Topic: Employee Experience


Improving Employee Wellbeing: 5 Strategies to Combat Burnout at Work

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Updated on 

May 20, 2024






The world of work has changed dramatically and organizations struggle to attract and retain top talent—especially diverse talent. For HR leaders to reach their hiring and retention goals, and organizations to reach their growth goals, they need a more holistic view of employee wellbeing. This includes their diverse employees.

There’s plenty of quantitative research on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce. Organizations with diverse workforces enjoy increased financial performance, innovation, and creativity. They also experience lower attrition and can better mitigate the high costs of turnover. While most companies approach DEI through changes in hiring, promotion, personal development, and other policies, HR leaders must go beyond that and dig deep into ensuring and improving another DEI need—employee wellbeing—especially in diverse groups where burnout can run rampant.

Organizations with diverse workforces enjoy increased financial performance, innovation, and creativity.
—Boston College Center for Work and Family

What is employee wellbeing?

Employee wellbeing is the capacity employees have to work through day-to-day stressors, be productive, maintain their proficiency, and seek their potential. Employee wellbeing is a hot topic in today’s HR circles because wellbeing research shows that employees in good health are more likely to deliver optimal performance in the workplace. Optimal performance drives productivity, efficiency, and organizational growth.

What does employee wellbeing look like?

Employees need both mental and physical wellness to thrive. Those who succeed in both areas report not only having a better quality of life, but also benefit from having a lower risk of disease, illness, and injury. This leads to increased work productivity and a greater likelihood of contributing to corporate wellbeing culture.

Wellbeing as a corporate strategy ensures that employees are able to contribute their best while navigating the myriad challenges that impact how they live, work, and relate to others.

Why is employee wellbeing important?

Employee wellbeing can drive meaningful change within any work culture. But it’s imperative that business leaders address employees’ total wellbeing. This not only includes their physical, mental, emotional, and financial health, but also work-life balance and social equity.

For example, HBR reported last year that 42% of women and 35% of men in corporate America have felt burned out in the last few months (up from 32% and 28% respectively last year). And 1 out of every 3 women surveyed have considered downshifting or leaving the workforce altogether (up from 1 in 4 in 2021). These figures come from McKinsey and’s latest Women in the Workplace report, which surveyed 65,000 people across the U.S.

Employee burnout

It’s always good to consider burnout when developing a comprehensive employee wellbeing program, but after more than two years of a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever. Check out these troubling employee burnout statistics:

  • In 2021, 79% of employees experienced work-related stress in the past month
  • 44% report physical fatigue from work-related stress
  • 32% report emotional exhaustion from work
  • While the average employee says they are “fine” 14 times each week when asked how they are doing, they are lying almost 20% of the time
  • 70% of employees feel their employers aren’t doing enough to prevent or mitigate burnout at work
Diverse group of employees in a meeting together


Diverse employees suffer more from a lack of belonging and burnout.

Burnout hits diverse groups especially hard when they’re regularly told to work harder and be smarter. The statistics are staggering for even the most talented employees, who identify as “different” in some way:

  • 126% more likely to suffer from severe burnout
  • 38% less likely to feel a sense of belonging

Diverse employees also experience more microaggressions leading to the “outsider” experience.

Our 2021 Global Culture study found minority employees experience microaggressions at work far more frequently than other employees. Microaggressions are generally small, commonplace indignities, intentional or unintentional. They may take the form of jokes, negative comments, backhanded compliments, derogatory questions, or any other minor insult, verbal and nonverbal.

  • 76% more likely to experience a microaggression from a leader
  • 144% more likely to experience a microaggression from a senior leader
  • 95% more likely to experience microaggressions from peers

Finally, diverse employee stressors lead to faster burnout.

To support employee wellbeing, leaders also need to understand and address the unique life challenges diverse employees face—which can vary from country to country.

It starts with understanding the link between DEI and wellbeing. For example, in the U.S.:

  • Police killings contribute to 1.7 additional poor mental health days for Black Americans.
  • American Indigenous or Alaska Native (AIAN) people are more than twice as likely to grow up uninsured than their white counterparts, leaving many without access to healthcare. Consequently, AIAN people have a higher prevalence of many chronic health conditions than those from any other racial or ethnic group.
  • LGBTQ individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse than non-LGBTQ individuals, yet they face significant discrimination in healthcare access that leads them to avoid seeking care, putting their mental health at risk.

These stats can vary from diverse groups in various countries around the globe. For more on this, check out O.C. Tanner’s Global Culture Report on Inclusion.

The good news is that HR leaders can identify the root causes of burnout and unhealthy employee wellbeing and work to eradicate them, leading to a healthier, more productive team.

What are the causes of employee burnout?

The causes of burnout can and do vary from person to person depending on their background, trauma, and outside stressors. But research shows there are some universal reasons for burnout. Things like:

  • Lack of appreciation
  • Conflicts on the team
  • Not having a well-defined role
  • Job stress

O.C. Tanner research revealed that poor workplace culture leads to a 157% increase in burnout rates. Reasons for burnout that stem from organizational culture issues can include:

  • Poor leadership
  • Lack of purpose
  • No opportunity for growth or development
  • Not feeling appreciated
  • Poor work-life balance

Deloitte finds the top driver of burnout is lack of support and recognition from leadership—ranking higher than unrealistic deadlines and consistently working long hours. Read “6 Ways Your Workplace Culture Can Cause (and Prevent) Employee Burnout” for more in-depth information on employee burnout.

