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11 Nov 2019
by Robert Ordever

How to create positive workplace cultures that prevent employee burnout

Employee burnout is now at critical levels. More than three-quarters (79%) of workers worldwide are experiencing some level of burnout and 48% of UK workers are showing signs of moderate to severe burnout – second only to Japan (50%), according to our 2020 Global Culture Report.


We’re experiencing a burnout crisis and the impacts are considerable, with 95% of HR leaders admitting that burnout is hurting retention at their organisations, contributing to up to one-half of annual workforce turnover. Burnout is also proving detrimental to engagement, work output and the overall employee experience.

Although there’s no ‘quick fix’, latest research by The O.C. Tanner Institute highlights that a toxic workplace culture is the root cause of burnout and, to reduce the likelihood of it occurring, prioritising staff recognition, wellbeing and leadership is paramount.

The effect of toxic cultures

A toxic workplace culture increases moderate to severe burnout by a phenomenal 157%. It’s typical for such a culture to view its people as merely workers rather than individuals, and when employees are working hard, day in and day out, and not feeling appreciated, this can accelerate burnout considerably. In fact, a reduction in giving and receiving recognition leads to increased odds of burnout by 45% and 48%, respectively. And when there is no consistent organisational strategy for recognition in place, the odds of burnout increases by 29%.

It’s also interesting to note that when employees have a perception that the bottom line is more important than people, this leads to an 18% increase in the odds of burning out.

The figures are telling, highlighting that organisations should never view staff appreciation as merely a ‘nice to have’. Organisations must take active steps to turnaround the workplace wellbeing crisis, and focusing on a formal recognition programme is a crucial part of the solution. After all, staff should be in no doubt that their contributions and efforts are valued on a daily basis.

Staff must also have their wellbeing prioritised including ensuring an employee’s work life does not detriment their personal life. Research highlights that decreased work/life balance, feeling like work has a negative effect on health, or a decreased sense of belonging can increase risk of burnout by 22%, 40%, and 56%, respectively. When employees don’t feel their best at work, physically, emotionally, or socially, this undoubtedly impacts their health.

The importance of prioritising culture

Employees must feel connected to their organisations, appreciated, supported and listened to, and a leadership team that recognises this is vital. Interestingly, our research has found that the many issues that cause employee burnout can be fixed with small changes in how an organisation and its leaders interact with employees on a daily basis. Leaders who care about their teams, involve them in decision making and show their appreciation will have a dramatic impact on an employee’s health and wellbeing.

Reducing burnout is not straightforward and all six areas of an organisation’s culture must be addressed including purpose, development opportunities and company success as well as appreciation, wellbeing and leadership. However, by first focusing on effective recognition, staff wellbeing and quality of leadership, organisations will make significant strides towards addressing  what has become a global burnout emergency.

The author is Robert Ordever, MD, O.C. Tanner Europe.

This article is provided by O.C. Tanner Europe.

In partnership with O. C. Tanner

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