Employees—physicians and fast-food workers, teachers and hotel staff—are resigning in unprecedented numbers, often in distress. Managers are at a loss for how to respond. Attempts to address employee dissatisfaction and burnout with bonuses, mindfulness, and extra time off do not seem to be working well enough; employees continue to quit, sometimes angrily and dramatically, airing a range of grievances on social media.
But what if the problem we typically call “burnout” is not just burnout? What if it is not the other “usual suspects”—depression or anxiety—either? What if it is something that may appear similar, but has a different cause and, if incorrectly addressed, can make individuals feel increasingly worse?
Appropriately dealing with the epidemic of employee anguish and quitting requires correctly identifying its causes and using precise terminology to describe it. And while burnout is by far the most popular explanation of employee distress, in many cases, the problem might be a less known, but more insidious: moral injury.