It would be unwise to chalk up burned-out employees as lazy, unappreciative or unmotivated. It’s also not smart to consider them as single issues. “If a company’s environment is creating one burned-out employee,” said corporate consultant Helene Gould, “you can bet it’s creating several.”


The Boston-based adviser, who has worked with several Fortune 500 companies including State Farm and Bank of America, said many of today’s employees “run at full-speed from the time they’re hired to the time they just stop,” she said. “There’s no slow-down, no career or life evaluation. They abruptly quit or find that their health has become majorly compromised.”


Eric Garton, in the Harvard Business Review, pointed out that the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees, which can include basic aches and pains, high blood pressure, alcoholism, mental health issues and more, can cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending, according to a study from Harvard Business School’s Joel Goh, an assistant professor of business administration, and his colleagues.


“The workplace is where we spend a lot of the time—a third of our day,” said Goh. “It’s an avenue for stress and an avenue for ameliorating stress, and by and large the costs are borne by employers.”


Reducing burnout


To improve retention and performance, employers can take small but significant steps to help workers alleviate stress. Dori Meinert, a senior writer with the Society of Human Resource Management’s HR Magazine, talked to a few HR professionals and came up with some suggestions:


  • Jeffrey Oliver, director of employee relations with Landmark Health in Latham, N.Y., makes sure his company doesn’t just promote work/life balance. Instead, he insists that it allows its employees to live it. “We shut down early before holidays and have ‘unplugged’ initiatives company-wide,” Oliver said. “Each office has a designated ‘mindfulness space,’ which often features a small water element, low lighting, cozy furniture and, most importantly, a technology-free spot to be by yourself.”


  • Preventing burnout is a responsibility to be shared by employees and company leaders. Both need to commit for it to work.


  • Matthew Ellis, HR technician with the Berkeley County School District in Moncks Corner, S.C., says he likes to take employees on walk-and-talks, brief outdoor walking meetings to help break up the day.


  • Ellen Steele Kapoor, manager of talent management with Illinois Tool Works Inc., in Glenview, Ill., says the company tries to help employees manage and prioritize work. “That means spending 80 percent of your time on the 20 percent of your tasks that are deemed most important,” Steele said. “If we understand that every task is not of equal value, then it’s easier to know how to spend your time.”


  • Lindsey Garito, the talent acquisition manager with WESTMED Practice Partners in Purchase, N.Y., keeps her eyes and ears open during particularly stressful times and suggests affected employees take a mental health day.