Even a superstar employee can suffer from burnout. Some experts theorize that the American culture that prizes workaholism makes burnout almost inevitable. Add stressed managers, more responsibilities due to layoffs or pressures from home, and you’ve got a Petri dish just right for breeding burnout.
Burnout rarely has one cause. It usually results from a combination of issues, including an unrelenting, heavy workload, onerous procedures, lack of autonomy or flexibility, lack of reward and a toxic atmosphere. Here’s what you can do about burnout.
How to spot burnout
As a manager, the single most important indicator of burnout is changes in employee behavior. Common symptoms include:
- Increased absenteeism or lateness
- Decreased productivity or quality of work in a former superstar
- Changes in personality, such as frustration or short-tempered behavior
- Disengagement in a previously energized employee
If you spot such symptoms, talk to your employee to discover what’s really going on. Many of these symptoms also can be signs of a medical or personal issue spilling into work hours. You don’t want to assume you know the cause before taking action.
Find a quiet time to talk with your employee. A conversation starter might be: “Are you okay? I’ve noticed you’re coming in late regularly and that’s not like you.” Or, “You seemed really frustrated in our last couple of meetings with department X. Is there anything I can do?”
What’s so bad about burnout?
Employee burnout can cause significant problems to both the person and the organization. First, stressed employees experience more health problems, resulting in missed days and higher insurance premiums. What’s more, burned out employees often share their stress by becoming short-tempered with coworkers, leading to a less productive team.
Burnout also leads to less engagement, lower productivity and higher turnover.
While studies cite many reasons for turnover, poor management is undoubtedly the leading cause of both burnout and turnover. This means that to be a good manager, you not only have to spot employee behaviors that may contribute to burnout, you must take responsibility for making sure your management style isn’t making things worse.
Dealing with employee burnout
The first step to fixing employee burnout requires that you ask the affected employees or team what they think the problem is. Listen and keep an open mind. Many stressors are likely within your ability to correct or improve.
For instance, a loud coworker or inadequate equipment or unclear direction may be stressing your employees. Here are 15 tips to reduce employee stress and avoid burnout:
- Monitor the workload of both individuals and the team overall. Beware falling into the trap of piling your best employees with too much work for too long. Even your superstars have limits.
- Give consistent feedback. Lack of appreciation and recognition or lack of direction leads to frustration.
- Encourage employees to take their vacations and completely unplug. Discourage check-ins by email or telephone. Implement the “only if the building’s on fire” rule of when to contact an employee on vacation.
- Change things up. If an employee wants variety, consider a temporary or permanent job change.
- Nurture work-life balance. Help employees better fit work into their lives by increasing the flexibility of your time-off policies and consider increasing the time-off available.
- Reconsider where work can take place. Increase the availability of work-at-home opportunities, especially if your employees cite long commutes as a difficulty.
- Streamline processes. Does that project really need to go through that many layers of approval? Reduce or revise complicated, time-consuming procedures if that’s what causes frustration.
- Cultivate leadership and management skills. Encourage good management throughout the organization by providing training for supervisors.
- Considers alterations to the workplace environment. Changing seating arrangements, noise levels, lighting or temperature can help reduce physical stress caused by an uncomfortable or unproductive workplace.
- Compensate fairly and competitively. Review your pay structure to make sure your wages are competitive with the market. Adequate compensation doesn’t prevent burnout, but inadequate wages can mean employees feel an imbalance between the rewards of a job and its stresses.
- Show appreciation. During busy times, throw in some extra recognition of everyone’s contributions by bringing in breakfast or lunch, or hiring a massage therapist to give chair massages.
- Bring in extra help. Rather than piling extra work onto already stressed workers, consider hiring temps or part-timers to handle busy times. Or, move extra workers into a busy section temporarily.
- Reward hard work with a little time off. After a busy time has passed, consider offering comp time so employees can catch up on errands or catch a child’s play or ballgame. If you choose this option, be sure to follow applicable wage and hour laws.
- Introduce team members to additional resources, if needed. If your company offers an employee assistance program (EAP), remind them of its availability and encourage everyone to use it.
- Connect with the wider community. Establish an outside volunteer activity during work hours, not on the weekend, to improve team bonding as well as relieve stress.
The best thing about these suggestions? Many are low-cost or no-cost solutions to reducing workplace stress that will help every team member. Even if you must hire temporary workers to address a seasonal hump or give additional time off, it’s much less expensive than the cost of losing and replacing a valued employee.
Download The Insperity guide to employee engagement, issue 1 for more quick management tips that reduce burnout in your organization and increase employee satisfaction.