Although we sometimes think of worker burnout as being most prevalent in some jobs or situations, it can impact employees of all types. Others discount the reality of burnout, especially in some jobs. If we try to deny or categorize it, we may miss the opportunity to do something that helps the impacted workers..
A Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, with an additional 44% feeling burned out sometimes. The World Health Organization recently included burnout as a legitimate diagnosis. It is characterized by three indicators: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
As a teacher, I saw some of my colleagues experiencing the problem. You might picture the victim being an older teacher, worn down by many years in the classroom, but this was rarely the case.
Burnout symptoms were most likely to affect new teachers, They entered the profession with great idealism and ideas about how to reach every student and mold the system to their methods. After some time coping with the reality of students who may not be interested in learning, lack of respect, unfair treatment, and local, state, and federal regulations that hamper their ability to teach, they decide to leave the profession.
The Alliance for Excellent Education reports half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year. Research also indicates that just under 205 of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. It is little wonder teaching is the third-most regretted college major in a survey of 5,000 college graduates by ZipRecruiter.
The American Psychological Association calls the phenomenon of teacher burnout “Work
Induced Depression.” The Journal of Clinical Psychology notes a significant overlap between burnout and depression. This is symptomized by a “loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, and fatigue.” Educators who experience burn out are often told to “Get over it”, or try self-treatment, while the underlying problem is ignored and the problems worsen.
The resulting increases in health care and absenteeism costs, the loss of good teachers needed for a quality education, and the difficulties of recruitment and training of their replacements further hamper already financially strapped school districts.
While many non-educators may not recognize the reality of teacher burnout, it is a real problem. Burnout, however, is not unique to educators.
Hourly workers are also subject to burnout. Pressures including continually changing shifts and hours, variability in work locations, difficulty in finding workers, and increasing demands to meet tightening schedules contribute to hourly worker burnout.
The result has been increasing pressures on employees, along with an increasing need for employers to attract and retain employees. Locally, a major on-line retailer has been running TV commercials touting their warehouse jobs as great places to work in order to attract employees.
This is likely to be a short-term solution. We used to share an office building with a hone health care organization. This company was continually recruiting and training the next group of workers. Yet, as new employees were deployed in the workforce, existing staff quit, often siting job pressures, schedules, and low wages. The impact has to negatively impact the quality of care they were able to deliver.
What can be done to reduce worker burnout? Steve Kramer, the CEO and president of WorkJam, suggests:
- Promote worker engagement
- Give back some of the power frontline workers lack.
- Keep two-way communication between managers and workers fluid.
- Provide opportunities for employee recognition. While I am not a fan of “Employee of the Month” type programs, plans that provide fair opportunities for all employees to earn recognition can help employee morale.
- Create opportunities for upskilling and cross-training.
These are some ideas to help deal with the issue of burnout. In upcoming blogs we will look at a couple of additional options, improving employee scheduling and employee organizing.