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Feeling the Burn(out): Exploring How Employees Overcome Burnout

Human Resources
Article
02/25/2019

When your employees start a new job, usually they genuinely enjoy the work. For any number of reasons, however — unclear job expectations, an offset work-life balance, or even dysfunctional co-worker dynamics — some employees begin to feel stressed at the thought of going in on a Monday morning.

That stress can transform into cynicism, irritation, poor performance, and even physical symptoms including headaches and stomach pains. Their job isn’t necessarily making them sick, but the effects of work burnout might be.

Is professional burnout a universal experience, or are some industries more inclined to feel mentally exhausted at work? To find out, we surveyed 1,001 employees about their jobs, what caused them to feel burned out, and ultimately which coping mechanisms helped them overcome the emotional drain of their jobs. Read on as we break down findings from this survey, which explored how often most people expect to stay in one job, and the role work burnout plays in their career choice.

Most stressful jobs

No job or industry is without stressors, but some work environments can leave more people burned out than others.

From unhappy customers to long hours and a fast-paced environment, working in hospitality (including hotel and food services) isn’t just stressful — it can be especially hard on people’s mental health. Around 80 percent of survey respondents working in hospitality felt burned out. Their job responsibilities, high turnover rates in the industry itself, and relatively low earnings may also add to the emotional pressure of working as a server, cook, or restaurant manager, among other jobs.

Other industries where a majority of survey respondents labeled themselves as burned out included manufacturing (roughly 77 percent), medical and health care (almost 77 percent), education (76 percent), construction (over 75 percent), and wholesale and retail (75 percent).

Bad office energy

Even if it never escalates to full-on burnout, there’s a very high likelihood that employees have experienced the single biggest contributing factor to burnout: stress. Job-related stress can be caused by low compensation, lack of growth or development, not enough challenges, and even unclear expectations.

Nearly 73 percent of respondents with burnout said a stressful workload was the biggest cause. More than half also identified lack of personal growth as a reason for feeling burned out, followed by an overload of personal responsibilities (47 percent), unpleasant work relationships with management (30 percent), and long commutes (24 percent).

Tossing and turning

No matter what element of work is getting your employees down, there’s a good chance they’ll take those negative emotions home. Whether it was their long commute or strained relationships with their colleagues, between 69 and 75 percent of burned-out respondents struggled to get out of bed in the morning, and nearly as many said they were unable to feel rested.

Higher risk for burnout

While millennial respondents were the most likely to feel disdain or resentment toward their colleagues or managers, another generation also felt many emotions tied to burnout: baby boomers. Baby boomer respondents were the most negatively affected by feeling undervalued, excessive or stressful workloads, lack of sleep, and not feeling supported by colleagues or management.

Respondents working in the transportation and warehousing industry stood out as the most likely to experience burnout. These individuals more often experienced difficulty getting out of bed, a stressful workload, and trouble sleeping at night.

Anatomy of a burned-out career

Burnout can happen in any career. Of course, it can happen much quicker in some industries, and those stresses could trigger an exceptionally high turnover rate.

Respondents across several industries reported feeling a certain level of emotional apathy and cynicism in less than five years, including those working in hospitality, finance, entertainment, technology, and public administration. While stress likely plays a key role in how quickly some employees feel burned out, our analysis suggests it might not be the only contributing factor.

People whose jobs required constant movement compared to sitting all day tended to last an extra year, on average, before feeling burned out, and younger generations experienced burnout nearly three years faster than those 10 or 20 years their senior.

Coping mechanisms

The symptoms of burnout aren’t hard to spot, but many employees may be dealing with it. What options do employees have if quitting their jobs and moving on isn't one of them?

The most common solution may also be the most helpful: Take a vacation. It may sound like simple advice, but across the country, a record 200 million vacation days go unused, costing workers $66 billion in lost benefits. More importantly, those forfeited vacation hours could be the missing ingredient for less stress and better emotional wellness.

Additionally, nearly 60 percent of respondents said catching up on lost sleep was instrumental in helping them conquer burnout at work. More than half also identified starting a hobby, meditating, and exercising as particularly effective solutions. In contrast, doing nothing (almost 83 percent) and looking for a new job (18 percent) ranked among the ways employees look to mitigate burnout at work.

In it for the long haul

While most employees said leaving their job (or hunting for a new one) wasn’t effective at reducing their burnout, it was still a common response to feeling overwhelmed at work.

Turnover might not just be a mistake for the average employee — it can also be extremely costly for businesses struggling to retain their talent. In addition to the “hard costs,” there is also the expense of lost productivity and negative morale that can come when an employee decides to leave.

More than half of people polled who were burned out also said they were dissatisfied with their current salary. Businesses that motivate their employees may not only be helping reduce burnout but also the high cost of turnover. Around 91 percent of motivated respondents were also satisfied with their pay. That motivation also came with a sense of loyalty to employers (over 73 percent), and doubled the likelihood of respondents staying with their current jobs for six years or longer over indifferent employees.

Professional tenure expectancy

Workplace motivation was often successful at reducing employee burnout and increasing retention rates, but it may be more impactful among older generations, according to our survey.

Millennials may be more responsive to different workplace approaches to motivate them (like office perks and innovative collaboration), but we found that feeling motivated is less likely to incentivize them to stick around longer. Compared to 66 percent of Gen Xers who identified feeling motivated by their current employers and expected to stay at their jobs for six years or longer, just 42 percent of millennials said the same.

A quality investment

Feeling burned out at work isn’t a passing state of mind. It can turn into a long-term, emotional burden that extends beyond working hours. As we found, certain industries are more likely to experience burnout than others, but the impact of that stress can be universal.

While employee turnover can happen in any business, taking a proactive approach to reduce, and possibly eliminate, unwelcome departures makes sense it today’s tight labor market. Whether an employee has already begun the process of leaving or is showing signs of lost morale or productivity, this could be an opportunity for management. Catching these signs becomes an opportunity to sit down with employees and discuss what's going on.

Not all employees will stay for the long haul. Noticing these signs and working to keep employees may reduce your churn rate and help you minimize your expenses related to turnover. Visit Paychex.com to learn more.

Methodology

For this project, we collected responses from 1,001 current employees via a survey. The breakdown of demographics used was as follows: 52.1% of our participants were men and 47.9% were women. 9.1% of our participants were baby boomers, 27.6% were Gen Xers, and 63.4% were millennials. 6.1% of our participants worked in arts, entertainment, and recreation, 5.2% in construction, 10.1% in education, 10.3% in finance and insurance, 5.3% in government and public administration, 8.2% in hotel, food services, and hospitality, 10.4% in information services and data processing, 6.1% in manufacturing, 9.5% in medical and health care, 10.8% in technology, 4.2% in transportation and warehousing, and 13.8% in wholesale and retail.

23.2% of our participants were entry-level employees, 38.4% were intermediate employees, 16.4% were lower management, 18.1% were middle management, and 3.9% were senior, executive, or top-level management. 26.8% of our participants described their day-to-day movement as being constant, 9.6% described it as having little movement while on their feet, and 63.5% reported sitting most of the workday. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 81 with a mean of 36.2 and a standard deviation of 10.8. Demographics with less than a sample size of 26 were excluded from our analysis.

Limitations

The data presented were collected via survey, which means there can be issues introduced such as exaggeration and selective memory. The research was done as an exploratory endeavor, and future research could examine workplace burnout in regard to exact repercussions of not dealing with the issue. The data were not statistically tested.

Sources

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