The Real Cost of Stress and Burnout

Imagine this:  

You just thought of a campaign connected to a recent news event that could strengthen your company’s brand and possibly lead to new investments. But it needs to be executed within the next month, lest you lose the momentum. Your company currently has a 15% staff vacancy rate, and the remaining staff is working more than full-time to pick up the workload. Nevertheless, this is a possibility to prove to your headquarters that you can rise beyond expectations – and in the ranks.  

You know that asking your core team to take on yet another spontaneous project will lead to increased stress levels and overtime, but you feel that this just has to be done (and most overtime hours go unreported, anyway). You decide that this opportunity is too good to pass and ask your most efficient employees to take on the project. 

Three months later, one of your best-performing people knocks on your office door to hand you their one-month notice, while another has been on sick leave for a week. 

Whether your employees are passionate about what they do or not, they will either struggle or leave once they experience burnout. This is particularly true if employees were over-performing before the burnout, and they likely were – top achievers are more prone to burnout since as they excel, employers feel encouraged to give them more work.  

A Gallup study on burnout among full-time employees found that the five factors leaders should be mindful of are 1) unfair treatment at work, 2) unmanageable workload, 3) lack of role clarity, 4) lack of communication and support from managers, and 5) unreasonable time pressure. Although exceeding expectations while managing costs might seem a mission that requires always asking your employees for their utmost efforts, the long-term costs of such short-term thinking are staggering.  

Healthcare costs of burnout, and related costs like turnover and low productivity, accumulate to an estimated price tag of US$322 billion globally, according to the World Economic Forum. Meanwhile, the Gallup burnout study found that burnt-out employees are: 

• More than 60% more likely to take a sick day 

• Around 260% more likely to seek a new job 

• 13% less confident about their performance 

• 23% more likely to visit the emergency room 

This could have detrimental effects on an organization, but the cost of stress to individuals is even more concerning. In the first global study of its kind, the World Health Organization estimated that 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016 due to having worked at least 55 hours per week for a prolonged time. Working long hours also increases the risk of adopting unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms for stress and exhaustion, further exasperating the health hazards. Adding insult to injury, the adrenaline and cortisol that continuously rush through stressed veins increase the risk of depression, weight gain, and sleep problems. 

Another study by the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University in Sweden found that working more than 60 to 70 hours per week for several years changes your amygdala. These altercations to the amygdala, which is critical in emotional reactions like fear and aggression, lead to reduced control of negative emotions, angry outbursts, and decreased executive ability. 

The cost of neglecting employees’ mental well-being is, in short, more than a manager can afford. After all, high turnover, frequent sick leave, aggressive employees, and declining performance rarely look good in an annual review.