Companies are facing an employee burnout crisis: A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes.
"The cost of absenteeism and turnover is enormous in most organizations," said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Aside from absenteeism, dissatisfaction and job-hopping, he says that the higher stress resulting from burnout is associated with poor physiological health.
The meltdown accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. A 2017 study in the journal PLoS One cited major health risks related to job burnout, like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.
First coined in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, "burnout" referred to stress and exhaustion felt by those in "helping" professions — like doctors and nurses — making it tough for them to cope. And while that may still be true decades later — according to a Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey, the rate of physician burnout climbed precipitously to 46 percent in 2015 — burnout can affect anyone, no matter what their job.
Gallup's study found that about two-thirds of all full-time workers experienced burnout on the job. Some of the causes? Unfair treatment at work, unreasonable deadlines, unmanageable workload and lack of support from managers. Add to that the stress that comes with 24/7 access to work, through emails and texts, and expectations to respond at off-hours.
Despite awareness and well-intentioned workplaces, employee burnout continues to rise. But it's not inevitable. CNBC talks to experts on how employees can avoid — and even reverse — it.
If your job doesn't fit your skill set, it's easy to become disenfranchised and disengaged. "Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don't do well," Dr. Harter said. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.
Executive career coach Kathy Caprino says that you can further support your strengths by developing your own job description and roles and responsibilities based on what you know, "then asking your manager for a sit-down to review and okay these guidelines." That clarification is important, especially since some employers fail to clearly communicate their expectations (Gallup's State of the American Workplace Report found that only 60 percent of workers knew what was expected of them at work.)
In order to understand what you need to work on, it's important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can't even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones? Harvard University, Coursera, and Cornell are some of the many online resources offering leadership and management classes. "Leverage where you are to get to where you want to be by adding skills and knowledge," Harter said.
Friends at work may distract or deplete you – but on the other side of the coin, they can help boost your efficiency and performance. This is the mixed blessing of workplace friendships, according to a 2015 study in the journal Personnel Psychology. Having friends at work can be beneficial by making it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to information you might not otherwise get and creating a more pleasant work environment.
Harter says that developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout. Friends are truly good for your health: Numerous studies show that adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.
Whoever said "Communication is key" was right. Without it you risk misunderstandings, frustration, errors and more. With it you're able to share your needs, values, opinions and perceptions, claims the American Psychological Association.
Oftentimes it is the employees themselves who know what's causing the stress in their workplaces; they're good at identifying the causes and solutions, say experts. A two-way conversation (a "workplace intervention" of sorts) with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.
But don't forget the other side of the coin: Be a good listener, too. To fully understand the information being shared, you need to hear what the other person has to say. One easy way to hone your listening skills, and verify you've heard it right, is to paraphrase what was just said by the other person. Another suggestion to improve your listening skills is to tell yourself there's going to be a quiz at the end of your conversation. Doing this will force you to keep a mental checklist of the most important points shared.
The Gallup study found that employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
"When you find a good manager, appreciate it — they're currently more rare than common," according to Harter. Hopefully that will change as organizations evolve, he said.
If you are feeling burned out, don't try to suck it up or hide it (it won't work). A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, and supporting you through the rough time, working collaboratively with you to address the stressors causing the burnout, says Caprino. Sharing what you're going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to the Gallup study.
Some basic health rules to manage workplace stress
Accept the fact that you can't control everything.
Exercise daily, or as often as time allows.
Take slow, deep breaths throughout the day.
Take short breaks throughout the day to help restore clarity and focus.