Ultimate guide to increasing employee engagement and preventing burnout

Cory Shrecengost
March 19, 2023
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77% of professionals say they have felt employee burnout at their current job, but almost 70% of those employees feel their employers aren’t making enough effort to prevent or decrease burnout.

If the feelings of exhaustion and stress that come with burnout are having an effect on your employees, it’s only a matter of time before you see the negative impact reflected in your company overall. Burned-out employees are more likely to display lower morale (36%), engage less (30%), make more blunders on the job (27%)—and eventually leave their companies (25%).

To help prevent employee burnout from hurting your business, we’ll delve into exactly what burnout is, what it looks like, what causes it, and tactics you can use to avoid it and learn how to increase employee engagement.

What is employee burnout?

Back in 1975, German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger identified three major components of burnout—emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment.

In their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Amelia and Emily Nagoski break down these components further: “Emotional exhaustion: the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long. Depersonalization: the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion, and then decreased sense of accomplishment: the unconquerable sense of futility, feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.”

For employees, these feelings often occur when workers feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and unable to cope with the demands of their job. But burnout doesn't happen overnight—it’s often an insidious process that can creep up on even the most engaged employees.

What is quiet quitting and how does it relate to employee burnout?

Quiet quitting doesn’t actually mean employees are choosing to quit or pull a “no call, no show”. Instead, quiet quitting happens when employees disengage at work.

They may show up on time every day, be present for meetings, and even get most of their tasks done, but they become less collaborative, they stop putting in the same effort they did in the past, and they take less pride in their work.

While these attitudes and behaviors don’t necessarily mean a quiet quitter will make the decision to leave your company, they may still signal that your employee is experiencing or recuperating from a phase of burnout.

Be aware that burnout isn’t solely caused by stress, but it is a common culprit. As the Nagoski sisters explain in Burnout, “Stress is not the problem, the problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be well is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you. Being stuck is bad for you.”

So, how can employers help their staff get unstuck and feel more engaged again? It starts by identifying some of the warning signs of burnout.

What are some employee burnout signs?

Employee burnout sign #1: Lack of sleep

When employees are exhausted, it’s almost impossible for them to run at 100%. If your employees come to work groggy every morning, struggle to stay awake for meetings, or concentrate on a task, these may be signs they’re not getting the rest they need to work effectively, either due to stress or working too many hours.

Employee burnout sign #2: Recurring health issues

If you've been noticing an uptick in the number of sick days your employees are taking, they could be experiencing burnout. This sign can manifest as difficulty with concentration, increased anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and depression, or even physical symptoms like frequent migraines, nausea, stress rashes, and chest pain.

Employee burnout sign #3: Isolation

When employees are feeling burned out, you might see them start to check out both mentally and emotionally. Maybe they're not participating in company activities or socializing with their co-workers as much as they used to. But burnout may even cause employees to feel cynical about their work and the company, which can rub off on other team members.

Employee burnout sign #4: Decrease in quality of work

Employees that disengage from the work they’re doing can lead to a decline in quality. This may look like doing work just for the sake of getting it done, slacking off on projects, or making careless mistakes that they weren’t making before. This lack of motivation can also affect the productivity of the rest of your staff, especially if other employees have to pick up the slack.

Employee burnout sign #5: Fear or dread of new opportunities

Employees who already feel exhausted with their current role may shrink back from the idea of something new and potentially rewarding. In their minds, more opportunities mean more work which means more stress. This can lead to employees even refusing promotions or fun projects in favor of sticking to the stress they’re already know.

The Conscious Leadership Group offers one model as to why the fear of new opportunities occurs in teams: the drama triangle. In basic terms, when employees become stressed or work in a stressful environment, they create short-term fixes that don’t target the underlying issue, blame others when things go wrong, or feel powerless to change their situation—all of which prevent employees from reaching their full potential. Take a look at the video below for a full breakdown.

What causes employee burnout?

Employee burnout cause #1: Toxic work culture

Employees who feel they’re being bogged down by inconsiderate management, rude coworkers, or a stressful environment are less likely to be invested and happy about the work they’re doing, which can cause a loss in confidence, motivation, and eventually, burnout.

Employee burnout cause #2: Unmanageable workload

Having a busy day at work isn’t uncommon, but it can be disheartening when the to-do list never shrinks. An employee who’s frequently burdened with the work of more than one person or forced to do tasks outside of their job description may start to disengage or even harbor feelings of apathy towards work.

Employee burnout cause #3: Little support from management

Ever heard of the phrase “people don't quit companies, they quit bosses”? Managers that communicate ineffectively, act incompetently, or show a lack of concern for their employees’ development contribute to both a loss of employee engagement and productivity.

Employee burnout cause #4: Lack of flexibility

Giving employees some semblance of control is important in any workplace. But employees who have no say in where, when, or how they work often feel stifled. Combine this with long work hours and employees may start to feel like they’re living to work instead of the other way around.

How to increase employee engagement and how to prevent employee burnout

Provide fair compensation

It’s no secret that most employees wish they were paid more, but the key to increasing employee engagement may be less about increased compensation and more about fair compensation.

According to SHRM, 75% of workers who believe they’re paid at or above market rate said they were satisfied with their jobs, compared to 59% who felt they were being paid below market rate. Keeping fair pay in mind is also important when it comes to promotions—even with a more impressive title, most people don’t want to be given more work or responsibility while their wage stays the same.

