Promoting Employee Engagement and Emotional Safety

From encouraging workers to take time off to changing corporate culture and policies, employees need support to combat burnout and remain engaged at work.

Robert Graves
April 27, 2022

Burnout and stress are affecting 75% of workers—more than ever before—and experts suggest mental health will continue to decline until a new focus on employee wellbeing emerges. Companies must form strategies to ensure the mental and emotional needs of their employees are being met.

Workplace Burnout and Stress Have Affected Employee Engagement

In a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 45% of Americans agreed that the global pandemic has harmed their mental health with an additional 19% saying it had a “major impact.” SHRM research says 22% of employees report often having trouble concentrating on work tasks and 35% of employees report having reduced energy. When a few tired days become chronic stress and exhaustion, burnout has set in and employees disconnect from their work.

It’s estimated that depression and anxiety lead to over $1 trillion globally in lost annual revenue due to productivity loss and the corresponding decline of employees’ physical health. But it goes beyond productivity. Burnout and mental health strain affect employee retention rates. Up to 80% of workers say they would leave their current job for a company that focuses more on their mental wellbeing. If companies don’t start concentrating more on workers’ mental health, they may find themselves looking for new workers.

Strategies for Protecting Well-Being in the Workplace

When workers are stressed, anxious, or depressed, their engagement at work declines. It’s important for managers and executives to take steps toward better mental and emotional health in the workplace. Consider these options:

Encourage using PTO.

Make sure employees are taking their vacation days, as time off is the number one tool to fight burnout. Many employees put off restorative vacations (or staycations) for fear of appearing uncommitted or falling behind, yet their lack of time off results in lowered efficiency, productivity, and engagement. If necessary, mandate it like LinkedIn did with a company-wide week off in April 2021.

Give them a space to express their needs.

Employees are still going through a lot and they need a space where they can feel safe expressing their frustrations or asking for help. These psychologically safe spaces foster conversation and engagement between employees and managers. Make it a point to create these spaces. Managers can also connect one-on-one with workers and ask what support that person might need to help combat burnout.

Add flexibility to routine.

Some of your employees have children to drop off and pick up from school. Others might be running a business on the side, or caring for elderly family members. Having the ability to set hours that work best for their needs, or the ability to run an errand during their shift without using PTO, can take a lot of undue stress and burden off someone already facing numerous other responsibilities at home.

Evaluate company culture and policies.

Without managing the stress behind burnout, employees will not become reengaged. In a Willis Towers Watson report, 47% of companies surveyed say they will enhance health benefits, 45% are increasing mental health support, and 33% have plans to make changes to vacation and PTO policies. Managers and executives can support employees with changes to company expectations and benefits.

Practice empathy.

It may sound simple but practicing empathy—the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes—can be a huge step in reducing burnout within employees. Up to 76% of employees say more empathy from managers and executives will drive better productivity, and up to 93% of CEOs say they need to practice more empathy to address the wellbeing of employees.

Supported Employees Are More Engaged Employees

A Deloitte analysis in the UK showed that for every £1 (about $1.40 USD) spent on mental health services, an employer could expect £5 (about $6.90 USD) in returns. Robust mental health programs benefit workers by protecting their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. This in turn reduces absenteeism and turnover.

As managers and leaders, we can help foster a low-stress environment in which employees can function at their best without feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. From encouraging workers to take time off to changing corporate culture and policies, employees need support to combat burnout and remain engaged at work.

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This article was originally published on and was republished with permission.


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