Yes, Managing Employee Burnout Is HR’s Responsibility

How are your employees really doing? In the wake of the pandemic, stress and burnout have become more frequently discussed topics as workers’ stress levels have risen. Consider the blurred lines between personal and professional in the last year, and these insights aren’t too surprising.

The return to work on the horizon is further complicating matters. “Employees are feeling everything from excitement to ambivalence to anxiety,” writes Cara Brennan Allamano, SVP of People, Places, and Learning at Udemy. Cara cites fears about health and safety, social anxiety, and worries about children’s schooling as major employee concerns in this next phase.

How can HR professionals prevent employee burnout and promote well-being, especially during times of uncertainty? This article will examine a few tactics.

Don’t just give paid time off — require it 

One surefire way to help your employees unwind? Give them time off! But there’s a significant caveat here. It’s not just enough to provide time off and leave it up to your employees to schedule it themselves. 

Many companies, especially in the startup world, offer “unlimited PTO.” It sounds great in theory, but the reality is that employees end up taking fewer days off. Namely found that employees with unlimited vacation take an average of 13 days off per year while employees offered a set number of vacations day take an average of 15. The pandemic has also impacted travel plans: Robert Half found that 37% of employees were delaying their vacations, and 22% wanted to take time off but couldn’t due to budget concerns.

The key is to make days off required, so employees take them. Here at Udemy, monthly wellness days are scheduled on Fridays (and around other holidays whenever possible). These give employees extended weekends to plan trips, take care of errands, or have an extra day to unwind. And we’re not the only ones. The Washington Post featured a few other companies with similar policies:

  • Mozilla offered a “Wellness Week” leading into the Fourth of July weekend
  • Shopify instituted “Rest Refuel Fridays” during the summer months
  • Fidelity granted an additional five paid “relief days” to cover unexpected events and caregiving duties
  • Marriott International strongly encourages teams to avoid all meetings on Fridays

Help managers spot and stop burnout

Managers have a crucial role in preventing employee burnout, and there are several steps HR can take to support them.

Managers are on the frontline when it comes to employee well-being

Managers have a huge impact on their direct reports. By some estimates, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Managers are on the frontline when it comes to employee well-being. They’re the ones who work most closely with employees and are most likely to spot the signs of burnout. 

Udemy instructor and Harvard Business Review contributor Deborah Grayson Riegel recommends using the five categories of the Stress-APGAR framework to recognize symptoms of burnout in your employees. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Appearance: Significant changes in an employee’s physical appearance that might signal a lack of sleep or physical discomfort
  • Performance: Cognitive impairment like getting overwhelmed by information or not following a train of thought
  • Growth: The employee stops finding meaning or direction in their work
  • Affect control: The lack of ability to control one’s emotions
  • Relationships: Isolation or withdrawal from social activities

HR can provide training that helps managers learn to spot these signs, have conversations with their direct reports about their mental health, and refer them to additional resources when needed.

Managers need to give themselves a break

Managers don’t just need to look out for their employees’ well-being — they also need to consider their own. Managers are more likely to say they let work take precedence over meals and relaxation time. For example, 59% of managers (vs. 46% of workers) say they feel pressured to work through lunch. 

Here are a few ways HR can provide additional support to help managers look after themselves and create boundaries.

Take a closer look at your existing wellness offerings

“When it comes to creating a support system for people’s mental health, we understand that one size doesn’t fit all,” writes Cara Brennan Allamano. The pandemic led Udemy to ensure employees’ mental health is supported as equally as their physical health. Therapy and coaching sessions are now free for employees and their dependents. Managers are empowered to create flexible working arrangements with their direct reports. Benefits also include financial planning since financial security is tied closely to a sense of well-being. 

Don’t forget to re-examine your existing wellness programs. Are there any changes you need to make so they’re better suited to the current situation? Take time to dig into what your employees need right now and how you can best support them.

Don’t get burned by burnout

Burnout isn’t just a temporary unpleasant state for employees. People who suffer from burnout are more likely also to experience depression and anxiety. This ends up costing the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. On the flip side, employers that support employees with their life experience see a 23% increase in employees’ reporting better mental health.

HR has both the ability and the responsibility to prevent burnout. What actions will you take to ensure you’re looking after your employees’ well-being?

Dig deeper into the evolution of HR and what this means for the future of your role in The Skills That Will Define the Future of HR

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