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Employee Burnout?

Your workers are burned out; here’s how to help them get back on track

More than 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that workers are stressed, exhausted and burned out.

They’re working longer and harder. With job postings at historic levels, reaching nearly 11 million openings in July, current employees are filling staffing gaps as positions are left unfilled. Front-line and essential workers, especially, may be toiling under intense pressure in stressful situations.

And they’re always working. With remote and hybrid work arrangements, the lines between home life and work life are blurred. They’re responding to work emails late into the night as they juggle responsibilities at home at the same time.

The outcomes are predictable. In Gallup’s 2021 report on the global workplace, 57% of U.S. and Canadian workers said they experienced stress daily. Some 46% of workers reported suffering from a mental health issue during COVID, up from 39% before the pandemic, according to a survey from insurance company The Standard.

High stress levels and mental health issues can have a big impact on employers. With struggling, stressed-out workers comes higher rates of absenteeism and health care costs and lower rates of productivity. One estimate found that it costs organizations an average of $15,000 for each employee who is experiencing mental health issues.

Now, more than ever, employers need to be mindful of their employees’ mental health and look for ways to reduce burnout. Here’s how to support your workers.


Make PTO a priority

More than half of U.S. workers weren’t using up their paid time off in 2019, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s survey. And that was before COVID. In 2020, with travel restrictions in place and a fear of COVID transmission, some 72% of Americans didn’t take any summer vacation, according to ValuePenguin. And while travel opened up in 2021, only 13% of workers said they would never check in during their time away, according to Korn Ferry.

Time off is critical for our wellbeing. It boosts our mental and physical health. When we return, we’re motivated and reinvigorated. Employers need to help their workers take time off.

  • Craft Out of Office plans

According to the travel association’s report, many workers don’t take time off because they believe nobody will be able to cover for them or their workload is too heavy. We’ve seen clients with workers who have banked 140 hours of PTO because, they believe, the job would never allow them to take it.

Companies must help their employees craft out of office plans, so they don’t have to worry that an important customer will never get a call back or a big project will stagnate while they are away.

At EctoHR, to solve that problem, we’ve implemented annual “Dead to Me” breaks for all staff. At least once per year, all colleagues must fully disconnect from work for one week. This includes having a coworker cover all calls, emails and tasks. And because we’re HR people with a dark sense of humor, we call them Dead to Me’s because we pretend the person no longer exists while they are out!

The benefits are twofold. Our vacationing employees get a true break, and their co-workers learn more about what their colleagues do, gaining new skills along the way.

For organizations, this cross-training is especially important for succession planning. You never know when you might lose an employee for a few weeks to a medical emergency or forever to a lottery win. Having their co-workers fill in for a week while they’re gone means that you’ll always have somebody on your team who is immediately ready to take over if required.

  • Require time off

Simply put, employers should require time off. It’s not optional. All of the studies show that paid time off is key to avoiding burn out and is a much sought after employee benefit. Help your employees help themselves by requiring them to take time off!


Prioritize mental health

If you haven’t already, now is the time to reinvest in the mental health benefits you provide your employees.

  • Add or promote Employee Assistance Programs

EAPs put workers directly in contact with therapists and other professionals who can support them. They are inexpensive, costing employers between $12 and $40 a year per employee. They also deserve promotion. If you have an EAP that your employees aren’t using, promote it during team meetings and in your company newsletters.

  • Talk about it

Mental health is hard to talk about, and that’s exactly why we need to talk about it more. Encourage supervisors to check in with their direct reports to see how they’re doing. Include discussions about workplace stress and burnout in safety talks or team meetings. Bring in a speaker to talk about wellness strategies. Survey employees about their needs and then look for ways to act on what they’ve highlighted.


Lead by example

Bottom line, company owners and supervisors need to lead by example. They need to take vacation too, so workers feel like they also have permission to take time off. And they need to acknowledge that stress and burnout are growing issues in today’s workplaces and offer opportunities for workers to get the help that they need. When we normalize conversations like these, we learn and grow as an organization.

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