In a moment when burnout has moved from a buzzword to a significant barrier to organizational success, senior communication leaders hold the keys to an imperative transformation across our businesses.

This starts with helping senior leaders acknowledge the truth.

The key findings from a new workplace well-being survey (Page login required) of 2,086 U.S. employees, conducted by The Grossman Group and The Harris Poll over two waves in January, revealed a disturbing truth: a vast majority of our workforce—76% of employees and 63% of managers—are either burned out or ambivalent about their jobs. What’s more, 89% of managers believe their teams are thriving, yet only 24% of employees say they are thriving, highlighting a critical disconnect in our organizational perceptions and realities. 

Until we address this gap and implement actions that will drive thriving, we can expect to see continued impacts on engagement, productivity, and profit.

The Reality of Burnout and Its Costs 

Our research indicates that the prevalence of burnout is not just a minor hindrance, but a major crisis. Burnout leads to significant turnover, with estimated costs ranging from 50-200% of an employee’s annual salary due to lost productivity and rehiring expenses, according to a separate 2023 study by The Harris Poll. This is not just a financial drain but a cultural one, damaging morale and inhibiting growth​​.

If that’s not enough, companies with engaged and thriving employees experience almost 25% more profit than those with more burned-out and checked-out workforces, according to Gallup.

Change Fatigue: A Primary Culprit 

One of the predominant causes of burnout identified in our findings is the constant flux within organizations. 

About 50% of employees and managers cite continual changes and shifts in focus as the leading cause of burnout. A similar amount points to the amount of unnecessary work created by senior leadership. 

Many leaders aren’t effectively managing this change fatigue or recognizing that they’re on a different end of the curve than their employees. They’re also not prioritizing what’s most important for their teams to focus on.

Change fatigue affects employee well-being, engagement, and productivity, threatening the organization's health ​​.

Aligning Words with Actions 

There’s a noticeable gap between what organizations profess to be their values and what employees experience daily. In almost 50% of the cases, this discrepancy drives burnout, cynicism, and disengagement, making it crucial for communication leaders to ensure that the organization's stated values align with actual behaviors. 

Ensuring that words match actions and that actions match words can

help rebuild trust and commitment​​.

Transparent Communication as a Strategic Imperative 

Finally, it’s music to our ears that clear, authentic communication from senior leadership is crucial in helping employees and managers thrive. 

In addition to feeling like their manager is invested in their success, 56% of employees noted that clear and genuine leadership communication plays a significant role in their workplace satisfaction. 

While it was certainly true during COVID-19, it’s even more essential today for leaders to be visible and genuinely communicate about the organization's challenges and successes, bringing their employees along on the journey.

Actionable Strategies for Communication Leaders:

This research underscores an unfortunate reality in many organizations today: some leaders brush this off as something to address once a year when they review their employee commitment and engagement scores. Worse, they relegate any actions to a subcommittee tasked with reviewing the results and making recommendations that will never see the light of day.

However, if this issue is left unaddressed across all organizations, it will lead to greater disengagement and negative impacts on productivity and profit.

Among the best practices for communicators to adopt when these gaps emerge include:

  • Make the discussion around burnout part of how your organization operates: This important topic must be an ongoing part of your organization’s discourse. That means regularly being on the agenda of senior leadership discussions, part of the CEO’s monthly message, and ingrained in managers' daily conversations with their employees. Nothing will change the culture more quickly than making this something openly discussed and held up on a pedestal equal to the business dialogue.
  • Change is a constant; manage it as an evolution: The changes organizations are experiencing aren’t going away. We must help our organizations develop plans to manage this change as part of business strategy and as a standalone focus. This includes compressing the typical change curve by enhancing communication, implementing mechanisms for two-way dialogue, and equipping managers to deal with resistance and friction.
  • Revisit the Organization’s DNA: In partnership with HR and senior leadership, revisit your organization’s DNA to ensure it reflects the culture you want and assess your culture to ensure it’s bringing to life your desired DNA. Where there are disconnects, build a plan to close them, which may include refining core behaviors, co-creating new values, or re-contracting ways of working across teams. If the DNA is what your organization desires, think differently about how you communicate it so employees see their work as meaningful and aligned.
  • Enhance Visibility and Accessibility of Leadership: Ensure leaders are not just figures in emails or videos. They must be involved and visible, participating in regular forums and discussions to foster two-way communication. The more leaders are visible, the more connections employees have to the organization’s direction and purpose.

A Need for Reflection on the Part of Senior Leaders

There’s a need for significant reflection here on what we’ve learned. 

Given the research results (Page log in required) and our own experience, we know that addressing burnout requires more than just recognition—it demands a concerted effort led by senior communication professionals to transform our organizations' cultures. 

So we can all look in the mirror and confidently say that we’re putting our people first, that our EVPs are more than words on a slide, and that our most important stakeholders are, indeed, our teams.

By leveraging the power of strategic communication to bridge gaps in perception, manage the arc of change, align actions with values, and ensure transparency, we can cultivate an environment where both employees and organizations genuinely thrive. 

It is what our employees want and need.

For additional resources on employee well-being, visit The Grossman Group’s Workplace Well-Being Resource Hub

About Jason Greenspan
Jason Greenspan is Senior Vice President at The Grossman Group and a member of Page Up and you can connect with him on LinkedIn here.