Employee burnout: The biggest workplace challenge in 2017

The biggest threat to building an engaged workforce in 2017 is employee burnout. A new study by Kronos and Future Workplace found 95 percent of human resource leaders admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention, yet there is no obvious solution on the horizon.

employee burnout

In this national survey, 614 HR leaders – including Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO), vice presidents of HR, HR directors, and HR managers from organizations with 100 to 2,500+ 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.

Organizations “burn and churn” talent

  • 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.
  • 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.

“Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions. 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,” said Charlie DeWitt, VP, business development, Kronos.

Many issues fueling burnout are in 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 corporate 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.

“The biggest priority, and concern, for business leaders in 2017 will be retaining employees in an even more competitive talent marketplace. As the economy continues to improve, and employees have more job options, companies will have to provide more compensation, expand benefits and improve their employee experience. Managers should promote flexibility, and ensure that employees aren’t overworked, in order to prevent employee burnout that leads to turnover,” said Dan Schawbel, partner and research director, Future Workplace.

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, one-fifth (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 – i.e., lacking automation of repetitive administrative tasks – detracting from their ability to act strategically to fix big problems.
  • The C-Suite must step up their commitment, too, according to HR leaders in the study, who say lack of executive support (14 percent) and a lack of organizational vision (13 percent) are additional obstacles to improving retention in 2017.

“Engagement has been the workforce buzzword for the past decade. 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,” said Mollie Lombardi, co-founder and CEO, Aptitude Research Partners.

Organizations are more apt to invest in recruiting new employees as opposed to retaining existing talent

  • The survey found that 97 percent of HR leaders are planning to increase their investment in recruiting technology by the year 2020, including nearly a quarter (22 percent) who anticipate a 30 to 50 percent increase in such spending.
  • However, budget was continually cited by HR leaders as a deterrent to programs that would benefit retention of existing talent. This includes 16 percent who say a lack of budget is the primary obstacle to improving employee retention in the next 12 months; 15 percent who say a lack of funding is the biggest challenge to improving employee engagement; and 27 percent who say funding is the biggest hurdle to implementing new HR-related technology, such as tools that would reduce manual or administrative work to act more strategically.