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How companies are dealing with burnout to keep workers on board

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Survey: 87% of employers say burnout is an issue for their workforce

Feeling overworked and overwhelmed, many people are reevaluating their jobs and the impact stress and isolation have had on their overall wellbeing — and research shows burnout has become a major factor in many workers quitting. 

 To that point, 64% of people have experienced burnout in their career, and 41% of workers said that burnout happened in just the past few months, a survey by the HR tech company Workhuman found.

Another survey found a majority of workers, some 70%, said they'd leave their current job for another offering better resources to reduce symptoms of burnout.  

"Burnout is absolutely contributing to the great resignation," said human resources and benefits expert Jennifer Benz, and replacing employees is expensive. 

Employers are now increasingly turning their attention to addressing mental health issues at work. A survey by Willis Towers Watson found 87% of employers said stress and burnout are issues for their workforce and more than three quarters cited mental and behavioral health as the main focus to improve workers' health over the next three years. 

Work smarter, not longer

"We've seen a big focus on putting in more programs, helping communicate the existing programs more and then trying to do the things that will make a workplace more conducive to people accessing those services and the support that they need," said Benz, senior vice president at the San Francisco-based human resources consulting firm Segal Benz. 

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"Burnout is not about working too much, it's about working ineffectively," said psychiatrist Dr. Alok Kanojia, co-founder of the online mental health platform Healthy Gamer. "Burnout is when someone who wants to do a good job and is capable of doing a good job, but there's a system that prevents them from doing it, and then they get exhausted, then they give up." 

While it is not considered a mental illness, burnout is a mental health challenge that requires evolving solutions, Dr. Kanojia said.

His company provides education and counseling workshops for employees at several technology firms, livestreams counseling sessions for the public on Twitch and has popular YouTube videos on unlocking motivation and tackling depression. 

Many companies are now offering non-traditional mental health benefits and perks, from free meditation apps to online stress management sessions, in addition to employee assistance programs that provide free access to therapists and other mental health professionals.

"Not everyone is going to need therapy. Not everyone is going to want therapy. But there are a lot of things you can offer that are going to help people in their day to day lives," Benz said. 

Follow the leader

Experts say employees may feel more comfortable taking time for their own wellbeing if they know top leaders in their organization are doing it themselves. 

James Nicholas Kinney remembers when dealing with anxiety and depression early in his career, an HR leader told him to just go home and take a nap. Kinney, who is now the global chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the advertising company Ogilvy, says that experience influenced how he now copes with his own struggles and why he shares his journey with others. 

"Workplaces tend to reward overworking and the strength of being tough," Kinney said." But now we know that through being vulnerable, and through being authentic and sharing your experience of mental health, that's actually what we consider now to be tough, right? So it's okay to not be okay."

Kinney, who is also the North American chief people officer at Ogilvy, which has nearly 25,000 employees, said the goal is to make sure workers understand the organization's commitment to wellness goes beyond benefits and perks.

"We tell people on your first day at work that mental health and your mental wellbeing is part of what we consider this journey," he said. "So we don't make it something that's separate, we make it something that's inherent to our culture."

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.