8th December 2021

The Office Depression Epidemic: What You Can Do As An Employer

Burned out? 

You’re not alone.

89% of full-time U.S. employees have experienced burnout over the past year, according to a survey by Viser.

In 2019 the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon and described it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Unsustainable workloads, a perceived lack of control, and a lack of community are all factors that can contribute to burnout, according to a University of California Berkeley study.

Burnout has a significant cost to both individuals and organizations. Between lost productivity, employee disengagement, absenteeism, lower organizational commitment, and turnover, burnout costs organizations as much as $190 billion annually.

Here’s what you can do to identify and address burnout on your team:

Watch for signs of burnout

According to Magellan Healthcare, these are four markers of burnout: 

  • Do your employees say they feel continually drained?
  • Do your team members say they have frequent headaches or muscle pain?
  • Have you observed an employee withdrawing from team activities, meetings, and interactions — both virtual and in-person?
  • Have you observed a team member losing motivation to succeed or displaying increased negativity or irritation?

If you notice one or more of these signs in a team member, have a conversation and identify the specific cause or causes of their burnout so you can work together to address it.

Explore Your Team Members’ Desired Autonomy Needs

Being micromanaged and having a lack of control in the workplace contribute to burnout. Explore your team members’ desired autonomy needs by asking each employee the questions below:

  • How much autonomy do you currently have over your tasks at work — the primary responsibilities of your job and what you do in a day?  What, if any, changes would enable you to have more choice and control over your tasks? What ideas do you have to increase your task autonomy? 
  • How much autonomy do you currently have over your time at work — for example, when you log in, when you log off for the day, and how you allocate your time each day? What, if any, changes would enable you to have more choice and control over your time? What ideas do you have to increase your time autonomy? 
  • How much autonomy do you have over the people you work with each day? What, if any, changes would enable you to have more choice and control over who you work with each day? What ideas do you have to make that happen?  
  • How much autonomy do you currently have over how you complete your tasks each day? What, if any, changes would enable you to have more choice and control over your execution? What ideas do you have to increase your execution autonomy? 

When you support your team members’ autonomy, your team members are more productive, have greater job satisfaction, less burnout, and higher levels of psychological well-being.* 

* Paul P. Baard, Edward L. Deci, and Richard M. Ryan, “Intrinsic Need Satisfaction: A Motivational Basis of Performance and Well-Being in Two Work Settings,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 34 (2004).

Reduce Time and Energy Drains

Unnecessary meetings, inefficient collaboration processes, and never-ending workdays all contribute to your team members’ burnout.

  1. Conduct a meeting audit and eliminate unnecessary meetings that deplete your team’s time and energy. Gather the team and assess the value of each team meeting on the calendar. Answer the questions below for each meeting:
  • Does the original purpose for the meeting still exist? 
  • How does the meeting help the team achieve its goals?
  • How does the purpose of the meeting align with the team’s strategic priorities? And/or the company’s strategic priorities?
  • Does the meeting energize the team? Or does it suck the life right out of them?
  • Is the meeting a rehash of prior meetings?

What will the team not be able to accomplish, create, or build if they are in this meeting?

2. Co-create work execution norms with your team members that enable everyone’s performance and engagement. Gather your team and discuss the questions below:

  • What is the best way for us to communicate project updates, information, and urgent requests?
  • What are our expectations regarding response time to IM, email, text messages, and phone calls?
  • What are our team’s work hours? 
  • What days and times during the week do we want to schedule team meetings and team social events? Are there any days and times that we want to be meeting-free?
  • What is the optimal team schedule to support in-office and remote work? What will be our process for modifying and adjusting this schedule as individual and project needs change?
  • How do we want to track and manage team projects?
  • How do we want to manage information management?
  • How do we want to support each other’s social and emotional well-being and needs?

52% of employees reported that “being asked to take on more work” is the number one burnout contributor in the Viser survey. Ensure that your team’s meetings, collaboration, communication, and execution norms reduce workloads and alleviate exhaustion. 

Burnout is pervasive and costly. Watch for signs of burnout on your team and work to address them immediately. Support your team members’ autonomy needs and actively eliminate unnecessary meetings, inefficient collaboration processes, and never-ending workdays.

Download my free guide, Top 2022 Workplace Trends and Strategies to Decrease Burnout, Increase Engagement, and Retain Top Talent, to further assist you in addressing burnout here.