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15 job burnout statistics that should worry you

These job burnout statistics tell a grim story:

We can see that burnout is a serious problem that is painful for those experiencing it. But just how prevalent is it in today’s workforce? Here are some job burnout statistics that show why it’s so important for employers to take notice.

  • 75% of people have felt burned out at work, and 40% have felt so during the pandemic in particular, according to a FlexJobs and Mental Health America survey of more than 1,500 people. [1]
  • A Glint survey of more than 700,000 employees worldwide found that comments related to burnout doubled from March 2020 (pre-lockdown) to April 2020 (during lockdown, working remotely), increasing from 2.7% to 5.4%. [2]
  • This suggests burnout is a growing threat to the productivity and engagement of today's workforce. The study found that those who struggle with balancing home and work are 4.4x more likely to show signs of job burnout. [2]
  • 83% of full-time U.S. professionals say that job burnout negatively affects their personal relationships. [3]
  • Almost 70% of professionals say their employers don't do enough to prevent or lessen burnout. [3]
  • Burnout affects millennials the most, with 84% of millennials saying they’ve felt burned out at their job, compared to 77% of all survey participants. [3]
  • Almost half of millennials say they’ve quit a job before because of burnout, compared to 42% of all survey participants. [3]
  • 82% of remote developers in the U.S. are experiencing signs of burnout. [4]
  • Employees experiencing burnout are 63% more likely to call in sick. [5]
  • Employees who are burned out are 2.6 times as likely to be looking for a new job. [5]
  • Burned out employees are also 23% more likely to go to the emergency room. [5]
  • Workplace stress is estimated to cost the U.S. $125 to $190 billion a year in health care expenses. [6]
  • Workplace stress is estimated to lead to at least 120,000 deaths in the U.S. per year. [6]
  • Only about half (51%) of workers say they have the necessary emotional support at work to help them manage their stress. [1]
  • Only 1 in 5 were able to have “open, productive conversations with HR” to find ways to relieve their job burnout. [1]

When did job burnout originate?

In the 1970s, a psychologist working at a substance abuse clinic in New York City began noticing a troubling trend among the clinic’s most dedicated staff. These once enthusiastic volunteers would often lose their charisma, become cynical and even show signs of physical illness. But despite their exhaustion, they’d put in more and more hours, even as their work became less and less effective.

What was happening? This psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger, had personal experience with these exact symptoms and decided to call it “burnout.” Freudenberger further investigated this occupational phenomenon and would later publish articles and a book about it. Thanks to him, the term “burnout” became a familiar term for an all too common ailment.

What is job burnout?

In Freudenberger’s book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, he defines burnout as "a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.”

Over the years, job burnout has become better understood, and instead of being limited to clinical settings, it can be present in any kind of workplace.

In a move crucial to underscoring the impact of job burnout, the World Health Organization updated its definition of burnout in 2019 to be more detailed:

"Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

To sum it up:

  • Burnout is job-related.
  • Chronic stress that’s not managed well leads to burnout.
  • In the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the WHO classifies burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” not a medical condition.

Signs of job burnout

Given the detrimental effects of this occupational hazard, it’s wise to be on the lookout for signs of job burnout in yourself and in your team.

The WHO outlines three dimensions of job burnout:

  • “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”

In his articles written about the subject in the 70s, Freudenberger included even more signs of job burnout:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Sleeplessness
  • Depression
  • Resentment
  • Irritability

What causes job burnout?

So what causes job burnout? Well, as we saw above, the WHO describes burnout as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” So anything that stresses you out at work for an extended period can potentially lead to burnout.

Here are some common causes of job burnout:

Lack of recognition

Feeling like no one appreciates your work never feels good. And as it turns out, it can even contribute to burnout. According to Dice's Salary Survey, 36% of tech pros reported that a lack of recognition caused them to feel burned out. 

Lack of autonomy and opportunity for professional development

Physicians at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have a burnout rate of just 13%, well below the national average. What made the difference? Well, UAB provides these physicians with the autonomy to choose what aligns with their purpose and even provides leadership development programs with coaching.

Unfair treatment

“Unfair treatment at work” is one of the five causes of burnout Gallup found in its study. When an employee feels strongly “that they are often treated unfairly at work,” it more than doubles the likelihood that they’ll feel highly burned out.

Working too many hours

Overworking can cause job burnout, whether it’s from an overbearing boss’s unrealistic expectations or from the employee’s own commitment to their work.

As Freudenberger saw with the free clinic staff, those with job burnout often make the mistake of working even more, in the hopes they can improve outcomes—only to find that they’re getting less done.

Unclear boundaries

Even if an employee doesn’t work too many hours, they can still feel stressed if there are no clear work-life boundaries. According to a 2018 Virginia Tech study, when an organization expects its employees to answer work emails after hours, those employees feel like they’re “always on,” which harms their health—even if they’re not doing any actual work.

