April is Stress Awareness Month. According to a recent survey by digital wellness company meQuilibrium, between December 2020 and July 2021, employees reported a 21% increase in burnout and a 17% increase in physical symptoms of stress, including muscle tension and fatigue. Participants also expressed anxiety over work-life balance and higher levels of job stress in general.
With companies struggling to hire and keep employees these days, employers must take a proactive versus reactive approach to dealing with burnout. By knowing and recognizing the warning signs of stress early on, you can take action to mitigate the problems and reduce employee turnover.
Here are 8 workplace stress alerts along with steps to prevent them from causing burnout.
Stress Alert #1: Employees dealing with heavier workloads
Thanks to the pandemic and the subsequent “Great Resignation,” many employees that chose to stay at their jobs are dealing with an increased workload. Not only are they picking up the slack while their company struggles to hire new employees, they’re also having to train incoming new hires. These added responsibilities can lead to feeling like there’s not enough time in the day to get things done, followed by poor work performance, depression, and eventually, burnout.
The first thing you need to do to address this stressor is make sure there are clear lines of communication. Managers should know what their team is working on, the deadlines, and any struggles team members are having completing their tasks. Regular check-ins are great for getting feedback and re-prioritizing. It’s important that employees feel comfortable speaking up about having more on their plate than they can manage and asking for guidance. They should never feel like they’ll get in trouble or be looked down upon by other teammates if they’re having difficulties or feeling stressed out.
Also, part of your employee engagement strategies should be making sure employees have everything they need to do their jobs in the most efficient manner. Reward employees for finding new efficiencies and make sure you’re going out of your way to show your appreciation.
Stress Alert #2: Employees struggling with work-life integration
One of the biggest shifts in the workplace caused by the pandemic was the prioritization of work-life integration. Once employees were forced to work remotely, many found they were able to do their jobs just as well and saw no need to return to a stressful commute. With many companies requiring workers to return to the office, some employees may have a hard time readjusting. Many will simply quit.
Again, communication is key in recognizing this stressor. How well do you really know your team? Do you have single mothers that are struggling with irregular school schedules or workers taking care of an elderly parent at home? Negotiate a flexible or hybrid work arrangement for these types of employees. You should also examine the benefits your company offers to enhance work-life balance. Do you offer onsite childcare? Counseling for caregivers? Unlimited vacation and personal days when needed? Do your employees know about these benefits and are they encouraged to make use of them?
Consider "spotlighting" company wellness initiatives on your employee engagement platform. You can also conduct a survey to ask your staff how they are balancing their work and life, and what the company can do to make that integration better.
Stress Alert #3: Employees with lingering anxiety about the pandemic
In our excited effort to return to any sense of normal, sometimes we can forget just how traumatic and life-altering the pandemic truly was. Over six million people worldwide have died from COVID-19 at the time of this writing. Many people lost family members, friends, and co-workers. Many more endured the virus themselves, some more than once.
It is perfectly normal for employees to still be a little paranoid about getting the COVID-19 virus, especially with the range of variants that continue to circulate. However, when lingering anxiety becomes paralyzing for any of your staff, burnout is inevitable.
Taking the temperature of employees is something you had to do a lot during the height of the pandemic, literally. Now you need to do it figuratively. How do they feel about the pandemic now? Are they hopeful? Do they see things returning to normal soon and feel confident about the future? Having trained therapists available on-demand for employees to talk to would be a good first step to helping them with any lingering feelings about COVID-19. Also, transparent communication from leadership on how they are preparing for the future and the steps they are taking to keep employees safe is equally important and should be an important part of your employee motivation strategies.
Stress Alert #4: Employees hesitant about returning to the office
Many employees are hesitant to return to the office because of fear of exposure to COVID-19, while some just like their remote work situation. According to Buffer’s 2022 State of Remote Work report, 56% of respondents said they prefer to work remotely permanently, while 97% stated the desire to work remotely at least part of the time for the rest of their careers.
If you want to keep your employees from burning out – and keep them, period – you’re going to have to offer workplace flexibility. We cover the whole “hybrid-work as the new normal trend” in the “Balancing Remote Work Flexibility (for the Employee) with On-Site Business Needs (for the Company)” section of our 2022 Employee Engagement Trends and Forecasts report. You can download a free copy of this report here.
The bottom line is that remote work is here to stay, and if you don’t offer some flexibility in this area, you will lose employees and find it even more difficult to replace them.
Stress Alert #5: Employees who feel their manager is unsympathetic
According to an October 2021 Joblist survey, almost 20% of workers who left their jobs did so because of the way they were treated by their manager during the pandemic. Ongoing empathy-in-the-workplace training and a company-wide commitment to cultivating a culture of kindness, respect and gratitude should be a top-down approach. Also, if you notice a trend of employees leaving due to one manager, it’s probably time to let that person go. Otherwise, you risk one bad apple costing your company thousands of dollars in recruiting and hiring new employees.
Having an automated survey process where employees can blindly report their feelings for their managers and how they are treated is another way to recognize and proactively manage this particular stressor.
Stress Alert #6: Employees not taking care of their own mental and physical health
Another truth the pandemic exposed is the need for an increased focus on mental health. Between the concerns of catching a potentially deadly virus, fear of losing loved ones, and the financial losses and sudden shift in how we do, well, everything, it’s no wonder that most people’s mental health took a hit over the last two years.
Incorporating wellness initiatives across the board was another important topic in our 2022 Employee Engagement Trends and Forecasts report. Employers should treat physical health and mental health equally in their benefits offerings and encourage employees to seek help whenever needed.
It’s important to remember that the health and wellbeing of your employees has a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of your company’s bottom line: a Harvard Business Review Study: Cultivating Workforce Well-Being to Drive Business Value confirms that workforce well-being gives companies a competitive edge
Stress Alert #7. Employees dealing with financial stress
Right now, pretty much everyone is concerned about inflation. Prices are going up at the gas pump, the grocery store, clothing stores, and practically everywhere else. This is just an additional layer of stress on employees that were already dealing with high childcare and healthcare costs.
Having and promoting a benefits package that includes financial services and education to help employees budget and save money is just as important as providing mental health and wellness initiatives. Offering free childcare and remote work arrangements for employees that might be struggling to put gas in their cars can also help.
Once again, the key is to communicate with your employees on a regular basis, so you know if they are struggling. Then you can devise a plan to help them out before they get burned out.
Stress Alert #8. Employees that don’t feel comfortable being themselves at work
All companies should be striving for (or thriving with!) a diverse workforce. If an employee feels left out or uncomfortable at work because of their race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, they can be become depressed and less productive.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts is another one of the trends we discuss in our 2022 Employee Engagement Trends and Forecasts report. DEI needs to be woven into the fabric of organizations in order to reap the rewards of diversity, drive change, and create the best employee experience and team culture for all your workforce. It can also help to prevent employee burnout and turnover by making everyone feel welcome and important at work.
Of course, creating diversity in the workplace and proactively deciding how to build a team culture begins with your hiring practices. If you want to deal with this stressor head-on, you’ll need to start at the beginning of the recruiting process.
The key to reducing employee turnover is simply making sure that your workforce is happy and that they have all the tools necessary to do their jobs and do them well. Prevent burnout by recognizing and reducing stressors in the workplace. By taking this proactive approach, you can have a huge impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of your employees, and this will have a direct impact on the company’s overall performance.