Overall, being honest, transparent, and fair with compensation can do a lot to show employees that you respect and value their skills.

Allow more flexibility

A study by Envoy showed that 63% of employees would feel more empowered if they had greater flexibility at work.

Giving employees more control over how they work can be accomplished through remote and hybrid work, or an adaptable schedule that allows staff to work during their preferred times of the day.

While it’s not possible to offer this flexibility in every type of job, you can still provide employees with a better work-life balance through more time off. Increase PTO, sick leave, and vacation days or consider implementing the infamous four-day workweek, which has actually been shown to increase employee productivity and happiness.

Give employees space to recharge

Being able to truly unplug and rejuvenate is imperative for properly managing stress and stopping burnout. Research found that employees at companies that encourage vacation (68%) are happier with their jobs than employees who work at businesses where vacation is discouraged or bosses have mixed feelings about time off (48%).

As a manager, it’s up to you to set the expectation that taking a break from work is important and necessary. There are a few ways to do this: for one, avoid bombarding your employees with emails or calls when they’re supposed to be on vacation or away from work. You should also actively encourage your team to use their PTO or take rest days when they’re recovering from a cold or need a mental health day.

Lastly, don’t forget to also make yourself an example—your team may be more likely to prioritize taking breaks if they see you doing the same.

Show genuine appreciation

A workplace that cultivates a positive, supportive environment also leads to more satisfied workers. Research shows that 63% of employees who are consistently recognized are unlikely to leave for another company.

That’s why one of the best ways to increase employee engagement is by showing your employees just how much you value them.

Acts of employee recognition can be done through giveaways, bonuses, company social events, or company retreats. You don’t have to break the bank either—even smaller gestures such as employee of the month awards, free meals, or everyday words of encouragement can go a long way. But also be aware that different employees in different situations need different things. Some people would love public accolades while others would prefer to stay out of the limelight.

Most of all, your gestures of appreciation should be sincere and relevant to the needs of your employees. If they’re not getting paid enough or want more flexibility, a $10 gift card or pizza party probably won’t be as effective as you hope in combatting burnout or increasing engagement.

Improve communication habits

As with any healthy relationship, communication is key, and that’s no different when it comes to the workplace.

In fact, 85% of employees say they’re most motivated when managers regularly communicate about company news, and 80% of workers believe communication helps develop trust with employers.

Effective communication involves giving constructive feedback on projects and overall performance, keeping your employees in the loop about any changes within their department or the company, asking for their input on new initiatives, and speaking to them with respect and common decency.

Manage workloads more effectively

Employees need the time and space to do their jobs. As a manager, part of your job is to appropriately distribute responsibilities to your employees so that they can produce their best work.

If you notice your team struggling to keep up with their tasks even though they’re being as efficient as they possibly can, try divvying up responsibilities amongst the team. This way, those with more time on their hands or more relevant skills can handle the tasks more suitable for them. But if workloads are still unbearable, it might just be time to hire more staff.

At the end of the day, you and your employees are a team and as Emily Nagoski said on an episode of Unlocking Us, “The cure for burnout isn’t and can’t be [just] self-care, it has to be all of us caring for each other.”

Invest in training

While it may seem counter-intuitive to add more tasks to your employees’ plates, making the effort to champion your employees’ career goals not only strengthens the confidence and expertise of your team, but it also shows that you care about their professional development.

According to LinkedIn’s Workforce Learning Report, a whopping 94% of employees would stay at their companies longer if those companies invested in their learning.

One way you can prioritize education in your company is by setting aside a budget to cover costs related to career development, including mentorship programs, seminars, university classes, or online courses.

Training alone won’t save your employees from burnout, but sending the message that you’re invested in them and their future will help shift their mindset in a positive direction.

Change the way your team works

It’s easy to get complacent with a “this is how we’ve always done it” attitude, but that can actually do more harm than good. Instead, re-evaluate your processes to see if there is a more effective way to achieve the same results.

This might mean cutting out unnecessary steps, doing away with outdated practices, or automating repetitive tasks, all of which can free up your team to do more innovative work.

In fact, 90% of workers believe automating more processes would contribute to increased employee engagement—fewer errors (48%), faster completion of tasks (42%), and higher quality of work (38%).

Reduce employee burnout by cutting down on soul-sucking admin work

Preventing employee burnout is important for the well-being of your employees and for the long-term success of your business. But it’s important to supply your team with the right tools to make work easier, faster, and more engaging. That’s why businesses are using practical tools like Dropbox Forms to keep their teams productive and engaged.

Dropbox Forms cuts down tedious admin by making intricate information easy to collect. Instead of employees filling out background checks, W-9 forms, surveys, or waivers by pen or PDF, you can create digital, mobile-friendly forms that pre-fill information once it’s entered the first time.

Then, once forms are completed, your staff doesn’t need to manually copy information over one by one from each document—the information from all of your forms can be synced directly to your data system.

With Dropbox Forms, completion rates go up, errors go down, and your team spends less time on mind-numbing data entry and manual organization, increasing their engagement for other tasks.

Plus, when you combine intelligent, mobile-friendly forms with Dropbox Sign, you can eliminate more steps during the contract-signing process. No more drafting the same documents over and over again—Dropbox Sign allows you to create templates of your most frequently used contracts for quick preparation within your CRM.

After sending those contracts, your team won’t have to waste time chasing down contracts from new hires or customers—they can rely on built-in automatic reminders for follow-ups. This means more deals, faster onboarding, and less mundane work for your employees.

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