Starting a new job is an exciting time for most people, but unfortunately, the enthusiasm that comes with it can quickly fade. Many people find themselves in a situation where they’re quietly quitting—not leaving their job, but no longer giving their best.
In many cases, this "quiet quitting" phenomenon, which can be costly for organizations, is driven by burnout. Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by long-term, unresolved stress. It can manifest itself in various ways, such as feelings of apathy and disengagement with work.
As an employer, addressing the underlying causes of burnout and taking steps to resolve them can help prevent employees from reaching their breaking point and, eventually, quiet quitting.
While it’s easy to overlook changes in an employee’s attitude or behavior when they still get the job done, taking notice of any red flags that indicate burnout is crucial to preventing the situation from getting worse.
Most of the time, employees will be unaware that they’re feeling burned out or may be too reluctant to admit it. It’s the employer’s responsibility to recognize these signs and take action.
But how does burnout differ from stress? Stress is a normal response to everyday pressures, work-related or not, and it’s usually manageable with healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and relaxation techniques.
Burnout, on the other hand, is an extreme form of stress that has accumulated over a long period to the point where it’s no longer manageable. It’s typically accompanied by feelings of exhaustion, helplessness, detachment, and disillusionment with work.
Causes of Burnout
While some people may be naturally inclined to take on too much and push themselves too hard, this doesn't mean they are immune to burnout. Some cases of workplace burnout are caused by other workplace-related factors, such as:
Workload and job demands
Regardless of how passionate, competent, or capable someone might be about their job, setting unrealistic expectations and overly demanding workloads can quickly send employees into a state of poor work-life balance and eventually, burnout.
When employees are stretched too thin and expected to do too much, they become too overwhelmed and exhausted to put their best foot forward. Keep this up for too long, and they'll start to feel stuck in an endless cycle of exhaustion that never ends.
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Lack of control and autonomy
Having too much structure and control over employees can be just as detrimental as having too little. When employees don't have the autonomy to make decisions or take ownership of their work, they may start to feel like cogs in a machine.
This lack of enablement can result in feelings of helplessness, frustration, and powerlessness, leading them to start questioning why they're even bothering to put in the effort.
Poor workplace culture and relationships
Even the most passionate and driven employees can become disengaged from their jobs if the workplace culture is toxic. For example, too much competition or negative energy in the workplace can lead employees to focus more on survival than success or growth.
Whether it’s due to a lack of recognition, strained relationships with colleagues, or an overall unsupportive environment, an unhealthy workplace culture can make people feel unmotivated and detached, leading them to burnout more quickly than they might otherwise be.
Feeling that your work doesn’t matter
Nobody likes to feel like their work is meaningless or that they’re not making a difference, especially when the tasks they’re responsible for are repetitive and mundane.
When employees don’t receive the recognition they deserve, their morale and motivation can suffer, which makes them feel disconnected from their work. As simple as it may sound, celebrating employees for their efforts and hard work can bring a sense of purpose and value to their jobs.
The Cost of Ignoring Burnout
Merely telling employees to “power through” their burnout isn’t a long-term solution. In fact, ignoring burnout can have negative effects not just on the health and well-being of employees but also on the organization as a whole.
Three out of four employees experience burnout occasionally, but many organizations don’t take any steps to address it. Aside from physical exhaustion, employees may also struggle with emotional distress, such as low morale, frustration, and isolation.
With these, burnout can lead to lower productivity, poorer job performance, and increased absenteeism, which can be costly for organizations. Burnout costs the global economy $1 trillion annually due to reduced productivity.
To make matters worse, it can also create an unhealthy workplace culture where people feel constantly pushed beyond their limits. Organizations are more likely to suffer from higher turnover rates, which means spending more on recruitment, onboarding, and training.
Engagement won't solve burnout
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Addressing Burnout in the Workplace
It's easy to say that someone is stressed, but it's much harder to identify where the stress comes from and how to fix it. Here are the easiest ways to address burnout in the workplace and spark some enthusiasm within quiet quitters:
Create a supportive work culture
An organization won't succeed if its employees don't feel supported enough to contribute their best work. Creating a culture that encourages collaboration, respect, and open communication builds trust and loyalty, which can help nurture psychological safety in the workplace.
Promoting a supportive work culture allows employees to feel like they're part of a team that has their back rather than feeling like they're alone in the trenches. It empowers them to speak up, take initiative, and share their ideas without fear of judgment.
Encourage work-life balance
Between the demands of work and family, it can be difficult to find the time to take care of yourself. Encouraging employees to take regular breaks, disconnect from work during their off-hours, and prioritize self-care shows the organization values them as people, not assets.
Aside from providing flexible work schedules and remote working options, organizations can look into offering employees access to wellness benefits, such as yoga classes or gym memberships, resources for time and stress management, counseling services, and mental health days.
Provide resources and support for employees
Sometimes, the best way to prevent burnout is to simply make it easier for employees to finish their work. From providing better tools and ongoing training to giving them more autonomy over their projects, this kind of enablement allows employees to feel more competent and confident in their work.
A lot of times, burnout is caused by a feeling of being overwhelmed and underprepared. Handing out useful resources and offering support every step can help them manage their workloads more effectively, reduce stress levels, and make them feel more in control of their work.
Celebrate employees for their hard work
Although it might seem like a small gesture, acknowledging an employee's hard work and celebrating their wins can do wonders for their morale and motivation.
Recognizing employees’ achievements, no matter how small, is a great reminder that their contributions are valued and appreciated. This doesn’t have to be anything big—just a simple “thank you” or a small reward for their efforts can show that you value them and the effort they put into their work.
All too often, organizations turn a blind eye to burnout, but this lack of action only makes the problem worse. Burnout isn't a people problem. It's a sign that something is wrong in the workplace.
Being aware of the signs of burnout and taking proactive steps to prevent it can create a healthy work environment where employees are supported, engaged, motivated, and productive.
Encouraging employees to take breaks, providing mental health resources, and allowing flexible work arrangements are just a few ways organizations can remedy the rising problem of burnout.
Working to prevent burnout is a win-win for employers and employees as it can reduce quiet quitting by increasing job satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty while making the workplace a healthier and happier place where everyone can grow and thrive.
Engagement is not enough
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