Sounding the alarm on employee burnout

The Hartford recently released a study about employee burnout that caught the eyes of business leaders across the country – including me.

According to the study, nearly two thirds of U.S. workers are experiencing burnout. It’s sad to say, but given the time in which we live, I’m not surprised by this stat. Still, it is a matter that deserves attention. Work-related stress and anxiety will always exist. However, these challenges have been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.

Setting aside external circumstances (like COVID-19) for a moment, employee burnout usually stems from two sources:

  1. Culture misalignment
  2. Leaders’ unwillingness to proactively address burnout.

When employees’ personal values and their organizations’ cultures don’t align, employees tend to focus on the negative aspects of their careers over the positive ones. And when employers don’t address burnout at their organizations, employees feel unsupported and disconnected from the company and its mission.

I think most business leaders have a pretty good idea how their team members feel and can accurately assess the extent to which employees are prepared to handle the many challenges they face today (if they don’t have this awareness, that’s a separate and much bigger issue). Whether leaders are ignoring burnout or are genuinely unsure how to address it, action has to be taken, or organizations risk losing their talent.

Below, I summarize some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years – and especially over the past 19 months, as our organization was forced to rapidly evolve in line with the pandemic – that have help me address burnout on my teams:

Create a culture of opportunity

As I’ve said in past articles, employees look for organizations with cultures that align with their own values. Companies that don’t encourage a flexible work/life balance are not going to have a staff full of travel junkies. Given the state of the labor market and economic challenges many businesses face today, it’s especially crucial that they tackle burnout head on. After all, they can’t afford to lose top talent at a time when finding talent is arguably harder than ever before. The best way to curb burnout is to focus on creating a culture that engages and energizes employees.

Leaders need to emphasize the promising future employees have at the company, and reiterate that the struggles of today won’t last forever. If an employer can’t offer a raise at the moment, talk through a long-term compensation plan with that employee. If a leader notices a team member losing interest or motivation in his work, spend time with that team member and try to understand the challenges he’s facing and what motivates him. Reward your people for being a part of the success of the organization. Keep morale up, and you’ll find your staff sticking with you as the effects of the pandemic subside.

A key part of sustaining morale during a tumultuous time is agility. For example, as Sikich shifted to remote work during the pandemic, we found that a large portion of our staff preferred to work remotely. So, we adapted. We saw engagement in internal programs, such as health and wellness challenges, increase during the pandemic so we ramped up those activities. We witnessed team members looking for ways to give public kudos to outstanding colleagues, so we put more emphasis on our internal recognition program.

The elephant in the room: tackling mental health

The results of The Hartford’s study show that employees cope with burnout by distracting themselves – watching or streaming TV (48%) and eating comfort or junk food (43%). While these numbers represent nearly half of surveyed participants, only 10% admit to working with a mental health professional. Addressing burnout starts with mental health. At Sikich, we utilize Ginger, an emotional support platform that offers workshops and confidential coaching via text-based chats and self-guided activities. All employees have access to the free tool, and workshops are conducted regularly.

Further, The Hartford’s survey mentions participants are coping with burnout through physical exercise (39%) and meditation or mindfulness practice (17%). It’s been shown that physical exercise improves mental health, and while it might be harder to organize physical activities with a remote organization, we’ve found success implementing wellness challenges, promoting our reward-based wellness platform and hosting virtual 5Ks. While encouraging employees to stay active and mindful isn’t an end-all-be-all solution, many employees value an employer that invests in their holistic well-being. Helping employees take care of themselves mentally and physically can help to ward off burnout.


We can’t control everything in our lives, but one aspect we have 100% control over is our attitude. This is a topic I’ve spoken about many times before – and for good reason. Preventing burnout begins with each of us, and I think leaders must walk the walk and demonstrate resilience to their teams. Here’s what we preach (and practice) at Sikich to keep our leaders and teammates resilient and driven:

  1. Practice self-discipline. Continuously strive to build better mental toughness. Focus on prioritizing your time to help you push through your to-do list.
  2. Show consistent kindness. Foremost, show yourself this kindness. Put your mental and emotional well-being first. Then, always extend this kindness to those around you, including family, friends and colleagues.
  3. Find reasons to be optimistic. Push yourself to be enthusiastic and happy. Whether it’s squeezing in a morning workout or stopping at the local coffee shop on the way to work, find reasons each day to be optimistic and your best self.

It’s evident from The Hartford’s study that many employees are suffering from burnout. In my view, it’s on business leaders to tackle this issue proactively by strengthening their cultures, addressing mental health challenges and serving as a model of resilience for their employees.

Sadly, employee burnout isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s our responsibility, as leaders, to make sure our organizations don’t suffer from it. To learn more about the culture at Sikich, check out more of my Lessons from Leadership.


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