Do you or those on your team feel exhausted, frustrated, and unfulfilled at work? Do you count the hours until the end of the day and cringe at the thought of doing it all again tomorrow? You may be suffering from burnout, which affects millions of workers worldwide.

Since the pandemic, people have found it increasingly difficult to balance their personal and professional lives, which is taking a toll on workers and companies alike. For those who don’t know, burnout is a chronic state of physical and emotional exhaustion brought on by excessive stress. It affects the mind and body, leaving you feeling drained, unproductive, and trapped. It’s a sensation akin to pushing a boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down every evening, knowing you’ll have to do it all again the following day.

This article examines the cost of burnout, discusses what organizations can do to prevent it, and explores a key part of the issue that’s not making headlines but should be.

Cost of Burnout

We agree that burnout is a problem, but how big of one? Last year, 59% of workers in the U.S. reported experiencing at least moderate burnout; that jumps to 68% if the employees are parents. These alarming numbers come at a tremendous cost to both employees and employers.

  • Employees: Burnout manifests as various physical and mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, and headaches. It leads to reduced job satisfaction and decreased productivity. In addition to professional consequences, symptoms like difficulty concentrating, irritability, and poor decision-making can strain relationships with family and friends.
  • Companies: The ripple effect across organizations is equally concerning. Employees experiencing burnout are 63% more likely to take sick days. According to The American Psychological Association, workplace stress results in 550 million missed workdays annually, costing U.S. companies $500 billion. As if that weren’t enough, the Harvard Business Review reported that burnout costs our economy nearly $190 billion annually—just in healthcare expenses. That’s quite the price tag, and it doesn’t even account for increased turnover and the negative impact on company culture.

Impacting Innovation

The fear of failure is a significant barrier that can prevent the brightest minds from pushing the boundaries of possibility. However, in recent years, burnout has become just as prevalent, undermining the foundation of innovation that companies rely on.

Burnout casts a shadow over the creative process, dampening the flames of ingenuity and making even simple problems appear insurmountable. Untreated, this leads to a pervasive sense of hopelessness that leaves employees with the crushing belief that they have nothing more to offer.

Those grappling with the debilitating weight of burnout are also less likely to engage with their teams and contribute ideas that spark greatness. This erosion of collaboration is especially problematic, as creative endeavors require a willingness to work together and take calculated risks.

With innovation paramount to success, this poses a significant threat as it prevents companies from developing new products and services.

The Unseen Struggle

While the media has extensively covered burnout for over a decade, a vastly underreported aspect of the issue is manager burnout. A study conducted by Gallup showed manager burnout increasing when rates for other employees plateaued or declined. But what makes the burnout of a manager any different than that of a regular employee? The answer is simple: impact.

When a manager burns out, the fallout impacts the team before spreading through the organization like wildfire. Employees look to their managers for guidance and support, and when they see their leaders struggling, it leads to an undercurrent of uncertainty and anxiety. The result is a culture of disconnection, disillusionment, and, ultimately, disintegration.

As the weight of responsibility falls on managers, the pressure to perform cripples creativity and motivation. No longer able to think outside the box, they retreat into the comfort of tried-and-tested methods. The upshot? A stagnating company, paralyzed by fear and a reluctance to adapt.

Here’s the thing: the more managers struggle, the more they lean on their teams, pushing employees to the brink in the hope of keeping their heads above water. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves everyone gasping for air and searching for a way out.

So, what’s the solution for this underreported struggle? First and foremost, companies must acknowledge that manager burnout exists and is pervasive. It’s neither a myth nor a sign of weakness; it’s an epidemic that can destroy the very fabric of an organization.

Second, train managers to recognize burnout in themselves and their teams. Finally, we must reassess the unrealistic expectations that have festered in much of the corporate world. While technological advances allow us to be connected 24/7, the never-ending cascade of emails and the constant pressure to overdeliver are not sustainable.

Combating Burnout

The widespread issue of burnout poses a significant risk to employees’ well-being and companies’ prosperity. Organizations that acknowledge this and are proactive can foster innovation, lay the groundwork for enduring success, and, most importantly, safeguard their employees.

Here are five ways organizations can combat burnout:

  1. Promote manager pulse checks: Companies can gauge the mental well-being of their managers by conducting a brief, two-question survey weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Pulse checks are an effective tool for determining how managers feel and identifying potential roadblocks.
  2. Prioritize employee support: Companies can help their workforce cope with stress and anxiety through employee assistance programs, mental health resources, and regular check-ins. While implementing these programs is a significant first step, leaders must frequently communicate with purpose and encourage employee participation to be effective.
  3. Set realistic expectations: Companies should set realistic expectations regarding workloads and deadlines. Employees with impossible workloads are more likely to be stressed and overwhelmed. With realistic expectations, employees can better manage their time and avoid burnout. Companies can also promote a culture of empathy and understanding where employees feel empowered to admit when the workload is too heavy.
  4. Foster a positive culture: Companies can create a positive culture by encouraging open communication, recognizing achievements, and promoting psychological safety. When employees feel valued and supported, they’re more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work, reducing the risk of burnout. Leaders must remember that developing a healthy, positive workplace culture takes time; it’s a long-term commitment and must remain a daily priority.
  5. Offer professional development: Companies can provide tailored professional development for managing stress, such as training, mentorship, and digital learning programs. This effort allows employees to develop new stress reduction skills, which increases job satisfaction, improves engagement, and reduces the risk of burnout. For example, a company I work with allows employees to sign up for a six-week mental training program with a sports psychologist. The results have been exceptional; not only has it reduced burnout, but it’s also driven performance to a new level.

Greatest Asset

While investing in employee well-being seems costly, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial expense. A study by Deloitte found that for every dollar a company invests in employee mental wellness initiatives, they average a return of $5.03. Addressing burnout helps companies foster a more engaged workforce, which directly impacts their bottom line. This means this investment is not a luxury but a necessity for forward-thinking businesses.

As we look to the future, we must understand the importance of adopting a more compassionate and sustainable approach to work. Burnout is not an isolated failure but a systemic issue that requires a collective effort to address. By acknowledging the human element and striving to create supportive environments, companies can foster a culture where employees thrive, innovation flourishes, and profit margins grow.

It’s time for companies to embrace the idea that prioritizing employee well-being is not just an ethical choice but a strategic one. By doing so, they will not only elevate their brand reputation and retain top talent but also pave the way for a new era of success—one rooted in empathy, balance, and the understanding that our greatest asset is, and will always be our employees.