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:
- Loss of concentration and productivity
- Sadness, anger, or irritability
- 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:
- Workload: Too much work, not enough resources.
- Control: Micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power.
- Reward: Not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction.
- Community: Isolation, conflict, disrespect.
- Fairness: Discrimination, favoritism.
- 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.