.

While being overworked contributes to burnout, there are many more reasons for it. In fact, research published in the New York Times shows that burnout doesn’t always stem from overworking. Oftentimes, it stems from having a poor work culture.

Here are factors of poor organizational culture that lead to burnout, and ways you can avoid them.

Lack of alignment

Misalignment between leadership, management, and front-line employees contributes to burnout because it creates an experience that frustrates your people, which increases stress. Stress and burnout are closely related. 

Let’s say one of your people worked hard to complete a project. Their manager then says that they want to take the project in a new direction after further reflection with leadership. An isolated example of this can be forgiven but imagine this happening consistently. It’ll frustrate your people because they will constantly have to start from scratch. 

This means they’re spending double the time meeting expectations, which eats up time for them to finish other tasks. That can lead to poor work-life balance, which increases stress. Research shows that high stress often leads to burnout. 

Tip: Align expectations and be transparent about them. Leadership and management need to agree on expectations. Once they are in lockstep, management needs to effectively communicate those expectations to teams with clear roles and responsibilities. If there are changes in expectations, communicate to staff members as soon as possible.


No focused recognition

Focused employee recognition is openly acknowledging and expressing appreciation for a person’s specific positive contributions to the organization. When focused recognition is not part of your culture, it leads to burnout.

Lack of recognition creates a belief within your employees that they are not appreciated. When your people feel underappreciated, it decreases job satisfaction. Research in the National Library of Medicine journal shows job dissatisfaction is one of the most significant factors contributing to burnout.

Research from PsychTests, a provider of psychological assessment, also shows that underappreciated employees are likely to display common symptoms of burnout:

  • 58 percent of unappreciated employees said the thought of going to work makes them feel physically ill compared to 18 percent of appreciated workers
  • 48 percent of unappreciated employees said they no longer care about performing well compared to 16 percent of appreciated workers
  • 49 percent of unappreciated employees said they could no longer handle the tasks their job entails compared to 17 percent of appreciated workers

Tip: Make focused recognition a cornerstone of your culture. Some of the ways you can do that include:

  • Giving thanks. A study revealed that 75 percent of employees said that if managers thanked them in real-time, motivation in the workplace would improve.
  • Encouraging shoutouts, or publicly recognizing someone for performing well. You can do this by encouraging your people to dedicate a portion of meetings to shoutouts. 
  • Creating a section in your company newsletter that celebrates employees, their hard work, and when they uniquely demonstrate your company values.

Lack of trust

Lack of trust causes stress for your people. Research shows people who are more stressed are more likely to experience burnout. That’s because when you don’t trust your people, it often leads to micromanagement.

Micromanagement is stressful. It’s a negative experience that leads your people to believe that you think they are incapable of performing their job duties well, which can harm their confidence. When your people aren’t confident, it makes them insecure, which leads to anxiety. This leads to higher levels of stress, which impacts their overall well-being, resulting in burnout.

Micromanagement also leads to burnout because it doesn’t respect people’s different working, learning, or thought-processing styles. It forces people to complete a task a certain way. This inflexible work arrangement causes stress because your people will feel limited. It imposes a process that may feel unnatural to them or reduces their productivity.

Tip: Trust your people by giving them autonomy. When you do this, you create an experience that makes your people believe they have ownership of their work. Research shows that employees are 43 percent less likely to experience high levels of burnout when they have job autonomy. Ways to instill job autonomy include:

Inspire accountability

When we talk about accountability, we don’t mean, “who takes the blame when something goes wrong?” Instead, accountability should be viewed as something you are given; it’s empowerment to do your job to the best of your ability and rise above extraneous circumstances when you don’t meet expectations.

Focusing on results

If results meet expectations, the way your people achieve them shouldn’t matter. You should recognize that every person has their own process to complete a task. 

Turn mistakes into learning opportunities

Your people are going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. Lean into that by giving them the resources, training, and counsel so that they avoid repeating mistakes or even making them in the first place.

Embrace flexible work

The Covid-19 pandemic forced many people to work remotely. This underscored an important realization: people can perform well outside the office. It made people see they don’t need to be in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to excel.

Let’s say one of your employees needs to leave the office mid-afternoon for a doctor’s appointment but plans to finish up tasks when he’s home later. That shouldn’t cause too much concern. You should trust that they can manage their time while still getting their work done.

Take Action to Combat Burnout

Burnout is a nuanced issue with many contributing factors. When your people constantly report being burned out, it’s not because their jobs are too hard. It’s because your culture isn’t supporting their needs. People need – and deserve – to feel safe, respected, and valued within their roles. Ensure you build a results-driven culture that supports them. Culture Partners has the approach to guide you on your path to a great organizational culture. Reach out to us.

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