Worker burnout is soaring. Here’s how to reach your employees before it’s too late

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Coronavirus has caused a total upheaval of the workplace, forcing the majority of companies to work remotely. As workers balance their professional responsibilities with increased stress and anxiety, the risk of burnout is soaring.

The typical signs of burnout in the workplace include missed deadlines, declining relationships, absenteeism and poor performance, and 77% of employees have experienced burnout at their current job, according to a 2019 survey by Deloitte. Ninety-one percent said that feelings of stress and frustration impact their work and personal relationships. The abrupt change in routine caused by coronavirus has pushed more workers to feel the strain.

“Global crises can affect the economy and the job market — even employees who don't deal with mental health issues might need behavioral health support during this time," says Dr. Rachelle Scott, a medical director of psychiatry at Eden Health, an insurance provider. “And in times of high stress, burnout may be accelerated.”

Burnout, when not addressed, can lead to more serious mental health issues. Now characterized as a psychological syndrome, 59% of people diagnosed with burnout were also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and 58% were diagnosed with depression, according to a study by Frontiers in Psychology, a medical journal. These mental health diagnoses negatively affect workplace productivity and the company’s bottom line. Burnout is estimated to cost $125 to $190 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs, according to Gallup.

And while now is a critical time to work collaboratively and communicate openly, even those close virtual quarters can spread feelings of stress and burnout faster than normal.

“Burnout is likely to pop up from employee to employee and affects all levels,” Scott says. “If an employee is burned out, others may have to pick up the slack. And if the employee quits, it takes time and money to replace them.”

Employee healthcare programs can be the first step to identifying the early signs of burnout and addressing a treatment plan, says Matt McCambridge, chief executive officer of Eden Health. A company’s healthcare plan needs to allow employees to have relationships with both a primary care provider and a behavioral health provider within the same network.

“Primary care physicians will be the first people to hear about employee burnout, so the better they know their patients, the earlier they can notice these changes," McCambridge says. “Health plans need to integrate primary care and behavioral health, where a PCP can recommend a behavioral health person within their own practice."

Without the ease and accessibility of comprehensive care, companies and their employees are missing out on essential benefits and cost-cutting measures.

“Unless people can get the services directly, you're not providing the benefits you should," McCambridge says. “Comprehensive health care reduces burnout and reduces cost by 9-17%.”

Beyond healthcare measures, employers should take the lead and be cognizant of changes with their employees, says Kathleen Harris, the former vice president of benefits at WarnerMedia. Offering support through programs like remote lunches or video one-on-ones with managers can help foster a sense of understanding and compassion.

“Employees need that time to have open and honest conversations and raise their issues to their manager," Harris says. “While you can't change company culture overnight, you can put policies and programs in place. Celebrate the wins and give them acknowledgement.”

Without addressing burnout early on, managers and employers are missing an opportunity to provide care to their employees, before it’s too late.

“There are multiple opportunities to step in and support those employees before they get to rock bottom,” Eden Health’s Scott says.

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