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by Natalie Nibler | June 03, 2016
Burnout -- a physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress -- is an unfortunate but common occurrence that negatively impacts employee morale, productivity, and behavior. Fortunately, it is not a phenomenon that is impossible to revert, and with today's modern workforce of supportive benefits and unique perks, it can be addressed and even prevented.

Read the Signs

Employees who are experiencing burnout often have decreased productivity, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. What this looks like is regularly missing deadlines, stunted creativity, dwindling quality of work, calling in sick more than normal, and regularly showing up late or leaving early. From an affective perspective, they will have decreased morale and high amounts of pessimism, which can be directed towards the work they do or the organization. All of the signs of burnout are concerning, but the two to address first are job satisfaction and organizational commitment, because with those two areas dwindling, it is hard for an employee to be motivated to be more productive if they don't first see a reason to work hard or continuing working for their employer. 

Honestly Addressing the Situation

Earlier in my career I worked direct care in mental health and saw a great example of burnout in the workforce. As a line staff my job was challenging -- mentally grueling but very rewarding. The job duties were overwhelming if the treatment team was not collaborating every day. Great staff started to quit after becoming burnt out due to taking on too many responsibilities. It was brought to our management's attention who then ensured that the remaining treatment team shared all responsibilities and duties evenly so that no one person had to bear the larger brunt of the difficult work. It is a great example of addressing burnout, providing a solution everyone was happy with and stopping the negative shift in the culture. 

Before it's Too Late

The first way to turn around burnout before it is too late is to notice that it is occurring, and then to address it organizationally, head-on. The manner in which it is handled does largely contribute to the outcome, so making an appeal to the employees with a focus on finding a solution is pivotal. Ask about what would make things better for them, and what would create a workplace they would truly enjoy. Another suggestion is to open the floor for feedback, which acts as a buffer for burnout - an 'open door policy' to discuss concerns. Often, all an employee needs in order to come back from burnout is a feeling that what they do matters, that the organization values them, and that they have some say in what they are doing. Also, a quality Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a perfect tool that management can promote to address issues inside and outside of the workplace, and a reminder that the company cares for their employees' overall well-being.

The Pitfalls of Ignoring Burnout

If employee burnout goes unaddressed, the employee will have lowered productivity and job satisfaction that will eventually lead to them being fired or quitting. Even one employee suffering from burnout can cause the workforce culture as a whole, decreasing morale, organizational commitment, and the overall bottom line. Often, burnt out employees will move on to another company were they feel they will have a 'fresh start,' and new opportunities that they did not have at their last position. Companies lose a great deal of talent due to leaving burnout unchecked and unaddressed. 

Natalie Nibler, MA, is a Clinical Consultant for ACI Specialty Benefits, a provider of Employee Assistance Programs to companies around the world. Natalie was drawn into the EAP world early in her undergraduate experience after studying under an exemplary Industrial Organization Psychologist. She continued exploring Organizational Consulting in her graduate studies with an interest in examining the workplace and employee satisfaction.