Why your employees are overworked, burnt out and unmotivated

A recent survey finds that employees are burnt out and working more than the standard 40-hour week. But it doesn’t have to be that way-- and inspiring them doesn't need to be expensive.

overworked multitasking tech workers
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A recent study from Staples Business Advantage, done in conjunction with workplace expert Jacob Morgan, found that 91 percent of employees say they work more than 40 hours a week. However, they are not spending that time getting ahead on work -- they're using it to catch up and stay afloat.

The study surveyed over 3,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada to get an idea of how the modern workplace is changing. And while telecommuting is certainly on the rise, most workers say that the best place they find to get their work done is in the office, rather than at home. But the onus falls on employers to make sure that they're fostering an environment that encourages employee satisfaction and productivity. The results show that employees really aren't looking for much -- just an inspiring environment and a break every now and then.

"Employees are happiest in a workplace that meets their needs and considers their well-being. The Index found that employees are specifically looking for wellness programs, comfortable breakrooms with technology, fresh snacks and beverages to help them do their job efficiently, and a variety of spaces within the office for different types of work," says Neil Ringel, executive vice president, Staples Business Advantage.

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Majority of employees prefer the office

While it is true that more workers telecommute thanks to technology, the study found that 66 percent of respondents said they consider the office the most productive place to work. Of that 66 percent, 36 percent say the office is also where they feel the most inspired, and that they'd choose it over any other location. So, while you might have employees opting for a home office, you should still focus on creating an inspiring environment for the majority of your employees who don't mind the commute.

"The Index found that the majority of respondents describe their office as standard, plain and dull, so there is clearly work to be done when it comes to office design. Natural light, private spaces, standing desks, and ergonomic and flexible furniture are just some of the things employees are looking for," says Ringel.

Even if the majority of your employees telecommute, it's still no excuse to ignore office design and perks. A study from Gallup found that, on average, employees typically telecommute only two days a week. That means the other three days, they're in the office and they will be looking for a comfortable workplace experience, and it's up to you as the employer to deliver that.

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Employees are burning out

The survey also found that 40 percent of employees feel burnt out, citing workload, time pressures, manager pressure and job security as the top four reasons for burnout. Over half of all respondents said they felt overworked and 65 percent said that workplace stress impacts them on a personal basis; 15 percent said they have taken a leave of absence as a direct result of workplace stress.

There are some easy ways to avoid burnout, according to data from the study. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they feel they could avoid burnout with more flexible schedules. Other perks that would help avoid burnout, according to respondents, include decreased workloads (59 percent), encouragement to take breaks (52 percent) and improved technology (35 percent).

What's working and what isn't

When asked what an employer can do to help improve employee happiness, 67 percent of respondents said increased salary, 53 percent said improving company morale, 48 percent said more recognition for accomplishments and 42 percent said having more of a voice in the company would improve their overall happiness at work.

Interestingly, some of the perks that seem standard in modern offices in the tech industry made the bottom of the list. Only 12 percent said free coffee would help them avoid burnout, only 21 percent cited free snacks and just 25 percent said a better breakroom would help them feel more motivated.

Create a feedback loop with your employees

Fostering a positive work environment that leaves your employees feeling engaged, more relaxed and happier will only help boost productivity. But before embarking on employee wellness programs and office renovations, your first stop should be the employees themselves.

"Some employers may not be aware of what their employees want. Particularly as new generations join the workplace, it's important for organizations to ask workers what they need to feel productive and happy so the business can offer the most suitable perks," says Ringel.

Focusing on creating an inspiring work environment isn't just for your employees either, it's also beneficial to the company's bottom line. The survey found that 47 percent of employees who report burnout also say that it has motivated them to start looking for another job. And replacing employees is expensive -- between the cost of recruitment, onboarding and getting them up to speed, you'll likely find it's more cost effective to try and hold onto the workers you already have.

Quieter workspaces and a sense of purpose

While implementing more flexible schedules and allowing employees more breaks or time off can go a long way in avoiding employee burnout, you also need to supply the right tools. Workers can be only as productive as the tools you provide allow them to be, and only 21 percent of respondents said their business supplied them with the latest technology. Comparatively, 74 percent said their employers did not provide the latest technology that would help them be more effective and efficient at work.

You might also want to reconsider the layout of your office -- 56 percent said that loud coworkers kept them from being productive and 47 percent said they got distracted by people coming to talk to them. Combine that with other distractors like email overload, multiple meetings, social networks, texting, instant messaging and even employee training, and employees are more strapped for time than ever.

The answer it might be as simple as creating purpose at work. Studies continuously show that employees are driven by a sense of purpose and they are happier knowing their work has a positive impact on society. In fact, 73 percent said that working for an ecofriendly company was important to them and that employees who engaged in a company sustainability program reported feeling more engaged at work.

"Nearly half of respondents also said they would be more inspired at work if they had a sense of purpose. Recognizing employees doesn't have to be expensive. Simply calling out an individual's excellent work at a staff meeting or via an office-wide email can be effective," says Ringel.

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