A startling sentiment recently made its way across social media, surprising people who have been dealing with chronic stress. Life coach Niki Puls posted a TikTok video reminding people that it can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to recover from burnout.
While work is one of the major causes of burnout, the ongoing pandemic has added to the daily stressors that employees experience. A few examples: worrying about the strain on finances caused by layoffs or closures; concerns over new variants of COVID-19 and vulnerable family members; and workloads increasing due to restructuring or the Great Resignation.
Forbes defines burnout as “a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that is brought upon by long periods of constant unrelenting stress”. More specifically, burnout at work “results from long-term, unresolvable job stress”. Research shows that “54% of survey respondents said they felt overworked while 39% reported feeling ‘exhausted’”. While burnout isn’t classified as an official medical condition, the World Health Organization (WHO) does classify burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in its International Classification of Diseases.
Solutions to burnout tend to focus on the short-term—taking a day off here and there or a week’s vacation, going for walks during the day to destress, shifting work duties to more favourable tasks, etc. However—when it can take years to recover from burnout—solutions need to be long term.
If you think of burnout as cumulative, it makes sense that it can take 3 to 5 years to fully recover. Solutions are often reactive and only implemented by employees and employers when the situation becomes untenable. But enjoying an extra-long weekend or going for a mental health walk cannot help employees recover from burnout. At best, short-term solutions only push back the inevitable.
Even though it may take years to fully recover, there are things you can do right now to help employees recover from burnout both short-term and long-term.
The strategies we’ve included below are short-term ways that you can help employees recover from burnout:
- Encourage employees to take frequent breaks. Allow employees the opportunity to step away from their work at regular intervals to stretch, grab a snack, or do whatever they need to refresh and refocus.
- Do fun things. While many people may joke about pizza parties and table tennis as a way to cure burnout, perks such as these can provide short-term employee happiness.
- Have meeting-free days. Allow employees a day of the week where they can decline meetings and focus on productivity.
- Celebrate wins and important dates. Celebrate your employees' success, both professional and personal by acknowledging birthdays, work anniversaries, performance on a particular project, etc.
There are also some solutions that you can implement to help employees recover from burnout over time.
- Ensure you have an open door policy, where employees can come to you and discuss any concerns or issues they may be having.
- Offer flexibility wherever and whenever possible. Allow employees to choose their own schedules, prioritize tasks as they see fit, take time off as needed, etc. in order to ensure that they’re as in control of their work-life as possible.
- Ensure your compensation packages are at or above market. Although this may not be possible for every organization, offering fair compensation is important for overall employee satisfaction.
- Offer opportunities for growth. Employees don’t want to feel like they're running on a treadmill constantly at work, putting in the work but getting nowhere. It’s important to offer employees chances to develop their skills, take on new challenges, and grow with your company.
- Address the root causes with employee feedback surveys. The most important thing is understanding what’s causing burnout in your organization. Provide employees with anonymous feedback surveys to try to gauge common sticking points across your organization and begin addressing them.