Employee burnout is becoming a huge problem in the American workforce

“The legacy nine-to-five workday no longer exists.”
“The legacy nine-to-five workday no longer exists.”
Image: ReutersAmir Cohen
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While companies are posting record profits, Americans are working harder than ever before for a nominal wage increase. The national unemployment rate has been cut in half since 2010 and the economy is projected to grow by almost 50% between 2010 and 2020. Despite this positive outlook, employees are overworked, burned out, and dissatisfied. A recent study my firm conducted, in partnership with Kronos, found that burnout is responsible for up to half of all employee attrition. Employees are working more hours for no additional pay and as a result, they are searching for new jobs. Nearly all employers surveyed agree that improving retention is a critical priority yet many aren’t investing in solving the problem, even though it costs thousands of dollars to replace each employee lost.

Employee productivity has skyrocketed between 2000 and 2014, yet wages and benefits have been stagnant. The Economic Policy Institute shows that productivity increased by 21.6%, yet wages grew by only 1.8% during this time period. Employees are spending more of their time doing work but their compensation hasn’t adjusted to reflect this increase in productivity. The legacy nine-to-five workday no longer exists either, and Gallup estimates that it is now 47 hours for a full-time salaried worker. Technology, especially smartphones and wearables, has greatly expanded the workday even more as employees are expected to respond to business matters anytime or place.

Outside of the workplace, employees are working on weekends and even on vacations. Vacations allow employees to regenerate so they can elevate their productivity upon return. A Project: Time Off study found that more than half left vacation time unused in 2015 because they couldn’t find the time to take them due to a heavy workload. Aside from vacation, employees can’t even find time to take breaks at the office. In a study with Staples Business Advantage, we discovered that about half of employees feel like they cannot get up for a break at all, and just under half eat lunch at their desk. By simply promoting more breaks at work, three out of four workers would feel more productive.

Many companies don’t realize how much burnout is impacting an employee’s work-life. For instance, when we asked them about the topic, 67% said that they think their employees have a balanced life, yet about half of employees disagree. Employees don’t even have enough time each week to do personal activities, especially when 64% of managers expect employees to be reachable during that time! When they become overworked, they are naturally more stressed and it negatively impacts their health. In a new study by Accountemps, they reported that work-related pressure has increased in the last five years. When employees are unhealthy, they naturally take more sick days, are less productive, and their entire team bears the burden of their workload as a result.

Companies need to do something about this burnout crisis now because otherwise, they will pay the high price of turnover. With a constant demand on workers to do more with fewer resources, and further advancements in mobile technology, employee burnout will only become a bigger problem. By encouraging employees to take time off, embracing flexible schedules and telecommuting, and promoting wellness programs, companies can prevent burnout from causing turnover and we can have a healthier workforce.

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