The Loop

Benefits That Help Avoid Employee Burnout

Filed under: Benefits

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized worker burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” It is categorized in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a syndrome resulting from unmanaged chronic workplace stress. According to WHO, burnout is characterized by (1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; (2) increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and (3) reduced professional efficacy.

When described using this criteria, it is easy to understand how burnout can wreak havoc on a worker’s productivity. When burnout is common among many workers, it can have significant impact on total operational efficiency.

It is important to recognize that burnout is caused directly by work, regardless of other personal factors. For example, a person with serious health conditions, problems at home, financial stress, etc., may not suffer burnout at work. However, someone who is not suffering from those personal conditions but who is subject to chronic workplace pressure, excessive work hours, an unsafe or stressful work environment, lack of support, or a heavy workload, is likely to experience burnout.

Regardless of what causes burnout, the net result is that it often leads to high turnover, low employee engagement, poor morale, and an overall negative workplace culture. Interestingly, many employers are unaware of the high levels of burnout within their organization. One study found that 68 percent of women and 52 percent of men in the United States report feeling burnout, with a combined burnout rate of 61 percent.

In just the past few years, the vision of how to advance up the corporate ladder has changed dramatically, largely in response to the life-threatening realities of the global pandemic and the ensuing Great Resignation. Workers throughout the world have re-evaluated their priorities, including whether or not the stress they feel in their workplace environment is worth the pay they receive. In many cases, particularly in low-income fields, the answer is “no.” Even in high-income, white-collar professions, workers are demanding more control, flexibility, and work-life balance – and are willing to take a pay cut to achieve these goals.

Hence, burnout is no longer a personal issue, it is a company problem. Employers that do not work to address this challenge are likely to lose profits and/or the workers who made those profits possible.


Symptoms of burnout are manifested in a variety of ways, including poor decision making, lack of motivation, disengagement, less innovation, lower productivity, a tendency to make more mistakes, and simply not showing up to work. This drop in performance not only slows down progress toward company goals, but it also can result in accidents and injuries on the job – thus increasing medical bills and workers’ compensation claims. In fact, burnout can have a snowball effect. Untreated mental health issues may lead to substance abuse, long absences, and disability claims. According to research by The Hartford, mental health conditions rank within the top five reasons for short-term disability claims.

Ultimately, employers need to recognize that there is a direct correlation between workplace burnout and a decrease in the company bottom line.


According to a poll by Gallup, the top five causes of burnout are:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Unclear communication from managers
  • Lack of manager support
  • Unreasonable time pressure


Are you ready for your close-up?

While the above causes of burnout have always plagued the workplace, there are new contributing factors. For example, remote work has facilitated “Zoom overload.” Whereas in-office interactions are generally easy and natural, it takes more effort to remain engaged in constant on-camera communication. Just as the sheer number and length of onsite meetings can be unwieldy and non-productive, the continuous call for face-to-face virtual communications can have the same effect. Employers should be mindful of the detriments of this type of communication, and set guidelines to help workers minimize these interactions. For example, assign one day a week when no meetings are allowed. Also, encourage meeting organizers to keep virtual call lengths and the number of attendees to a minimum.

My workload just doubled

The Great Resignation also led to more work for those who remain. When vacated positions are not filled quickly – or at all – that generally results in a higher workload for the loyal workforce that remains. However, be aware that overworked workers are not likely to remain loyal for long. Take pains to ensure workers have an appropriate level of responsibility and do not have to cover for others for extended periods of time.

All I do is connect widgets all day

Burnout also occurs when workers do not feel connected to their work. They should have a range of engaging and complex tasks for which they are qualified or being trained to handle. Otherwise, constant repetitive tasks can lead to burnout. When workers are not interested in their work or have too little to do, burnout symptoms may include reduced productivity, no job satisfaction, and poor morale.

I don’t get paid enough to do this

When workers don’t feel their compensation is aligned with their level of performance, productivity or responsibility, that ongoing niggling feeling of underappreciation can lead to burnout. By the same token, highly paid workers may feel like they should not be responsible for lower-level tasks that take time away from the job they were hired to do.

No one cares about my stress

A big factor that leads to burnout is feeling like no one cares. When workers communicate their stress over too much work or conflicts with colleagues – they become frustrated if nothing is done to help alleviate their concerns. Moreover, many workers suffer in silence and do not feel comfortable complaining about their situation. Both scenarios are likely to lead to burnout.

Benefit Solutions

While mounting workplace stress used to be considered an individual problem, these days it’s an employer’s responsibility. Companies should proactively work to prevent burnout before it hurts productivity and business performance—not to mention workers’ physical and mental health.

According to the Hartford’s 2021 Future of Benefits Pulse Survey, workers indicated that the following company benefits would be helpful in preventing burnout:

  • Additional paid time off
  • A condensed four-day work week
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Remote work options
  • Company-wide mental health days
  • A lighter workload

Employers also should enhance benefits available to help address burnout once it has already taken effect, including the following resources:

  • Wider access to behavioral health providers
  • Promote virtual consultations
  • Encourage the use of an employee assistance program (EAP) for mental health benefits
  • Offer specialized caregiving services
  • Increase wellness resources for financial, meditation, mindfulness, and sleep support

Some employers have increased the number of worker sick days, vacation and other types of paid time off. One option is to give the workforce a collective time off. By shutting down operations for a week, the feeling like one must respond to work emails and requests while on vacation is eliminated – since all workers will have the same time off.

To show both support and individualized care, employers may consider offering tailored benefits based on workers’ personal needs. For example, providing a monthly stipend or reimbursable allowance gives workers the freedom and flexibility to customize benefits to suit their needs, be it a gym membership, tai chi classes, or pay out-of-pocket expenses for ongoing therapist visits.

One way to get started is to survey your workforce to gauge their level of stress and solicit recommendations on ways the company can help prevent or address burnout. Engaging workers in the solution process sends the message that the company genuinely cares about their wellbeing.

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