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What impact is employee burnout having on engagement and retention?

Employee Burnout Blog Image

Has anyone close to you asked you to cut down on your work? Do you feel guilty that you are not spending enough time with your friends, family or even yourself? If you answered ‘Yes’ to these, they have been identified as a starting point to identify employees at risk of burning out, by The World Health Organisation (WHO).

While I don’t think those alone could be clear signals, I definitely could have answered ‘yes’ to them at one time or another. But there are a couple more that help to identify employee burnout, which may be more aligned to what you’d expect:

In recent months, have you become angry or resentful about your work or about colleagues, clients or patients?

Do you find yourself becoming increasingly emotional, for example crying, getting angry, shouting, or feeling tense for no obvious reason?

But what is employee burnout? The WHO defines it as ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. They suggest that is characterised by three factors:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

According to The O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2020 Global Culture Report (which surveyed 20,000 employees and leaders across the world including almost 2,000 from the UK) 79% of employees were experiencing some level of burnout. Nearly half of UK workers (48%) showing signs of moderate to severe burnout – only second to Japan (50%).

I wonder how that would look now, now that we in the UK we are just emerging from the first forced lockdown that many of us are likely to have ever seen, which effected every element of our lives from our security, financial stability, personal lives and relationships, and of course, our working environment, interactions and expectations.

A study by Kronos and Future Workplace found that 95% of HR leaders admitted employee burnout is seriously damaging workforce retention. The research demonstrated that 46% of those leaders said employee burnout was responsible for up to half (20% to 50%) of annual workforce turnover.

So, what can we do to negate this deadly ‘syndrome’ that has a negative impact on our culture, retention and increases turnover? Well, you can probably start with asking people how they are? How they really are? And listen, really listen to the answer. And, depending on what their answer is, action it. Don’t do nothing if someone asks for help, however inadvertently. That might sound simple, but after a few instances of recent emotional wellbeing check-in surveys we’ve run, there is probably someone that’s not being seen or heard, however hard you try.

Also think about your strategy towards health and wellbeing. How strategic is it? Or truth be told, is it initiative-led and less strategic focused. What I mean by that is not dismissive of initiatives, I actually love to create solutions tailored to a client’s requirements that help support their wellbeing goals. However, that should be part of a bigger picture; a strategic plan that everyone, including employees can get behind. Because employees as much as anyone, want an organisation’s investment to be spent on the right things and an initiative might help in the short-term but not if attrition and absence is causing additional stress consistently on team members.

Lastly, remember this is personal. How one person feels about their health and wellbeing will be completely different to another team member doing exactly the same role, in the same location with the same manager. So, in the same way what will help people in a time of ‘burnout’ will differ from person-to-person. Personally, I need to see trees and greenery. I instantly feel better when I’ve been in the countryside, taken a few deep breaths and had a good plod around, even if I went there feeling ‘fine’. For others it might be exercising, or seeing friends, being with family, reading a book. Whatever it is, it will always be personal with a mixture of elements needed to help.

If you what to have a chat about employee burnout, your health and wellbeing strategy or checking in with your employees, and would like to sense check ideas, find some more or simply share the load, feel free to get in touch.


WHO on ‘Burn-out’:

O.C. Tanner on Burnout:

Kronos and Future Workplace:

Author: Tivoli
Date published: 28.07.2020

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