We all experience stress in our jobs at some point. It is nearly impossible to completely avoid stress, and small amounts can be productive and healthy. However, without stress management and healthy coping mechanisms, burnout can begin to surface.
What exactly is burnout, and as an employer, how can you mitigate it? The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as physical, emotional, and/or mental exhaustion that are combined with doubts about competency and work value. Not only is burnout bad for the individual experiencing it, but it can increase tension among coworkers and lead to high turnover rates. Additionally, it can lower productivity, engagement, and attendance.
Be aware of what causes burnout. Many factors can contribute to employee burnout, including unreasonable compensation, excessive workloads, and inadequate management. Some additional causes include lack of control, unclear work expectations, dysfunctional dynamics, workflow extremes, limited social support, and lack of work-life balance. While you cannot control what’s going on outside your employees’ work lives, you can encourage open and transparent communication in the workplace. Ensuring employees know what is expected of them and having regular touch points can lower the risk of employees feeling lost and confused. It can also provide you a chance to regularly gauge stress levels and look for warning signs. Speaking of warnings signs—here are some signals an employee is approaching or has reached burnout levels:
Taking steps to notice signs and alleviate burnout is an important business practice. Be aware that burnout can happen to anyone from entry-level employees to supervisors and managers. Fortunately, there are several ways you can manage employee burnout.
Reach out to employees. If an employee is displaying some or all the signs mentioned above, schedule a one-on-one meeting to express your concern. Make sure you communicate that it’s a safe environment for the employee to share how they’ve been feeling. Ask if they are feeling unmotivated or excessively stressed out. Even if the employee has expressed that they don't feel burnt out, this can provide a good opportunity to evaluate stress levels and prevent future issues. If the employee is approaching or has reached burnout, work together to come up with a solution, which could involve reassigning work.
Carefully distribute workloads. A key step in mitigating employee burnout is being thoughtful about how you assign tasks. Assigning a single employee or team more than they can reasonably complete is not a way to motivate, it is a path to burnout. Additionally, make sure you are monitoring and limiting overtime work. Check in on a regular basis to determine if anyone is feeling overwhelmed. Providing this respect to employees can go a long way.
Make clear expectations. Work requirements and expectations that are vague and ambiguous are another leading contributor to burnout. If an employee does not have a clear idea of what they should be doing, it can cause a lot of anxiety. Make sure everyone has clear instructions and understands their precise role. If this does not get addressed, time and money will be wasted and frustration will continue to mount.
Evaluate employee satisfaction with a survey. While the indicators listed above can help you recognize employee burnout, it isn’t always obvious. If you want additional insight into how your employees are feeling, consider sending an anonymous workplace satisfaction survey. With questions like, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how do you feel about your job overall?” you can get an idea if employees are feeling burnt out and take proper measures to mitigate or repair.
Recognize and acknowledge employees’ work. Make sure your employees know they are appreciated. Make it a point to look for accomplishments you can recognize in employees and be genuine in showing your appreciation. Building up your employees on a regular basis can help them feel valued and stay engaged.
Make mental health a priority. Creating a culture of mental wellness at your workplace can go a long way in preventing and mitigating employee burnout. Sharing and practicing mindfulness in the workplace is one way to encourage mental wellness. Suggest stress relievers, such as listening to music while working, taking regular breaks, and going for walks. Also, consider hosting team-bonding events and encourage employees to take vacation days. While these practices might seem obvious, they are important and often overlooked. Regularly provide resources to your employees that support mental health and wellness. If it’s within your business’s budget, consider offering an employee assistance program (EAP) and regularly remind your employees of its benefits.
It is detrimental to assume your employees are resistant to burnout. Every individual reacts differently and taking the time to evaluate your staff’s stress levels is invaluable. It is imperative to be mindful of stress, identify warning signs of exhaustion, and be skilled in mitigating stress-related issues.