Following a long period of job stress, have you or your employees ever said something along the lines of, “I’m fried,” “I’m burned out” or “I need some time off after this.” Following my many years in the industry, I’d imagine most of you answered yes to that question. While reflecting on these situations, have you ever noticed an increased error rate or job satisfaction decrease? Sometimes our motivation becomes more about getting a job done and escaping from the job pressures and less about creating a culture that helps manage those pressures.

“Emotional exhaustion is a state of feeling worn-out and drained as a result of accumulated stress from your personal or work lives, or a combination of both. Emotional exhaustion is one of the signs of burnout,” as noted in People experiencing emotional exhaustion often feel like they have no power or control of what happens in life. They can feel “stuck” or “trapped” in a situation. They are also generally experiencing physical fatigue.

Burnout and depression are often used interchangeably, and while they have many similarities, there are key differences employers need to be aware of. Depression is a psychiatric or medical diagnosis; burnout is an occupational phenomenon. A medical condition of depression will impact all areas of one’s life, whereas burnout primarily impacts a person’s work life. As noted in Mensura, “People suffering from burnout often want to continue working, but they simply don’t have the energy left,” and people living with depression “Often have the energy, but don’t feel like doing anything.”

The Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as “a special type of work-related stress – a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Christina Maslach developed the Maslach Burnout Inventory in 1981 where she determined burnout is present when three factors are present at the same time: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a diminished sense of accomplishment. Depersonalization is essentially a “take this job and shove it” attitude and could certainly be a contributing factor for some of the higher numbers of people who have quit their jobs in the last few months.

Now that we know what burnout is, the next steps are to understand the causes and signs of burnout, and what employers can do to help prevent it.

Leading causes of burnout include:

  • Unclear job expectations
  • Lack of control with job conditions
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of support from supervisor and/or co-workers
  • Toxic work environment
  • Being over worked and under appreciated
  • Unrealistic deadlines
  • Work-life imbalance

Signs of burnout include:

  • Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased mistakes
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Increased negativity and cynical outlook
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Unexplained muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia

As an employer, you can play a crucial role in keeping your employees from experiencing job burnout. Some simple low-cost remedies can maintain productive, dedicated employees. I would suggest some of the following:

  • Encourage employees to use their vacation days.
  • Create open and transparent two-way communication.
  • Provide variety in work assignments and work schedules.
  • Allow and encourage employees to have the opportunity to open up to their supervisor regarding work assignments and schedules.
  • Empower supervisors to make necessary adjustments in work assignments and schedules.
  • Allow employees to have more input over portions of their work.

We work in the construction industry. Job conditions, job schedules and customer expectations often create the basis for stressful job conditions, but you can make these situations better for your employees. Let’s look at a typical painting and wallcovering job at a hotel as an example. The typical work assignment would have the best painters and hangers of the crew work every day while the first-year apprentices are doing preparation work. After a few weeks of the same routine, productivity and crew morale begins to slip.

Have you ever noticed what happens when the first-year apprentice gets the opportunity to paint or hang a few strips of wallcovering periodically with the guidance of a journeyperson? Similarly, on an industrial painting project it may appear that having apprentices routinely do material staging and abrasive cleanup is the most efficient, but if you allow them to learn some of the techniques of blow down and painting you help them see a brighter future. Perhaps these are reasons why our industry graduates less than 50 percent of those who begin their apprenticeship.

I’ll leave you with a question to ponder: does your company culture contribute to employee burnout, or does it help prevent it? As leaders, your actions have extensive influence in creating a caring work culture.