According to the International Foundation’s Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits Survey Report, 96% of the workforce is stressed—either somewhat or very. With mostly every worker facing stress at some level, it’s important for plan sponsors/employers to know how to identify signs of organizational stress and burnout as well as address the issues and the possible metrics and data that can be used for informing decisions and actions.

In anticipation of National Stress Awareness Month in April, I’m summarizing highlights from a past International Foundation webcast, How’s Everyone Doing? Measuring and Addressing Burnout and Stress in the Workplace. The lead occupational health consultant and the manager of health services at Mutual of Omaha shared what their organization is doing to prevent and address stress and burnout.

What IS Burnout?

What actually IS burnout? We throw this term around often, but the actual definition is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The World Health Organization studied burnout and classified it as an occupational phenomenon. It’s characterized by three symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout in the Workplace

There are five key elements that are contributing factors to burnout:

  • Unclear communications
  • Unclear or unmanageable job expectations
  • Lack of control
  • Lack of management of social support
  • Work-life imbalance.

Employers have good reason to address these issues early and safeguard employees from the effects of burnout. As you have likely considered, from either your personal perspective or on behalf of your workplace, the implications of burnout are serious and include increased absenteeism, use of sick days, need for mental health accommodations, severity of mental health complications, substance abuse instances and medical plan spend, to name a few.

Analyzing Burnout

If not properly addressed, there’s a significant cost to organizational burnout, on both the employer and employee side. Knowing this could be a major issue for their organization and associates, Mutual of Omaha did a deep dive using metrics to analyze employee burnout and looked at:

  • Voluntary attrition, to figure out any patterns indicating burnout
  • Medical claims data (increased diagnosis prevalence in the area of behavioral health)
  • FMLA (for employee’s own needs and familial care needs)
  • Short-term disability
  • ADA requests related to a mental health claim
  • Increases in correlating cases for substance use disorders
  • Reports of work-related stress
  • EAP referrals

Taking Action

After the analysis, they took action. They provided live educational sessions for leaders that covered sessions on the root causes of burnout, what’s driving burnout, and what managers can do to prevent and address burnout.

Management-specific behaviors they focused on included listening to work-related problems, fostering teamwork and camaraderie, making everyone’s opinion count, making work purposeful, and focusing on feedback and development.

All employees received access to monthly webinars, mindfulness workshops, meditation sessions and stress management tools. They developed a leadership dashboard that included time reporting, unused vacation, voluntary attrition, involuntary attrition and retirement so they could identify patterns and be more proactive.

To learn more about burnout in organizations and what worked for Mutual of Omaha, view How’s Everyone Doing? Measuring and Addressing Burnout and Stress in the Workplace. Live and recorded webcasts are free for Foundation and ISCEBS members.

One thing that can help prevent burnout is addressing loneliness and building connections in the workplace and throughout other organizations. Learn more about building community to combat loneliness this National Employee Benefits Day on April 2!

Anne Patterson

Associate Director, PR and Communications Favorite Foundation Product: Foundation Community. It’s like LinkedIn but only for Foundation members. They can post questions, share best practices, etc—all with fellow members who also live and breathe employee benefits. Benefits-related Topics That Interest Her Most: Mental health, diversity, equity and inclusion, behavioral decision making, family-forming benefits, payroll audits. Personal Insight: When she’s not busy keeping up with her two little ones, Anne finds joy in home renovation and décor, haiku writing, watching Jeopardy, crafting charcuterie boards, and bicycling.

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