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How to Accurately Measure Burnout at Your Remote Organization (and What to Do About It)

March 8, 2022
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6 mins

More people are experiencing burnout than ever before. The costs are huge. Learn how to measure burnout at your remote organization and how to tackle it.

Lawrence Barker
More people are experiencing burnout than ever before. The costs are huge. Learn how to measure burnout at your remote organization and how to tackle it.

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Julie is like many of us. She loved her new job. During her first year, she crushed her goals, agreed with the company’s vision, and felt like she had a ton of room to grow. She found the perfect job and the perfect company.

Today, Julie hates getting out of bed in the morning. The last thing she wants to do is sit in Zoom meetings all day trying to sell something. She hasn’t met her sales target for three months. She’s not excited about where the company is headed. She doesn’t have a new job lined up, but she’s on the verge of quitting anyway because she just can’t handle it anymore.

What happened to Julie?

Julie is experiencing burnout. And her company didn’t accurately measure burnout to catch it before it led to an exit plan.

What is employee burnout?

Burnout is a term that gets thrown around a lot. People often use it as a synonym for exhaustion. But is burnout actually just being tired? 

Although burnout gets used in many different ways, there’s actually a clinical definition of burnout that can help clarify things. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) defines burnout as the presence of three things:

  1. Exhaustion or a lack of energy
  2. Feelings of cynicism or negativity toward a job
  3. Reduced efficacy or success at work

When you see all three of these factors present in someone, you’re dealing with burnout in its truest form. 

The causes of burnout are complex and often hard to recognize. It’s common for people to point to a single reason for burnout: bad management, toxic culture, over-ambitious goals, and so on. While each of these factors may contribute to the problem, it’s typically a combination of many of them that leads to employee burnout.

But before you can start solving burnout, you need to understand how your employees are experiencing it. 

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Survey your team

Surveying your team regularly is a common way to understand the level of burnout within your organization. It allows you to take the pulse of your company, and it’s typically the best way to get a big picture view of how people are feeling. 

But surveying doesn’t work unless you’ve built a culture of trust and psychological safety. If your employees suspect their feedback will be used against them, your attempts to measure burnout can backfire and may actually contribute to more burnout.

The National Academy of Medicine has collected a few different scientific approaches to measuring burnout and well-being at work. Whichever method you choose to use, it’s smart to test out a few different variables. For example, try running your survey with the names of participants one time and anonymous the next time. In addition, run polls at different cadences or times of year to see how it impacts the results.

Here are a few example questions you could consider including in your survey:

  • What is/are the most stressful aspect(s) of your role at [company name]?
  • Have you ever experienced burnout in your current role? If yes, ask an open-ended question to encourage employees to describe what their burnout experience felt like. 
  • Overall, based on your definition of burnout, how would you rate your current level of burnout?

To get more accurate results, use the Likert scale to standardize responses from strongly disagree to strongly agree. 

Regular surveys help you understand how your employees’ experience evolves and changes over time. Supplementing a regular survey with a tool like Kona—which gives you daily insights into how your teams are feeling—is a great combination to combat burnout. 

Train managers to see signals

Burnout is like crabgrass. 

Crabgrass is an annual lawn weed. If you’ve ever dealt with it on your lawn, you know how difficult it can be to eliminate. But here’s the thing: If you put down crabgrass preventer early enough in the year, you won’t have to worry about it all summer.

Burnout is just like that. If you can identify the burnout stage early enough, you’ll have a far easier time addressing it. But if you miss that window and burnout takes root in your team or company, you’ll have a much bigger challenge on your hands.

So how do you identify burnout before it becomes a huge issue? By training your managers to see signals of burnout and act promptly. 

The World Health Organization says, “Stress occurs in a wide range of work circumstances but is often made worse when employees feel they have little support from supervisors and colleagues, as well as little control over work processes.”

Leaders throughout your organization need to understand what burnout looks like and where it comes from. As they grow in their understanding of burnout, they’ll be able to take early actions that reduce the likelihood of burnout occurring. 

Seemingly small, simple actions like promoting better work/life balance, adjusting goals, or providing a listening ear can go a long way in the fight against burnout.

Create tailored action plans to prevent burnout

Surveying your employees gives you a lot of data. From there, you need to create a plan.

It’s hard to prescribe what an action plan should look like because your plan needs to be tailored to your teams’ unique feedback and needs. The most important thing is to take action, so it’s typically a good idea to have several potential paths forward. Examples include:

  • If results are bad and burnout is prevalent: Invest in team building and relationship building in manager 1:1s. This will help you better understand the problems and will show your employees you care as you’re figuring out how to tackle any bigger issues.
  • If results are mixed: Encourage more feedback and open discussions across the company. Encourage managers to lead by example and to admit when they’re wrong. Work on creating more psychological safety so team members feel safe sharing their feelings.  
  • If results are good and burnout is low: Don’t take this for granted. Double down on what’s working, and make an effort to show your appreciation for your employees and managers. 

Invest in the right tools

It’s easy for things to fly under the radar on remote teams or in remote organizations. Burnout’s impact on turnover and productivity is huge, and you’d never want to leave something as important as employee well-being up to chance. 

That’s why it’s so important to make strategic investments in tools that will help prevent burnout and encourage well-being across your remote company. Three types of tools can be particularly helpful in measuring and combatting burnout:

  1. Survey tools. We’ve talked about the importance of polling, so this should come as no surprise. Tools like SurveyMonkey allow you to build your own surveys for pretty much anything. You can also check out more specialized survey tools, such as WeThrive. WeThrive uses surveys designed by psychologists to measure engagement and generate action plans. 

  1. Culture tools. Tools like Kona are an integral part of maintaining a healthy remote working culture. People-first companies use Kona to create trust and transparency across teams, leading to meaningful improvements in morale and mental health.  

  1. Benefit tools. Your company probably offers benefits, but if they’re not easily accessible then they’re going to have a limited impact. Tools like HealthJoy can help your team members connect with benefits when needed most. That means a healthier, happier workforce and more return on your investments in those benefits.

Dealing with burnout can be tough, but it’s far easier if you can get ahead of it by measuring and counteracting it early. Making the right investments and creating a plan for tackling burnout now is the first step towards eliminating it altogether.

Meet the Author

Lawrence Barker

Lawrence uses his decade of customer experience leadership to create content for B2B SaaS companies that love their customers. He writes on a broad range of topics, all with the aim of helping human-centered companies attract the right customers and empower them to be successful.

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