How Innovative Leaders are Combating Burnout in the Workplace

Burnout has become a common occupational phenomenon in 2021. Even before the pandemic began, addressing burnout was considered a top priority for companies, and now leaders cannot ignore it. Nine out of ten employees showed some concern with burnout over the past year, and over 40% of employees are very concerned about their burnout levels.

These concerns are a natural reaction to the increased feelings of fear, uncertainty, and lack of control caused by the pandemic. Coupled with our "always-on" work culture, Americans are at greater risk for burnout than ever before. 

The C-suite is not immune to burnout, either. According to DDI's 2021 Global Leadership Forecast, almost 60% of business leaders reported feeling used up by the end of the day, a common symptom of burnout. Finding a balance between work and personal life has been a challenge for everyone over the past year, especially those leading organizations through never-ending uncertainty.

Unaddressed burnout in the C-suite can affect an entire organization, creating long-lasting issues for the executives, employees, and the bottom line. Even if stress and burnout don't start at the top, they can spread throughout an organization. Innovative business leaders realize the best way forward is to proactively address burnout in their organization before it manifests into a costly problem.

How Much Does Burnout Cost Companies?

Burnout can incur various costs for a business, such as reduced productivity and creativity, ultimately impacting overall employee performance. Burnout can also lead to increased absenteeism and healthcare expenses. At worst, burnout can mean higher turnover rates and lower profitability. According to Gallup, employees who experience burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times more likely to leave their current employer. 

Aside from job performance and workplace consequences, the stress caused by feelings of burnout can affect employees physically as well. Studies show that workplace stress accounts for somewhere between $125 and 190 billion in national healthcare costs per year—or 5-8% of healthcare spending. 

Given the potential expense of widespread burnout, identifying the leading causes of the issue within their organization is a priority for human resources departments. Of course, each organization has different factors that influence burnout. However, there are common causes that can impact employees and their performance. 

What Causes Burnout at Work?

Burnout happens when a person is overextended and ignoring signals from their body and mind. The specific causes of burnout can be different for any individual, but some common sources include:

  • Increased job demands
  • Lack of support from colleagues and superiors
  • Long working hours and a constant connection to work
  • Additional job responsibilities
  • Less time spent with family and friends
  • Feeling "used up" or experiencing emotional exhaustion
  • Lack of autonomy and control over their work
  • Constant changes in their work environment

While it certainly existed before the pandemic, burnout has surged since the onset of the pandemic. Unfortunately, employees experiencing burnout are likely attributing it to their job rather than stress and exhaustion caused by COVID-19. Experts have even coined a term to describe this new kind of burnout— pandemic fatigue. To combat burnout, employers should account for how COVID-19 circumstances have added to stress levels, in addition to aspects of their company culture. 

"Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long."

Michael Gunger

How to Identify Employee Burnout

If you are wondering if your employees are struggling, look for these common signs of burnout:

  • Decreased performance at work
  • Reduced interest in hobbies or outside activities that they previously enjoyed
  • Reduced enthusiasm for work
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Declining work quality
  • Rising turnover rates
  • Increased emotional reactions to additional responsibilities or tasks

In addition to looking for warning signs, business and HR leaders may choose to deploy a mental and behavioral health survey to determine employees' top mental health concerns.

How Can Companies Deal with Burnout?

If you have identified burnout as a top concern among your employees, there are multiple ways to address it. Leaders have come up with various solutions to avoid burnout among their team members over the past year as there is no standard approach that works for every organization. Some of the more creative solutions include PTO expansion, decreasing virtual meetings, challenging the 40-hour workweek, and expanding access to mental health support.

Mental Health Weeks

To combat burnout, LinkedIn, Hootsuite, and Bumble shut down their offices for an entire week to allow employees to recharge. Putting this high priority on employee mental health was applauded by employees internally, in the media, and on social media.

Giving employees extra, designated time away from their desks to recharge can pay dividends in enhanced productivity and retention. However, this might not be an option for every business, especially those without an always-on, recurring revenue stream. 

Zoom-Free Fridays

Jane Fraser, Citigroup's CEO, identified Zoom fatigue as one of the primary causes of job burnout at her organization. So how did she address it? By removing Zoom meetings from the calendar (for one day a week).

In March, Citigroup announced "Zoom-free Fridays," banning all internal virtual conference calls on the last day of the week. According to Stanford researchers, removing the pressure of seeing yourself on camera could help with employee stress and fatigue.

While limiting video conference calls applies to some employees, it's not as feasible for those in customer-facing roles. 

″The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being.  It's simply not sustainable. Since a return to any kind of new normal is still a few months away for many of us, we need to reset some of our working practices."

Jane Fraser | CEO, Citigroup

The Four-Day Workweek

Another creative solution to burnout and workplace stress that is gaining steam is the four-day workweek. A trial of a shortened workweek in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 was deemed an 'overwhelming success.' Proponents of the four-day workweek cite benefits like improved productivity, increased efficiency, and better work-life balance. On the other hand, critics note that while your employees are off on Friday, your competitors may not be. 

Increasing EAP Availability

While some companies have given their employees a break from their desks, others look towards resources that provide mental health support at work and home. For example, Marissa Andrada, Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and People Officer at Chipotle, expanded access to the company's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to all employees. Before early 2020, the benefit was only available to salaried or full-time employees. 

As a result, the number of employees taking advantage of Chipotle's EAP services increased fourfold. However, EAPs might not be a solution for every business. They have recently come under fire for providing mediocre service, lack of innovation, low utilization, and not being cost-effective. 

Workplace Mental Health Training

Some companies opted to address employee burnout by bringing in mental health professionals to run training workshops for their employees. For example, at Accenture, CEO Jimmy Etheredge brought in behavioral health experts to run employee training sessions about common mental health concerns and management training on leading with empathy. 

After implementing these sessions, Etheredge regularly receives emails from employees about how they're doing and that his team members have become more open about the challenges they're facing. In addition, Etheredge says that simply starting a conversation about mental health has positively impacted their culture and reduced burnout among employees. 


Forward-thinking leaders realize that employee burnout is a problem with the company, not the person. Instead of focusing on individual issues separately, you should proactively provide company-wide solutions. If you'd like to support the mental health of all employees proactively, consider a comprehensive training program with ongoing education and support

In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to burnout. Instead, you must first identify the root cause within your company and find strategic partners to customize a solution that addresses your organization's needs. 

How to Combat Work Burnout

To prevent employee burnout, create a company culture that promotes work-life balance and increases awareness of the importance of physical and mental wellness. Innovative leaders invest in proactive solutions like workplace mental health training that addresses common employee concerns before costly interventions are needed.

The mental well-being of employees is crucial for any company's success. Offering training and resources about common employee mental health concerns like burnout can drive positive outcomes. The benefits of a comprehensive mental health program include increased engagement and productivity, lower turnover rates, and reduced healthcare costs. A recent Cigna report found that mental health programs "that are grounded in a solid understanding of how health and well-being issues manifest in each unique workplace, in particular, generated the most impressive returns."

If you're interested in combating burnout, stress, or other employee mental health issues, we're happy to help customize a mental health program to your needs. Reach out today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our Behavioral Wellness Experts.


Read Our Report - The Mind at Work: A Report on Employee Mental Health

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