When someone launches into a breakup speech, they usually try to let their partner down easy with some variation of “It’s not you, it’s me.” Workers in the U.S. have been “breaking up” with their employers in record numbers in 2021. It is a wild and unsustainable statistic, but just in November, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that a record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs. These workers are sending a strong message to their employers: “This time it’s not me, it’s you.”

A large percentage of these workers were in a couple of especially hard-hit industries. The demands on retail workers still employed were spread thinner than ever before and they have had to work harder than ever before. Here at JBC, we have seen all this firsthand in our retail search practice. Retail has been a strong focus for us since the beginning, and we are currently helping our clients in the industry fill hundreds of vacant positions at all levels. 

Hospitality has been hit just as hard. Outside of JBC, I have several QSRs in New York, and finding and retaining talent has been harder than ever. For every hire we make, it seems we lose someone else.

Although other industries haven’t been hit nearly as hard, the effects of 2021’s “Great Resignation” have been felt broadly across the board. What we are now realizing is that they weren’t leaving just for the reasons everyone keeps citing, like getting a higher salary elsewhere or continuing to work from home. In a number of recent polls, the number one reason workers gave for leaving a company was burnout.

Burnout is a big problem because it affects everyone from your most highest performing colleagues to your entry-level rising stars. Your most highly engaged workers — the ones who always hit their sales numbers or bring in a record amount of new business — are particularly susceptible to burnout.

Now, we’re in a new year! While I am certain the Great Resignation is just about behind us, one of the best resolutions you could make would be to take a long look at your team and how burnout might be taking a toll on the people you depend on most – and work to correct it.

Who is most affected by burnout?

Recent research reveals that more than half of all workers say they are experiencing feelings of burnout, and two-thirds of those said things had only gotten worse during the past two years of the pandemic.

People working from home are feeling stressed by their workload. The beginning and end of the workday has gotten hazier. Emails and texts arrive at any time of the day or night. One online meeting runs into the next and there is no focus on work-life balance. Worse, in many instances it’s management that is responsible for not respecting work-life boundaries.

Parents are feeling stressed because they often feel pulled in two directions during the workday. And since women are more likely to be the primary caregivers for children, they are hit particularly hard. According to a study by McKinsey and Company, one in three working mothers is considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.

Younger employees are also feeling the strain. About 59% of Millennials and 58% of Gen Z reports feeling burned out. Experts believe they haven’t built up the coping skills or support networks of their older colleagues.

What we can do about it

To fix the burnout problem, you first have to understand the signs of it. According to Gallup, the five top causes of burnout are unfair treatment, an unsustainable workload, lack of guidance on work duties, lack of managerial support, and unreasonable time pressure. In my personal experience, there are numerous other causes of burnout, but the most obvious are a lack of appreciation, toxic work cultures, and leadership that does not consistently encourage its teams to take breaks and prioritize their physical and mental health. 

You’ll notice what’s not on this list: anything about salaries and benefits. Throwing money at the problem isn’t enough. It’s just like a counteroffer. Our life at JBC and Janou Pakter is our search work. Each day we coach candidates and our clients on counteroffers and share countless articles that show counteroffers are ineffective at correcting the problems that drive employees to leave in the first place. Throwing money at an employee might feel right, but it’s a temporary solution. The feelings of burnout, exhaustion and depression will not go away just because their compensation has grown.

In her new book The Burnout Epidemic, Jennifer Moss believes there are no easy answers to fighting burnout. Mandating a “No Meeting Wednesday” policy, like one aerospace company did recently, might make Thursday even more hectic.

Instead, Moss talks about making changes on the managerial level. She recommends adding a 15-minute check-in meeting to the calendar. Wait – I know you’re all saying, “Ugh, not another meeting.” But trust me, this one can help to at least identify the problem. In these meetings, your managers shouldn’t just ask how an employee is doing. They should be asking questions that can’t be answered too quickly, like “What were the high points and low points of the week for you?” 

Here at JBC and Janou Pakter, communication has always been a focus for me and my leadership teams. It was something we had to learn and practice together. This past year we made a big and purposeful move to develop empathy while we were mostly working remotely. Luckily for us, JBC leads with empathy, but what we had to develop and take action on was a whole other level of connecting, accepting, and supporting each other’s situations, including home schooling, technology issues, and ill family members. People had a real fear of what was to come. 

To connect to this more deeply, I asked all of my leaders to consistently ask their team members how they are really doing, and, more importantly, wait for the response. Empathy is being able to make space between a question and an answer, but way too often we ask the question but never wait for the reply. Have patience and, most importantly, listen.

Managers are feeling stressed out as well. A recent poll found that more than one-third of managers report feeling burned out. Only one in four felt they could balance the pressure of their direct work with the responsibility of their home and personal lives. While it may seem beneficial at first to help take some work burden off of your team’s plates, managers need to understand that taking on some of the responsibility of team members who are feeling burned out themselves is not a good long-term strategy. 

Executives have a part to play here. Acknowledging the pressure that team members are under is a great start. At the beginning of the pandemic, I started writing weekly emails to all staffers about the challenges we were all facing. Employees really connected to these emails and videos, and the feedback reinforced the power of my honest messages and our concern for everyone’s mental health and well-being. 

There are so many other ways to help overcome burnout. Take a moment each day to simply be selfish. You can’t always just say yes to everything—you have to learn to say no. Go out and take a walk or find another outlet to exercise. Personally, no matter how busy the day is, I make sure to find 30 minutes to an hour to exercise. Since the pandemic, I know my days don’t start and end with traditional office hours, so carving out time for myself to work out is critical. I am not willing to sacrifice this, and I encourage all of my colleagues to think the same way.

We have to take mental health and burnout seriously. Two-thirds of our teams have been struggling with deteriorated mental health since the start of the pandemic. We have to remind them to have a healthy work-life balance and encourage them to stay active and exercise. We should remind them we have HR teams to help connect them to mental health benefits or access apps like Headspace for Work. One thing that has been successful for us is introducing a buddy-up program where people are randomly matched to a colleague they don’t often cross paths with to get a coffee. Sometimes it’s easier to chat with a stranger, and forging new relationships cures boredom. 

These are just a couple of suggestions to get the ball rolling. I’d love to hear some of yours as well. All I know is that demonstrating that we’re listening to our teams and are willing to make the changes that are necessary is a great first step.