Workplace burnout has been an afterthought for a long time. 

But in 2021, an alarming 89% of employees reported experiencing burnout. This is an urgent problem companies must address. As we move into a new year, organizations need to get serious about what they can do to prevent employee burnout, rather than responding to cases reactively. 

In this post, we explore exactly what burnout is and how it happens—and explain how recognition can keep your employees engaged, healthy, and fulfilled in their jobs.

What is employee burnout? Here’s a helpful framework.

First, what is employee burnout? According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

“Burnout reflects an uneasy relationship between people and their work. Like relationship problems between two people, those between people and their work usually indicate a bad fit between the two, rather than just individual weaknesses, or just evil workplaces.” 

There’s a common misconception that burnout manifests as a sudden mental breakdown. That it looks like an employee who is sleep deprived, tired, and in need of an extended vacation. But burnout is more insidious than that—it’s a chronic problem that builds over a long period of time and has symptoms that extend beyond just exhaustion, including:

  • Cynicism
  • Loss of concentration and productivity
  • Sadness, anger, or irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Sudden physical ailments (headaches, bowel problems, etc.)

To understand what causes workplace burnout in the first place, the Stanford Social Innovation Review surveyed more than 10,000 people across a wide range of organizations. They discovered that the person-job mismatch that leads to burnout falls into six categories:

  1. Workload: Too much work, not enough resources.
  2. Control: Micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power.
  3. Reward: Not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction.
  4. Community: Isolation, conflict, disrespect.
  5. Fairness: Discrimination, favoritism.
  6. Values: Ethical conflicts, meaningless tasks.

Let's explore how you can use this framework to address the source(s) of burnout in your workplace.

How to prevent employee burnout with meaningful recognition.

To address burnout as an organization, your leadership team needs to identify which of the six categories your employees are struggling with the most. This requires intentional dialogue with your people. Then, it's about prioritizing your highest risk areas and introducing initiatives to prevent burnout.

Thankfully, there are ways to address multiple sources of workplace burnout at the same time. Meaningful employee recognition can address four of the six variables that lead to burnout. Here’s how.

Recognition creates more opportunities for rewards.

The desire to be recognized—and occasionally rewarded—by others is universal. But when companies fail to recognize employees in a timely and impactful way, it can be demotivating.

Imagine an employee pours their heart and soul into a project. They go above and beyond to make sure it’s a success. But they don’t get a single ‘thank you’ from their manager. Maybe this has happened to you at some point in your career. It feels awful, right? 

Research shows that a lack of recognition and rewards is strongly correlated to burnout. Reducing recognition makes it 48% more likely that employees will report burnout. Similarly, when there’s no company-wide recognition strategy in place, employees are 29% more likely to report burnout.

But recognize and reward your employees in a timely and meaningful way? They’re going to feel valued, seen, and heard.

A culture of recognition builds community.

People find strength in community, especially when things are hard. A connected workplace will help your employees feel supported and sustained as they continue to navigate uncertain times. But new Blueboard research shows just 31% of HR professionals feel they've addressed connection challenges at work.

Recognition can be a powerful way to build a sense of community within your organization. When employees are celebrated (and can celebrate each other) for their efforts and achievements, they're more likely to feel seen and valued. And they're more likely to see and value each other. You can foster this sense of community even more with different types of recognition. Experiential rewards, for example, can help employees create powerful bonds.

Unlike cash bonuses, experiential rewards aren’t awkward for employees to talk about with their teammates. Meaningful experiences provide more opportunities to connect with coworkers—whether that’s bonding over photos from recent travels or sharing activity recommendations with colleagues who have similar interests. It’s these small, but impactful, moments of connection that build community within teams.

Meaningful recognition is built on fair practices.

According to the framework, an important way to prevent employee burnout is fairness. In other words, your organization must be committed to giving everyone equal opportunities.

It can be detrimental when deserving employees don’t receive promotions, opportunities, and recognition, either because they’re not seen or face discrimination. This leads to demotivation, resentment, and a desire to search for a better work environment. There’s a reason why one-third of workers who feel unappreciated are looking for employment elsewhere. 

One way to ensure fairness is to introduce an inclusive recognition program within your organization. That is, a structured method of recognizing high-performing employees in a way that ensures everyone—regardless of their role, team, seniority, or background—has the opportunity to be considered.

For more in-depth tips to build morale, equity, and connection in a hybrid workforce, grab a copy of our free ebook.

Bring company values to life through recognition.

Your employees want to feel connected to the values and mission of your organization. Without this alignment, their day-to-day work may feel meaningless—a sentiment that can eventually lead to burnout.   

To keep your employees feeling connected to the organization's work, you need to find ways to bring your mission, vision, and core company values to life.

Company values awards are a great way to accomplish this. This type of award helps you highlight what your organization stands for, while allowing your team members to feel like they’re an integral part of the company by living out the core values.

The Trade Desk, for example, leans heavily on their refreshed company values, which act as an anchor for their spot recognition program. This program encourages and recognizes employees who demonstrate the company’s values—Vision, Grit, Agility, Generosity, Openness, and Full-Hearted. These values serve as a North Star, helping everyone stay focused, globally aligned, and motivated toward a shared goal.

Vision: Illustration by Ana Duje, Hong Kong
Grit: Illustration James Gulliver Hancock, New York
Agility: Illustration by Neil Stevens, London
Generosity: Illustration by Asuka Watanabe, Tokyo
Openness: Illustration by MaryKate McDevitt, Los Angeles
Full-Hearted: Illustration by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Chicago

Company values awards also tend to facilitate fairness. These awards are a more inclusive form of recognition because anyone can live out the company values, regardless of their status, role, or seniority in the organization.

Get ahead of employee burnout in 2022 with the power of recognition.

It’s time to shift how we handle burnout at work. To move away from reactive responses to this widespread phenomenon, and move toward a model where an organization shapes its culture, processes, and policies with the employee’s wellbeing top of mind. 

We know through research and first-hand experience that authentic recognition is a powerful tool in preventing burnout. It's an essential tool you can use proactively. So if you don’t already have a recognition program in place for 2022, now's the time to start planning. 

Not sure where to begin? That’s where we come in. Schedule some time to connect with our team and learn more about our experiential recognition programs.

Looking for the best way to reward, recognize and incentivize your top people?

Connect with our team for a personalized demo of our recognition and rewards platform and see our hand-curated experience menus.

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