What You’re Getting Wrong About Burnout

The burnout crisis is here, but many managers are failing to address the root causes of stress for employees.

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Have you ever come back from vacation feeling rested and reenergized, only to find yourself feeling fried again just a few days later?

That’s because a week off usually doesn’t address the fundamental issues that make burnout a consistent problem in the workplace.

As an expert on emotions at work and head of content at Humu, a company focused on workplace behavioral change, I help leaders and managers improve well-being within their teams. Over the past year, burnout has become a top concern within organizations, and for good reason. In 2020, 71% of employees experienced burnout at least once. Across Humu’s enterprise customers, 62% of employees have reported feeling overwhelmed by work responsibilities, and 32% have said they are emotionally drained. And research from Qualtrics shows that stress and burnout are the main reasons people are thinking of leaving their jobs in the coming months and year — a time economists have already dubbed “The Great Resignation.”

In response, many leaders have started offering additional vacation time, established “no meeting” blocks on the calendar to give employees a break from back-to-back video calls, and encouraged people to take breaks throughout the day.

These are all helpful measures, but on their own, they’re usually not enough to turn things around for exhausted employees. That’s because work overload is only one cause of burnout. Too often, organizations fail to acknowledge — let alone address — other dimensions. The Maslach Burnout Inventory, the first clinically based measure of burnout, also measures cynicism and feeling ineffective at your job. And our research at Humu shows that lacking a sense of meaning and not receiving the emotional support you need to thrive are also strongly related to feeling stretched too thin.

As many teams transition from fully remote to hybrid work environments in the months to come, the turbulence and uncertainty that characterized the early months of the pandemic are fast becoming a reality of the new normal as well. Organizations that don’t help their people feel a sense of purpose, belonging, and progress amid these forces will see burnout persist — or worsen. Here are seven specific steps leaders and managers can take to create a healthier work environment for employees.

1. Acknowledge what your people are going through.

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