Employee Engagement, Burnout and Stress

employee engagement

With the high cost of running a business growing year on year, ensuring employee engagement is paramount to profitability. Forbes reported new statistics on employee engagement from the 2017 Trends in Global Employee Engagement Report which surveyed over five million employees at more than 1,000 organisations around the world. The results indicated that less than 25% of employees are highly engaged and 39% are only moderately engaged. Employee engagement globally dropped from 65% in 2015 to 63% in 2016. Further evidence of declining engagement is shown in US research that shows that seven out of 10 US employees report feeling disengaged.

This article presents research findings on stress, engagement and burnout. We provide strategies for employers to consider to improve support for their staff and discuss the signs of stress with strategies to reduce and respond to symptoms.

Engagement and Burnout

A recent study conducted by Yale University surveyed 1,000 US employees to examine their levels of employee engagement and burnout. 40% of the employee sample reported high engagement and low burnout with high levels of positive emotions and skill acquisition and these employees were not looking for alternative employment. However, 20% of the sample reported both high engagement and high burnout. These workers were passionate about their work, but also had very mixed feelings about their job. Many reported high levels of stress and frustration. This group also had high skill acquisition, but they also had the highest turnover intentions. They were more likely to leave than those who reported disengagement.  High stress and burnout were factors that placed some of the most highly engaged and hardest-working employees at risk of leaving the organisation.

Q: As an employer, how do you promote engagement while avoiding burning out employees in the process?

A: Employees need support, skills and recovery time.

To promote employee engagement to get the most out of your people and that critical return on investment, business must provide employees with the resources they need to do their job well. Your employees need to feel good about their work, be trained in the skills they need and be supported to recover from the stressors as a result of completing that work. Many businesses offer workplace well-being programs to combat stress, e.g. nutrition, exercise and mindfulness workshops. While well-being programmes are helpful in educating about signs, symptoms and recovery techniques, the source of the problem needs to be addressed. The work itself should be monitored to determine the levels of demand that it places on employees and whether they are in fact appropriate over the longer term. The balance between demands and resources is critical. The higher the work demands, the greater need for employee support, acknowledgement and opportunities for recovery.

See our mental health courses on Change, Stress and Burnout and Workload and Burnout.

Stress Symptoms

The many positive outcomes of employee engagement include increased productivity and quality of work, increased safety and employee retention. We all want to work for a company that’s thriving! However, highly engaged workers also experience high levels of stress. Not all stress is bad.  Stress is good when it provides that extra endurance and motivation to get something done. Stress is bad when we worry about money, jobs, relationships or our health. Stress that is left unchecked or poorly managed has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and suicide. The human body is developed to set off both physical and emotional responses to feelings of long term stress. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or overeating “comfort foods”
  • Increased frequency of colds
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Jitters
  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Anxiety

Everyone reacts to stress differently. Some people may not even feel the physical or emotional warning signs until hours or days of stressful activities.

See our mental health course on Stress, Anxiety and Depression Symptoms.

See our article, Can Job Stress Lead to Shortcuts in Safety?

Six Myths About Stress

The American Psychological Association (APA) provides information that starts to dispel some of the myths about stress.

Myth 1:  Stress is the same for everybody.

What is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another and everyone responds to stress differently.

Myth 2:  Stress is always bad for you.

Managed stress makes us productive and happy but mismanaged stress hurts and can lead to life-threatening illness.

Myth 3:  Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it.

You can plan your life so that stress does not overwhelm you. When stress is mismanaged, it’s difficult to prioritize.

Myth 4:  The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones.

No universally effective stress reduction techniques exist. Only a comprehensive program tailored to the individual works.

Myth 5:  No symptoms, no stress.

An absence of symptoms does not mean the absence of stress.

Myth 6:  Only major symptoms of stress require attention.

This myth assumes that the “minor” symptoms, such as headaches or stomach acid, may be safely ignored. Minor symptoms of stress are the early warning signs.

See our mental health course on Signs of Declining Mental Health in Employees.

Stress Relieving Techniques

Reducing stress levels can have an immediate effect as well as protecting long-term health. The APA published some strategies for reducing stress:

  • Identify what’s causing stress. Monitor your state of mind throughout the day. If you feel stressed, write down the cause, your thoughts and your mood. Once you know what’s bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. List all your commitments, assess your priorities and then eliminate any tasks that are not absolutely essential.
  • Build strong relationships. Relationships can be both a source of stress and a support mechanism. Reach out to family members or close friends and let them know you’re having a tough time. They may be able to offer practical assistance and support, useful ideas or just a fresh perspective as you begin to tackle whatever’s causing your stress.
  • Walk away when you’re angry. Before you react, take time to regroup by counting to 10. Then reconsider. Walking or other physical activities can also help you work off steam. Plus, exercise increases the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood-booster.
  • Rest your mind. According to APA’s 2012 Stress in America Survey, stress keeps more than 40 per cent of adults lying awake at night. To help ensure you get the recommended seven or eight hours sleep, cut back on caffeine, remove distractions such as television or computers from your bedroom and go to bed at the same time each night. Yoga and relaxation exercise also reduces stress.
  • Get help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional who can help you learn how to manage stress effectively. He or she can help you identify situations or behaviours that contribute to your chronic stress and then develop an action plan for changing them.

Read our article, The Impact of Financial Stress on Mental Health.

Technology to Address Stress and Teach Coping Strategies

Workplace mental health solutions delivered via smart devices and online are an efficient way for organisations to provide quicker and accessible support and training to address stress.  One solution is Tap into Safety which is unique in that it offers training delivered online and via smart devices, anywhere, anytime on relevant workplace topics that impact mental health using fun animation and micro-learning. As part of a well-being programme, Tap into Safety helps business to support worker mental health better by providing relevant and interactive workplace training. The training increases help-seeking by 100% as shown in the product evaluation conducted in 2017. By encouraging help-seeking early we reduce the escalation into serious stress claims.

If after reading this article you feel you need immediate support, please contact Lifeline.

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