Never taking a vacation

Taking time off is good for employees’ well-being. The American Psychological Association's 2018 Work and Well-Being Survey found that 68% of Americans reported improved mood, 66% reported more energy and 57% reported feeling less stressed after returning to work from a vacation.

But, the same survey found many barriers to American employees taking a vacation, including:

  • Their employers don’t provide paid time off.
  • Their organization’s culture and their supervisors don’t encourage taking time off.
  • Their workload makes it challenging to take time off.

These findings point to a need for a cultural shift in organizations to help employees feel comfortable taking the break they need.

Poor workplace communication

According to Dynamic Signal’s 2019 State of Employee Communication and Engagement Study, 80% of American employees feel stressed because of poor communication at work. Sixty-three percent of them have been so stressed by it that they've wanted to quit their job!

Job burnout treatment and prevention

According to an article by the American Medical Association, Dr. Christine Sinsky says treating burnout should “focus on fixing the workplace rather than focusing on fixing the worker.” Dr. Sinsky goes on to say, “The ICD-11 definition of burnout is consistent with our research and our approach, which is that burnout is related to stressors within the environment rather than related to weakness on the part of susceptible individuals.”

Because job burnout is caused by workplace stress, which is sometimes beyond our control, it needs a two-pronged approach: individual and organizational.

For the individual

Take a break.

As we saw above, taking a vacation can reduce stress levels and help you feel more energized. Even if you don’t travel anywhere beyond the confines of your own house, detaching from work completely can help you to recharge—regardless of where you are.

Change your workload.

Maybe you can’t take a vacation from work, but perhaps you can lighten your workload and set clearer work-life boundaries. If you feel comfortable, talk to your boss about adjusting expectations around your work, and see if you can delegate tasks so you’re not so overburdened.

Get professional help.

Signs of burnout can manifest as mental and physical symptoms. It’s always a good idea to talk to a doctor about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing so they can provide medical advice.

Talking to a therapist can also ease the mental and emotional burden of burnout. Find out if your employer provides mental health services via its Employee Assistance Program. If not, online therapy services such as BetterHelp and Talkspace have made it easier and more affordable to access licensed counselors.

For the workplace

Improve communication.

Employers would do well to better communicate tasks and expectations. Employees who don’t know what’s expected of them can become anxious because they can never be sure if they’re doing their job right.

Improve workloads and processes.

Managers should be regularly checking in with their direct reports to ensure they’re feeling fulfilled at work and aren’t being overloaded with tasks. The only way you can know about your employees’ workloads is to ask them about it. Regular one-on-one meetings are useful for this.

Further, checking in on your processes is vital so you can find any inefficiencies. Inefficiencies drain resources and time; removing them can decrease job burnout.

Remove stigma around mental health.

Employees who are experiencing job burnout may be hesitant to admit it. They may fear that their boss will see them as less committed to their job. But as Freudenberger discovered, it’s actually the most committed workers who are the most prone to burnout.

Managers should be prepared to spot signs of mental distress in their teams and point them to the proper medical and mental health resources.

Show appreciation.

Because a lack of recognition can lead to burnout, organizations should implement formal and informal ways of showing appreciation for employees’ hard work. It can be anything from an employee appreciation program or simply adding 10 minutes to every team meeting to praise people for their achievements.

Encourage taking time off.

You’d think overworked employees would be jumping at the opportunity for a vacation. But according to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2018, Americans left 768 million vacation days on the table. More than half don't use their PTO.

What can employers do to make taking a vacation more enticing? We find an interesting case study in Buffer. The social media management software company has experimented with three types of incentives:

  • Offering unlimited vacation - Surprisingly, even with unlimited vacation, people didn’t take much time off.
  • Paying employees to take vacations - This boosted the number of vacations taken, but it wasn’t sustainable for Buffer.
  • Requiring a minimum vacation time. This is what Buffer has found to be the best for their employees so far. They require their employees to take at least three weeks of vacation during the year.

Beyond company policy, managers should lead by example. Employees are unlikely to take time off if they notice that their boss never does. This is something that even Buffer’s leaders noticed. When co-founders Joel Gascoigne and Leo Widrich went on their first vacation after three years of building their company, they realized how important taking a break is, and they hoped to set a good example for their employees. It was after this that they instituted the policy of paying their team to take vacations.

Job burnout is preventable

As we saw from the research, job burnout doesn’t mean your employee lacks dedication—far from it. As Freudenberger observed at his clinic, it’s the ones who are the most dedicated who are most prone to burnout.

The good news is job burnout is preventable and treatable. First, become familiar with the signs of burnout so you can more easily detect it in your team. Then, by improving company communication, lessening workloads, providing support and encouraging time off, you can help your committed yet overworked employees recover.

It’s important to realize, however, that you as a manager can only do so much. If you think someone on your team is experiencing physical or mental symptoms of burnout, it’s always a good idea to point them to a medical professional who can properly evaluate and treat them.

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