Burnout Dilemma - Are you Asking the Right Questions?

The State of Mental Health in the Workplace

In 2022, goBeyondProfit’s survey of employed adults in Georgia raised a red flag concerning the state of mental health in the workplace. This year, employees continue to prioritize their requests for mental health support.

A deeper look at this year’s responses from executives and employees highlighted a curious distinction between respondents’ comfort levels in reporting their mental health status versus sharing burnout struggles.

When It Comes to Mental Health, Word Choice Matters a Great Deal

When asked about their overall mental health, most executives (91%) and employees (80%) rate it as good to excellent. Yet, when specifically asked whether their job has caused mental health challenges in the last 12 months, the veneer of happiness cracks, with a full third of employees (34%) responding affirmatively and more than half of employees aged 18 to 24 (51%) reporting mental health challenges directly tied to their work experience.

When asked about the concept of burnout, our 2023 surveys told a very different story. As such, asking the right questions may be the key difference between achieving a productive culture and one that burns too hot. [See the Expert Interview Series: Reducing Burnout at Work]

The Pervasive Toll of Burnout

We explored the concept of burnout further by asking employees and executives specific questions about their workplace experience. The results were alarming. The vast majority of people – employees and executives alike – report they are currently experiencing burnout. It is clear that regardless of a company’s industry, location, or size, burnout is taking a toll.

Burnout: def. A psychological state of exhaustion stemming from persistent exposure to work-related stressors while lacking sufficient resources to efficiently cope with these stressors.

National Institute of Health

A shocking 70% of employed adults in Georgia claim to be currently experiencing burnout. Of these employees, 51% believe they can manage their burnout level; however, nearly 20% have reached a point where they admit burnout impacts their work performance.

Perhaps more remarkable is the number of executive respondents willing to admit they are experiencing burnout (67%). Moreover, while 58% of executive respondents feel they are managing their burnout, 9%  shared that their current level of burnout affects their work performance.

The Domino Effect of Burnout in the Workplace

Burnout’s Impact on Productivity: The data shows a strong correlation between burnout levels and workplace productivity. Respondents who report no burnout (51%) are 18 percentage points more likely to say their productivity has improved over the past year than those whose burnout is affecting their performance (33%).

Burnout’s Impact on Retention: The data shows that people experiencing burnout are more likely to leave their job in the next 12 months. Employees and executives who report being completely burned out (50%) or having a high level of burnout (34%) are significantly more likely to leave their jobs in the next 12 months than those without burnout (6%).

Those experiencing higher levels of burnout claim that more aspects of work life have worsened, reporting declines in mentorship/professional development (21% vs. 3% for those with no burnout) and connection to colleagues (38% vs. 8%), in addition to increased feelings of inequity (29% vs. 8%) and loneliness (46% vs. 8%).

Burnout Erodes Purpose & Company Values: The data shows that burnout quickly erodes the benefits of purpose and values. A remarkable 90% of employees said their daily work connects to the company’s purpose. And while 86% of respondents said their company lives its stated values, burnout quickly erodes these efforts.

Those not experiencing burnout are twice as likely to say their company is very successful at connecting daily work to a purposethan those with at least some burnout (67% vs. 38%). Similarly, employees without burnout are twice as likely to say their company is very successful at living out their stated values daily than those with at least some burnout (63% vs. 34%).

Burnout Among Managers is a Key Concern

Looking at burnout by age provides an interesting lens into its potential impact across various roles within a company.

Entry-Level Employees: For employees aged 18 to 24 who typically make up most of your entry-level workforce, 78% admit experiencing some to complete burnout.

Managers: For employees aged 25 to 44 who find themselves in challenging management roles, 67% admit experiencing some to complete burnout.

Managers to Senior Executive: For employees aged 45 to 54 who fill the bulk of the senior leadership roles, 75% admit experiencing some to complete burnout. These employees typically have more direct reports and a heavier workload than their counterparts.

Senior Executive to CEO: Employees 55+ who typically hold the most senior leadership roles reported the least amount of burnout, but the majority (65%) admit experiencing some level of burnout.

The data confirms that burnout is a cross-generational problem affecting all levels of companies and requires a variety of solutions.

Low-Cost Solutions to Burnout

With most employees and executives managing some level of burnout, the data highlights some cost-effective solutions worth considering:

Flexible Work Schedules May Be the Cheapest Solution: Those experiencing complete burnout are more likely to say they were physically in the workplace more often than last year. Thus, increasing flexibility in work schedules may not only demonstrate generosity but also help ameliorate burnout and mental health challenges.

Empathy Gap: Those who report experiencing some burnout are 15 percentage points more likely to say that increased empathy or understanding from managers is one of the most significant ways employers can help their mental health.

However, the data also indicates a substantial generational gap regarding what employees think will alleviate the problem of burnout in terms of empathy. Entry-level employees (between the ages of 18 and 24) were far more likely to report wanting increased empathy from their managers than those typically in a managerial role (employees 25 and up).

Fewer Meetings: Completely burned-out employees and those with a high level of burnout affecting their performance are more likely to say that fewer meetings would help their mental health.

Childcare or Eldercare Support: Employees with a high level of burnout beginning to affect their work performance are more likely to say that childcare or eldercare support is one of the top two most important ways companies can show generosity to employees.

A Small Percentage of Your People Will Just Need to Go

It is important to note that for a small number of employees (less than 10%), none of these solutions will solve their burnout – they simply need to go. Those with a high level of burnout affecting their performance and those who are completely burned out are more likely to say that nothing will help their mental health and that they just need to leave.

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