What are the benefits of employee wellbeing?

Studies show there are universal benefits to employee wellbeing. They include:

  • Better overall health, which drives down insurance and absentee costs
  • Increased employee engagement and productivity, which drives revenue and growth
  • Improved organizational culture, which leads to a better employee experience and the ability to acquire top talent
  • Improved working relationships and attitudes of and about diverse employees, which leads to more innovative and creative problem-solving within your teams and better teamwork overall
+48% Increase in odds of burnout when the amount of recognition given to employees is reduced.
–2022 Global Culture Report, O.C. Tanner

5 ways to enhance employee wellbeing

What are some strategies you can implement to gain the benefits of employee wellbeing? Turns out it’s not the physical work environment or the actual work that causes burnout. It’s the absence of the essential cultural elements that employees need to thrive at work: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership. And diverse groups need a strong culture that not only meets these requirements but also addresses individual cultural needs, worries, and concerns. With that in mind, let’s look at five strategies to fight burnout and improve employee wellbeing in a diverse workforce.

1. Empower employees to identify and solve workplace problems

Open up the opportunity for employees to participate in workplace improvements. Giving employees the power to educate and create a more inclusive culture can be an effective approach to fostering their wellbeing. Research has shown that employees who were invited to participate in a structured process of identifying and addressing problems in their workplace exhibited decreased rates of burnout and increases in job satisfaction. And employees who were offered opportunities to problem-solve together were also less likely to say they wanted to leave their jobs—a key benefit for organizations trying to retain valuable employees.

2. Take steps to foster a sense of social belonging among employees

Offering opportunities for employees to develop open, supportive relationships with their colleagues can be an important strategy for increasing employee wellbeing. Studies have shown that such relationships at work are associated with lower psychological distress, an indicator of poor mental health.

Fostering a sense of social belonging doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. In fact, one of the best ways to foster social belonging is to show appreciation. Everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated for their work, and that can cause a sense of belonging and connection with their peers.

The opposite is also true. When employees aren’t recognized, they can become cynical and feel their work and efforts don’t matter. When the amount of recognition given to employees is reduced, it increases the odds of burnout by 48%.

Combat this by ensuring recognition is given frequently and for a variety of reasons. It’s important not to just recognize the end result. Leaders should give recognition along the way for ongoing effort, above and beyond work, career achievements, and team accomplishments. Ensure peers have the ability to recognize one another too, as leaders don’t always see all the great work employees are doing.

An easy way to ensure all employees are recognized for their work regularly is to launch a company-wide recognition program that allows employees to be recognized often and in a personal way. Tools like O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud enable leaders and peers to give on-the-spot recognition whenever employees do great work.

3. Equip managers with the tools they need to support employees’ personal challenges

It’s been discovered that employees who are also caregivers for children or elderly parents can benefit from supervisors who are more supportive of the challenges they face when balancing their work and personal lives. One study in nursing homes reported that employees whose managers were more considerate of their family had fewer risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Studies in healthcare and grocery store settings have examined training programs for managers to increase family-supportive behaviors, with promising findings for work-life balance and health. Employers also benefited because workers whose managers had this training reported higher job satisfaction, better job performance, and less interest in leaving their jobs.

As part of this strategy, human resources can help leadership understand how to model good wellbeing habits.

4. Ensure workloads are equitable and reasonable

High work demands—like long hours or pressure to work very hard or fast—can take a substantial toll on employee health and wellbeing. In fact, numerous studies find that high demands coupled with low control create health risks, including higher rates of symptoms of depression, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

Staffing up in today’s tight talent market may be difficult and expensive, but employers also pay a real price when employees burn out, are absent, or quit.

5. Empower employees to control when and how they work

Employees with little control over how work gets done not only have poorer mental health but also higher rates of heart disease. Even worse, when you combine high work demands and low job control, you significantly increase the risks of diabetes and death from cardiovascular causes. Even relatively small changes in worker autonomy can make a difference in employee wellbeing.

Primary research on hybrid and flexible work from the O.C. Tanner 2021 Global Culture Report supports this. It showed a 41% increased likelihood of engagement when workers have flexibility in where and how they work. Employees with flexibility in their schedule and location are not only 41% more engaged but are also 71% more likely to stay, and about eight times more likely to be a promoter on the eNPS scale.

41% increased likelihood of engagement when workers have flexibility in where and how they work.
–2022 Global Culture Report, Hybrid Workplace, O.C. Tanner

Careful thought and planning can help drive wellbeing in the workplace

The benefits of both employee wellbeing and diversity are important. The trick is to ensure wellbeing issues like burnout, cultural insensitivity, or empathy and support for caregiving employees are included in organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Adding culture enhancements like equipping managers with the tools they need, offering flexibility, and equalizing workload, as well as hiring and training leaders who help employees feel connected, help them grow and develop, and get to know employees as people will help.

Then remember to show appreciation and empower employees to identify and solve workplace problems. Together, these efforts will ensure your diverse workforce is happy, healthy, and connected.

Ready to create a positive company culture? Check out O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud.

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