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Why Employee Burnout is Detrimental to Engagement—and How to Fix It

Stefanie Jansen
Stefanie Jansen

We’ve all said it. “If only there were more hours in the day.” The fact is, there will never be more than 24. So, what gives? Burnout has become a rampant problem among American workers, regardless of role type, industry, or company size. In fact, 95 percent of HR leaders say that employee burnout is sabotaging their workforce.

But burnout and disengagement aren’t the same thing. In order for employee engagement to occur, three conditions must be present: meaning, safety, and capacity. Without enough time or resources to complete projects, employees reach physical, intellectual, and emotional capacity, resulting in burnout and eventual disengagement from the company mission and values.


How to Identify the Symptoms of Employee Burnout

How can you tell if your employees are burnt out? After all, different people display different stress behaviors based on their personality type, so the signs can be different for everyone. Here are a few that might tip you off:

  • The employee hasn’t taken enough paid time off (PTO). Here at 15five, we “eat our own dog food” by taking the same employee survey we administer to our customers. Like the majority of American workers, we’re no stranger to burnout either. Earlier this year, survey results for the marketing team showed low performance in the PTO driver, which was concerning considering our flexible PTO policy. It indicated that marketing employees were reaching full capacity, so much so that they felt they couldn’t take PTO to recharge. (Keep reading to learn their resolution.)   
  • The employee has become disconnected from the company culture. Everybody needs a little time to step away and have lunch alone at their desk sometimes. But constant hermitage and lack of interaction with your team is cause for concern. One possible cause? Being overworked. If employees are constantly heads down in order to finish their projects, they have no time left to build relationships with other team members, putting team collaboration, culture, and even the ability to meet goals at risk.
  • The employee is irritable and has a lack of zest/energy. As people leaders, we must remember that our teams are made up of humans first—employees second. And because we are human, we require constant nurturing to keep ourselves alive and well-functioning. When these basic needs aren’t met, our physical, mental, and emotional state deteriorates (not to mention our work performance). Recent reports even show that workplace stress has created between $125 and $190 billion in additional healthcare expenditures.



3 Tips for Treating and Preventing Employee Burnout

Employee burnout has such a far-reaching impact that addressing it must be made a priority within your organization in order to quell disengagement, burnout of others, poor company performance, and eventual employee turnover. The trick is taking action before the fire of burnout gets too hot to touch:

  • Institute mandatory PTO or flexible schedules. The 15five marketing team has since come up with a plan to increase their scores in the area of PTO. By selecting regular PTO dates that are mutually agreed upon, everyone can take off at the same time without fear that they’ll constantly be contacted outside of the office, miss out on work while they’re gone, or have to make up another person’s workload. While this plan may not work for every team, showing your employees that you want to make their R&R a priority goes a long way.
    employee capacity

    Using a focus light is a polite way for employees to let other team members know that they don’t want to be interrupted.

  • Stay focused at work. Sometimes, problems with capacity arise because employees are distracted by co-worker interruptions or over-socializing during the day. At 15five, we’ve instituted “focus lights” that politely tell others when an employee wants to be heads-down. That way, the employee can decide when they want to take breaks instead of being constantly interrupted (which research shows can take employees 15 minutes or more to come back from).
  • Increase headcount. “Add more people” always seems to be the first solution everyone thinks of when the going gets tough. But it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong answer. Yes, it requires approved headcount and budget—but it may also help your productivity soar, leading to increased performance. If additional headcount is a problem, consider rearranging teams or reassigning roles so work if more evenly distributed.

Everyone has those days when their “hair’s on fire.” But full-on burnout is a whole different story, as it’s not just about team performance, but employee health and sanity. Treating your employees as the humans they are not only invests in their well-being, but in your culture. We can try to be “super humans” and say things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” but at the end of the day, we crave and require balance.

Heck, even robots have been known to go up in flames.


To learn more about the conditions that lead to employee disengagement and how to prevent them, download the “Symptoms of a Disengaged Employee” e-book. 



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