What’s Causing Employee Burnout?

Employee burnout has been tied to factors such as low pay, long hours and poor onboarding–with effects that range from low employee engagement to high turnover rates. The pervasiveness of the issue was addressed in a recent study that painted a bleak picture of the employee experience–and highlighted the need for employers to reduce the risk of employee burnout.

Nearly one-third of 3,000 global employees surveyed said they’re approaching a state of burnout, according to Engaging Opportunity: Working Your Way, by the Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc. Adding to that, the report also found that about a third of employees believe their managers don’t care if they burn out. In the U.S., that cynicism about manager perceptions was most common among those who work in public-safety fields (42 percent), as well as those ages 28-37 (36 percent).

So what’s causing employee burnout? One aspect could be strict time-off policies–nearly a third of respondents said they’re expected to report to work even when they’re sick, and about a quarter even said they have to report to work so their supervisor can gauge just how ill they are, a practice that could be costly for the organization. Twenty-two percent of U.S. employees reported that they don’t get paid for sick time–a stat that is nearly double in Mexico and France. Unsurprisingly, nearly three-quarters of global employees surveyed try to avoid using sick days.

The survey come on the heels of an O.C. Tanner report that highlighted the business case for employee time off. Among its findings, the study found that 70 percent of employees who regularly take a week-long vacation in the summer report being highly motivated to contribute to the organization’s success, compared to 55 percent of those who do not take that time off.

However, the time-off-approval process can be a burden, employees said in Engaging Opportunity. About half reported that a supervisor rejected a time-off request in the last year. The nature of the rejected requests varied and include vacation (26 percent), personal time (22 percent), sick time (16 percent) and bereavement (10 percent).

“Many organizations offer innovative benefits and modern workspaces, but our research shows that common processes and policies, especially around individual workload and time off, are a challenge to navigate and end up negatively impacting the overall employee experience,” said Joyce Maroney, executive director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos.

A better scheduling experience may reduce the risk of employee burnout, according to the report. About 90 percent of survey respondents said their company could benefit from improvements to its scheduling process.

Enhanced training for front-line managers about time-off requests, including the importance of work/life balance, can support that aim, Maroney said. Using AI and emerging technologies to build time-off procedures that are both consistent and transparent, she added, can also reduce the risk of employee burnout.

“Organizations that are ready to empower employees to build a schedule that works for the individual and the business will be ready for the next big workplace transformation,” Maroney said.

Nearly half of employees surveyed said they blame their direct manager for a time-off rejection, which could fuel disengagement. Automated solutions like chatbots that approve time-off requests in real time can stifle that trend, said Ian Parkes, director of Coleman Parkes Research, which conducted the research with the Workforce Institute at Kronos.

“This global survey demonstrates that employees want their employers to focus on getting the basics right,” he said, which includes giving them more authority over building flexible schedules. “Organizations will only achieve high engagement levels if they recognize employees have responsibilities and obligations outside of work.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]