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Feature Story

January 2017


Burnout: Study Reveals Big Workforce Challenge in 2017

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The biggest threat to building an engaged workforce in 2017 is employee burnout. The newest study in the Employee Engagement Series conducted by Kronos Inc. and Future Workplace found that 95 percent of human resource leaders admit that employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention, and with no obvious solution on the horizon.

In this national survey, 614 HR leaders—including chief human resource officers (CHROs), vice presidents of HR, HR directors and HR managers from organizations with 100 to 2,500-plus employees—provided a candid look at how burnout drives turnover, what causes it, and why there is no easy solution despite 87 percent of respondents calling improved retention a high/critical priority.

"Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions," said Charlie DeWitt, vice president, business development, Kronos. "While many organizations take steps to manage employee fatigue, there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout. Not only can employee burnout sap productivity and fuel absenteeism, but as this survey shows, it will undermine engagement and cause an organization's top performers to leave the business altogether. This creates a never-ending cycle of disruption that makes it difficult to build the high-performing workforce needed to compete in today's business environment. Organizations should seek out and implement technology solutions that provide a proactive approach to mitigating burnout, such as the scheduling of rest during rolling periods as long as a year. Workforce analytics can also identify and alert managers to trends in scheduling and absenteeism that may indicate an employee is on the path to burnout so changes can be made."

The survey found that organizations tend to "burn and churn" talent, making it tough to build an engaged workforce. According to the survey, nearly half of HR leaders (46 percent) say employee burnout is responsible for up to half (20 to 50 percent, specifically) of their annual workforce turnover. Almost 10 percent blame employee burnout for causing more than 50 percent of workforce turnover each year. And, though burnout touches organizations of all sizes, larger organizations seem to suffer more. One in five HR leaders at organizations with 100 to 500 employees cited burnout as the cause of 10 percent or less of their turnover, while 15 percent of HR leaders at organizations larger than 2,500 employees say burnout causes 50 percent or more of annual turnover.

Many of the issues fueling burnout are within HR's control. Unfair compensation (41 percent), unreasonable workload (32 percent) and too much overtime/after-hours work (32 percent) are the top three contributors to burnout, per the study. Still, HR leaders also identified key burnout factors falling under talent management, employee development and leadership that should be in their control, including poor management (30 percent), employees seeing no clear connection of their role to strategy (29 percent) and a negative workplace culture (26 percent). Insufficient technology for employees to do their jobs was identified by 20 percent of HR leaders as another primary cause of burnout. This is more prevalent at larger organizations with more than 2,500 employees, where it was cited by 27 percent of respondents.

There are significant barriers preventing HR from improving retention in 2017. Despite 87 percent of HR leaders calling improved retention a critical or high priority over the next five years, 20 percent said there are too many competing priorities to focus on fixing the issue in 2017. Outdated HR technology is another problem: nearly one out of every five HR leaders (19 percent) reported their current tech as being too manual, detracting from their ability to act strategically to fix big problems. Also, the C-suite must step up their commitment. HR leaders in the study said lack of executive support (14 percent) and lack of organizational vision (13 percent) are additional obstacles to improving retention in 2017.

"Engagement has been the workforce buzzword for the past decade," said Mollie Lombardi, co-founder and CEO, Aptitude Research Partners. "We talk about ensuring that employees are challenged, appreciated and in sync with strategic objectives, but even when they have an intellectual or emotional engagement with their work, they sometimes still feel overwhelmed. While not all burnout can be eliminated, much of it can be avoided using critical strategies that balance consistency and personalization of schedules and workload; leverage managers as models for how their team can achieve work/life balance; and implement tools and technology that proactively manage burnout or otherwise support these efforts."