The Burnout Epidemic Part 1: Why Good Employees Quit

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It’s one of the worst days for any team lead or HR manager. Your star employee—the one who’s always on time, gets along with everybody, works hard, and has the best ideas—calls you into a meeting.

They’ve found another job, and in two weeks you’ll lose them and their phenomenal work ethic forever.

Your heart sinks. It would take three people to fill this person’s shoes! You’ll have to hire someone fast to pick up the slack, and even then the training learning curve is going to slow down a lot of other workflows.

And all that hiring and training? It’s expensive, in addition to being time consuming (just ask this employee turnover calculator). As a small business or a small training department within a midsize business, you don’t have time or money to waste on turnover.

What happened? Is there anything you could have done to prevent this? Did they just really hate your talent management software or something? We’ll answer these questions and more in this piece by exploring employee burnout.

why good employees quit

Why do good employees quit?

The above scenario happens to millions of people, across all industries, every month. And it could happen to you if you don’t know the warning signs.

In the moment, it can often seem like your employees quit with no warning. In reality, with all you have on your plate, you probably missed the signs. Alternatively, perhaps you saw the indicators and were at a loss as to the root of the problem. It’s hard to know where to begin if you’re not sure what exactly you’re fighting.

A lot of the time, employee turnover all comes down to one big, ugly culprit: burnout. Burnout on work, people, or expectations.

We may not always view personality differences or frustration at the office as a type of burnout, but the more you think about it, the clearer the connection becomes.

Recognizing burnout for what it is can help you fine-tune your approach, and your solution. Let’s look at three major reasons great employees quit, why I categorize these reasons as burnout, and some ways you can take action (we’ll go in-depth on prevention in part two next week!).

1. Personality differences

There’s an old adage: “You don’t quit your job, you quit your boss.” Like most cliches, it comes from a place of some truth. Plenty of people who otherwise love their job will quit if they don’t get along with their boss or coworkers.

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 50% of people who’ve quit a job did so to get away from their manager. Maybe it was the manager’s fault, maybe it was the employee’s, or maybe they were just two personality types or work styles that didn’t mesh well.

Whatever the reason, it’s undeniable that not getting along with your boss is a direct path to a bad end, be it quitting, being fired, transferring to another office, or creating endless office drama.

 Why it’s burnout:  Most of us can handle being around someone we dislike or don’t get along with for a short period of time. But if we’re trapped reporting to them for 40 hours every single week, tiny bits of personality friction add up. When you reach a point where you’re no longer able to handle the conflict or tension whatsoever, that’s burnout. And there’s no going back.

2. Feeling let down

A great company cares about and supports its talent. It understands that talent is what makes it all run and that no amount of clever marketing schemes or fancy products can replace the people who make it all happen.

Unfortunately, not all companies are supportive. Sometimes, a company’s culture, policies, or organization can leave employees feeling abandoned, ignored, or overlooked. If companies drop this ball in particular, it can turn employees against them and send them running for another job.

 Why it’s burnout:  Most employees don’t quit over a single, large disappointment. When employees feel devalued, it’s often the result of small disappointments built up over time. An employee might make multiple requests (for more flexible hours, altered deadlines, different types of work, workflow changes …) that get denied. Eventually, they’ll feel burnt out from these feelings and will walk away.

3. Feeling overworked

You expect a lot of your best employees. And why wouldn’t you? They’re the best for a reason. Maybe they always work ahead of schedule or come up with creative ideas or have a natural way with clients.

So, you might find yourself trusting your best talent with a little more … and then a little more … and a little more, until their desk is overflowing with projects and their planner is brimming with deadlines. You aren’t trying to overwork them, but there’s nobody else you can trust with as much.

This is a recipe for employee retention disaster.

And it’s common. In a 2016 study from Morar Consulting, 64% of employees listed an unreasonable workload as a primary reason for quitting. Exhausting your talent will always lead to higher employee churn.

 Why it’s burnout:  This is burnout in the way we normally think of it. Someone is working too hard or too much and exhausts themselves. If you don’t help your employees take breaks, pace themselves, and avoid getting bogged down, burnout is inevitable.

OK, so how can you retain your company’s best talent?

While burnout is the biggest employee turnover concern for 95% of HR leaders, there is hope.

You can absolutely minimize employee turnover. All it takes is being savvy enough to recognize the signs that an employee is preparing to quit and making the necessary changes to stop the situation in its tracks early.

The even better news? It’s actually not that hard to identify problems and head them off before an employee jumps ship. Mix a bit of knowledge with enough perception to find the little issues before they become big, ugly monster issues and you’ll be well on your way.

But that’s an entire article’s worth of information. Check back next week to read more in, “Burnout Part 2: How Your Company Can Prevent Employee Burnout.”

I’ll cover how to improve your communication, ways to track employee satisfaction, and ways to keep employees engaged and rewarded and will provide some great tools and resources. Stay tuned.

Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.

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Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.

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