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How Employers Can Help Move The Workforce From Burnout To Belonging

By American Heart Association, The Business Journals 

Are you bringing home more from your job than just a paycheck? A 2023 study from the American Heart Association reported that burnout — chronic, unmanaged workplace stress — is on the rise, with 4 in 5 employees (82%) at least sometimes feeling burned out in their role.

Burnout can lead to exhaustion, disengagement, negativity and reduced performance, with a study from Gallup estimating employee disengagement costs U.S. companies approximately $1.9 trillion in lost productivity.

“For 100 years, the American Heart Association has been a relentless force for longer, healthier lives, where people live, work and play. In a 2021 scientific statement, the Association noted that mental health plays an important role in overall health and well-being and that positive mental health can decrease risks for cardiovascular disease,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAFP, the Association’s chief medical officer for prevention. “Mental Health Month in May is an opportunity to shine a light on the role work plays in the nation’s mental well-being and how business leaders can make intentional, science-based changes to keep their workforce healthy and their businesses thriving.”

The impact of burnout

Stress is normal, and in some cases can even play a positive role by increasing motivation and spurring productivity. But, when stress becomes chronic, it can have negative consequences for both employees and companies.

Negative workplace experiences can lead to an increased risk for conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, with the combined effect of workplace stressors on the body being akin to the dangers of secondhand smoke. And no one is immune — even CEOs experience the consequences of stress and burnout.

Traditional employer approaches to burnout prevention have emphasized the role of individual self-care through the introduction of programs like mindfulness coaching, meditation apps and time management training. While necessary, these efforts alone are not enough to move the needle. Making the workplace a vehicle for positive mental well-being requires a comprehensive approach, including implementing workplace policies and building a safe, supportive organizational culture.

“By making intentional changes rooted in science and centered on the employee and their experiences, organizations can make a real and lasting impact on the well-being of their workforce,” said Sanchez.

Getting to the root of burnout

The American Heart Association surveyed over 5,000 employees in the U.S. to examine what experiences are most associated with burnout and how some of these factors can be mitigated through workplace policy and culture.

The theme? People are feeling disconnected.

From a lack of recognition to limited autonomy and misalignment of values, employees are struggling to find fulfillment in their work, which, according to a Gallup report, can lead to low productivity, high turnover and greater absenteeism.

Preventing burnout starts with connection

The Association’s survey results illuminated nine emerging practices across three domains that can help reduce burnout and increase workplace well-being by as much as 40%.

1. Connection to the organization: Ensure employees feel confident in their role and understand how their contributions support the organization’s overall success. Approaches to consider:

  • Define clear roles and responsibilities
  • Regularly assess employee workloads
  • Promote employee resource groups to help build connections and foster belonging across the organization

2. Connection to their role: Tailoring roles to each employee’s unique skillset and allowing room for growth helps employees feel trusted and supported. Approaches to consider:

  • Regularly assess alignment between an employee’s skillset and their assigned tasks
  • Allow employees to provide input in their job design, where practical
  • Offer a training path to help employees develop in their skills, leadership and overall career

3. Connection to their well-being: A healthy workforce is an effective workforce. Prioritizing employee well-being as a strategic business imperative ensures that everyone is supported to reach their full health potential. Approaches to consider:

  • Implement a policy to promote overall employee health and well-being
  • Ask employees regularly if they feel supported in their health and well-being
  • Foster a culture of rest and recovery by encouraging employees to unplug outside of their regular work hours

How employers can help move the workforce from burnout to belonging

“Even incremental progress makes a difference. The implementation of just one of these practices resulted in improved workplace well-being and left employees feeling more satisfied with their benefits, more positive about their current role and responsibilities, and more supported by their manager,” said Sanchez. “By prioritizing comprehensive employee well-being — mind, heart and body — employers can help build a healthier workforce, thriving businesses and vibrant communities.”

Organizations can see how their current well-being strategy aligns with the American Heart Association’s science-backed recommended practices by completing the Well-being Works Better™ Scorecard.

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for a century. During 2024 — our centennial year — we celebrate our rich 100-year history and accomplishments. As we forge ahead into our second century of bold discovery and impact our vision is to advance health and hope for everyone, everywhere. Connect with us on heart.orgFacebookX or by calling 800-AHA-USA1.