How to Deal with Employee Burnout

While often felt, but not as often named, burnout is a key area of human resources and employee relations. The term burnout is being used much more frequently, but many businesses still do not know exactly how it starts, what it looks like, or what to do about it.

In order to effectively manage it, all employees, especially managers, need to be able to recognize when it happens.

Where did this come from?

Sometimes it may seem like burnout just happens by surprise, but often it slowly builds until there is a tipping point. The sources of burnout can be both internal and external, but often there is a relationship between the two that causes burnout for one employee but not another.

Values mismatch –  When the values of the organization are not the same as the values of the employee, the employee may start to be dissatisfied with the work and feel less motivated.

Communication breakdowns –  When there is no sense of community or comradery at work employees begin to feel isolated. Without important issues being discussed between colleagues, there is little chance for feedback, growth, or resolution to problems. This can leave employees feeling unheard and unimportant.

Not having a voice – When employees do not feel like they have control over the work that is being done or how it is being done they can feel very demoralized. Research has shown that jobs with high demand and little control are the most damaging to health and morale.

Very little recognition – When employees are not recognized for their hard work they may feel used and unappreciated. These feelings can linger for a long time and cause a lack of motivation to work as hard as they once did.

Too much work –   When there is too much work, when it always seems critical, or when it is overly complex employees begin to feel exhausted and are less likely to be interested in the work they are doing.

Lack of transparency  When employees do not feel like they know what is going on within the organization or how decisions are made they may begin to feel like they are being treated unfairly and that decisions are made without much thought. While these feelings may not be accurate, they can still be very damaging to morale.

What it looks like. When This becomes That

  • Competence becomes Worthlessness
  • Ideal performance becomes Underwhelming performance
  • Positive outlook becomes Negative outlook
  • Caring becomes Apathy
  • Desire becomes Lack of motivation
  • Extraversion becomes Isolation
  • Few absences become Multiple absences
  • Good physical health becomes Poor physical health
  • Working a full day becomes Barely making it through the day
  • Healthy ways of coping with stress becomes Dangerous or illegal ways of coping with stress

What can be done

With the knowledge of what burnout is, it is time to put it into practice. Many companies say they know what it is and try to address, but do little to actually put anything into place.

It is important to create a culture of talking about these things openly, honestly, and often. Being proactive can save employees and employers many more resources than being reactive.  Reducing burnout is not a quick fix and is one that is done on both an individual and organizational level.

Step 1 – Educate the masses

It is important to make sure everyone in an organization is aware of burnout. It is the job of company leaders to educate employees about what it is and what they are doing to address it. This education should not be in a single meeting and then never brought up again, it should be done regularly. It should be modeled and reinforced whenever possible to incorporate it into the culture of the company.

Step 2 – If you see it, just say it

People in leadership positions need to have a good read on the work climate. They need to be aware of their employees and address concerns about burnout as soon as they see them. Using active listening and empathy, leaders in the company can help employees feel valued and understood. With this kind of relationship, causes can be addressed and initiatives put into place before the burnout reaches a tipping point.

Step 3 – Always keep ‘em talking

Communication is a vital aspect of reducing burnout. Communication comes in various forms. It can mean more frequent staff meetings, company newsletters, or individual supervision. In regards to communication it is important to create an atmosphere or collaboration and open feedback. Employees need to feel like they can voice their thoughts and concerns. Employers need to make sure that their feedback is a delicate balance between positive and negative.

Step 4 – Have you cared about yourself today?

Employers can make many changes to organizational structures, but they also need to encourage employees to practice effective self-care. Employees can be encouraged to use vacation days or to take “mental health days”. Employers can suggest that employees leave the office or practice mindfulness during breaks. Let them know that they can bring stress relief items from home to the office and try to make it a culture of the company that work is not the most important aspect of life.

Step 5 – Think long term

When thinking about burnout think long term. Leaders need to help employees form goals and continual motivation. Benefits, salaries, and promotions need to be assessed from both an individual and an organizational level. Don’t just think about how to make employees happier in the next month, think about how you keep them happy over the next 5 years.

Burnout is serious business, one that can greatly impact the survival of a company. But overall, leaders need to be sure to have fun with it and be fair. With those two thoughts in mind there is a huge potential to change the direction the organization is headed in for the better.

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