5 min read

January 11, 2023

Burned out at work? These resources may help your employees—and you.

Everyone’s struggling with burnout. Here’s how to figure out how your employees are doing—and how to get them (and you) help when it’s needed.

Man looking mildly stressed out at work.

Stress and unmanageable workloads? They’re on the minds of everyone at work, from owners and managers to long-time employees and new hires. Those were the findings of the 2022 Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM: Mental health and burnout both land in the top 10 worries.

And that feeling of over-stress isn’t the only extra burden at work. Big tasks like recruiting and retaining employees continue to present difficulties. Inflation has upended the cost of doing business for many. If you’re stressed and your employees are stressed, productivity and business growth may suffer.

Strategic planning and resources, including an employee assistance program (EAP), can help to ease the burdens of too many worries and burnout. Here’s how.

Do you know what work burnout is?

The official definition of burnout is wide-ranging: “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others,” says the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology.

Today’s work burnout is, of course, different than burnout at any other time in history. Three plus years into the pandemic, business owners and employees still worry about everything from inflation to staff vacancies.

How often do you talk to employees about how they’re doing?

Owning and running a small business is a continual to-do list. The items that feel optional sometimes get pushed back—or forgotten entirely. For some small businesses, employee communications —quick check-ins and regular touch bases—are often disrupted, a hurdle made more difficult in a shift to remote or hybrid work.

“Consistent communication is one of those foundational elements of leadership,” says Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president of specialty benefits for Principal®. “It’s about building trust so employees can come to you with concerns and ideas.”

And consistent really does mean regular and recurring, Hoogensen says: 15 to 20 minutes, every week. Communication may be from you, or a manager, but it’s about both looking back and looking forward.

Not sure how to structure those conversations? Hoogensen has some ideas:

  • What filled your cup last week?
  • What stressed you out more than normal?
  • What are you working on that I can help with? What barriers are you facing that I can help address?

How do you follow up on concerns from those conversations?

Hearing a concern from an employee is one thing—acting on it is even more important.

For example, maybe you’ve noticed that an employee who normally was always on time to work is now regularly late. Focus your conversation with them on what’s caused that change—not on counting the clock. Perhaps they’re struggling with caregiving responsibilities at home, for example.

“During those weekly conversations, your job is to listen actively, summarizing what your employees are saying and helping come up with a plan,” Hoogensen says.

Hoogensen offers two prompts to help create that plan:

  1. What’s the one thing this company can do to support you? Let’s discuss that at our next regroup.
  2. Here are some things that have worked for other employees in similar situations. Do any of those resonate with you?

How do you increase awareness of EAP benefits?

Employers with EAPs find they have lower absentee rates and health care costs, as well as more productive workplaces—which in turn may help with burnout and stress for both employees and owners.1 Many EAPs include, but are not limited to:

  • Caregiving assistance—finding daycare, for example
  • Family support, including counseling
  • Mental health concerns, such as grief and crisis intervention
  • Personal health, such as fitness or addiction support

While EAPs offer a useful resource for both owners and employees, Hoogensen finds that both groups are often in the dark as to its existence, value, and access. Luckily, there’s a decreasing stigma around EAPs in general, especially among younger generations: It’s not an issue for millennials at all.2

“One of the biggest misconceptions is awareness, especially for smaller employers. EAPs are often tied to other benefits, so people don’t understand the breadth and depth of what’s available,” she says. “And so many believe that accessing EAPs will somehow be widely shared in the workplace.”

Recurring, varied communication can help employees (and often, employers) better understand what an EAP is and how to use it, Hoogensen says.

  • Onboarding: “Be proactive about describing what an EAP is and what resources are available. And stress the confidentiality of EAPs,” Hoogensen says. “It’s not just about a crisis, but about normal work-life stressors, too.”
  • Regular employee communications: “Integrate frequent highlights and examples so employees understand how an EAP can help in all aspects of life,” she says.
  • Benefit enrollment time: “Incorporate an EAP message into these business-as-usual reminders,” she says.
  • Employee and employer stories: If you have employees and managers who are comfortable sharing how they’ve used an EAP program—in writing, verbally, or informally—do what you can to make that happen, says Hoogensen: “If others respect them and can get a better understanding of how someone like them benefitted from the service, it carries a ton of weight with others.”

What's next?

In addition to an employee assistance program, what other business priorities can help you achieve your goals for growth and stability? The Principal® Business Needs Assessment tool can help, with a report that’s personalized to your company.

1U.S. Office of Personnel Management

2 Principal survey of 128 businesses (Principal customers) and 128 employees (of other businesses), February 2022.

This content is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a recommendation.