Identifying (and Preventing) Burnout in the Workplace
One of the most crucial resources in any business are its human ones - the employees that keep the wheels turning, day in and day out. However, like any of your business’ resources, you need to be careful when handling your employees. There is the very real possibility of an employee experiencing an unpleasant state known as burnout.
If burnout sounds like a bad thing to you, you’d be absolutely right - it can negatively impact an employee’s focus and engagement, killing their motivation, thereby eliminating any chance of them really being productive. However, when it comes to identifying the cause of this burnout, many managers will deftly sidestep any responsibility to deal with said burnout.
To a point, this makes sense. At the same time - despite all the reasoning that there’s no telling where an employee’s stress is really coming from, and they might just be dealing with something personal, and all the other (dare I say it) excuses not to get involved - as the boss, they have both the responsibility and the incentive to help deal with it. After all, even if the boss isn’t part of the problem that is creating an employee’s stress, they could contribute to the solution… and in doing so, benefit everybody.
What Brings About Burnout?
While we aren’t trying to side with the hypothetical unhelpful boss, there is no single underlying cause of employee burnout. Instead, it is often an amalgamation of many different stressors. It must also be mentioned that many of these stressors are typically found in the business environment, so the workplace can’t be absolved of all blame just yet. These stressors include things like:
A Stress-Centric Workplace
To be fair, there is a certain level of stress that one can expect to find in just about any industry… and the higher the stakes of a particular industry, the higher the expected level of stress can become. To really be fair, however, it must also be mentioned that most industries have their stressful periods spread out, depending on the processes they are undergoing at a given time. As a result, hopefully employees aren’t under constant pressure - they’ll have a recovery period, of sorts, to recover before their responsibilities ramp back up.
You need to make sure that your employees have those times, those opportunities, to recover. Otherwise, they’ll quickly find themselves overworked and disengaged.
Unclear or Unreasonable Responsibilities
Imagine being given a destination, but no directions on how to get there or even a proper address to follow. This is pretty much how your employees will feel every time they are given an assignment without enough detail included. No matter how good of an employee they are, their chances of success without a clear objective are far less likely to work out in anyone’s favor. The same obviously goes for any assigned tasks that literally can’t be completed.
Putting an employee through this experience can run them into the ground very quickly - and the process only speeds up with every task they are given that is like this. As a result, treating an employee in such a way effectively puts them on the fast track to burnout.
Failure Has Its Risks…
Certain industries have higher stakes than others, simply based on what that industry does. As a result, people that work in these industries have to deal with considerable stress. Consider nurses, for example - on their feet for long hours, monitoring patients, cleaning up messes, and dealing with all kinds of abuse and orders from people who are depending on them. Compare that to the average office worker. Both have important jobs, in their own way, but there is no denying that the more severe the consequences of failure are, the more stress that employee could be subject to.
Naturally, the more stress an employee could be subjected to in their day-to-day duties, the higher the inherent risk of them eventually burning out.
...But Success Offers Little Reward
On the other side of the coin, what if all of the effort you put in was never acknowledged - or worse, if the slightest error would invalidate every bit of effort that you had put into the task at hand?
Many employees find themselves in just this kind of situation almost every day, and many of them wind up putting in less effort as a result. After all, if their work is never going to be looked upon positively, why would they put forth the effort to even try for that result? The fastest way to squash an employee's motivation and morale is to make it seem that their efforts aren’t appreciated - and it’s also a fast way to get them to the point of burnout.
Without the right communications, any other issues within your business aren’t going to get any better… in fact, they’re likely to get worse. What sounds like it would help an employee have an issue resolved more quickly: a detailed description of exactly how they noticed the problem, or a vague statement that only says that there is a problem present? In the second scenario, the problem will take longer to address, leading to a greater negative impact on employee morale, and making burnout much more likely.
A high-ranking title does not a leader make, and neither does the authority that a title comes with. What really makes a leader in the business setting is the ability one has to support one’s employees, making sure that internal policies are prioritized and that engagement levels are appropriately high. This kind of in-the-trenches leadership is crucial to keeping employees motivated. Without it, an employee could go on feeling unsupported, unappreciated, and that their position in the company is a tenuous one. Have you ever tried to apply yourself to a task with these feelings before? It doesn’t work out well.
Naturally, this is far from a comprehensive list of all the ways that an employee could start to feel the impact of burnout - in fact, we’ve barely scratched the surface. While it is extremely crucial that you address the cause of any feelings of burnout, you first have to identify that you have burnout present in your business.
Signs of Impending Employee Burnout
The key to identifying employee burnout is to recognize whether a behavior is exhibited or a feeling is demonstrated on occasion, or if these feelings or behaviors have become the norm. So, while the following indications are perfectly normal to see once in a while, you need to be concerned if they become standard operating procedure for an employee.
- Disconnection from their tasks and teammates
- A general cynicism about the work they do and the team they do it with
- Physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, and gastrointestinal distress
- Responsibilities are slipping at work, with no indication of stress at home
- Self-imposed isolation from the team
- A sudden lack of creativity
- Difficulties concentrating
- Frequent (if not constant) feelings of being overwhelmed
- Diminished energy and enthusiasm
- Demonstrated stress and frustration in the workplace
If you see any of these behaviors (if not a combination of them) becoming how an employee functions, that’s when it is time for concern. Not only does burnout look a lot like depression, it can contribute to that employee becoming clinically depressed sometime in the future.
How Burnout Impacts You
Hopefully, you haven’t waited this long to realize that burnout is a bad thing, and haven’t been anticipating that the direct impact employee burnout can have to your business would come up.
Of course, that isn’t to say that there aren’t other, operational reasons to want to avoid the influence that burnout has on the business as a whole, as well.
How Burnt-Out Employees Behave
For instance, if an employee is truly burnt-out, they are much more willing to take time off sick… and they are similarly willing to seek employment elsewhere. If a burnt-out employee does leave, you will need to make a significant investment into finding a new employee to take their place.
What You’ll Have to Deal With if An Employee Leaves
On top of this investment, you have to keep in mind that a company that loses an employee to burnout (assuming it has only happened once, which is unlikely) also has to overcome their new reputation as a company that burns through its employees. Is that someplace that you would have seriously considered on a job hunt if any other option was available?
There’s also planning how your business can cope with the loss of these employees until replacements can be found. If they happened to be your best team members, how will your operations be impacted? How much of a loss can you absorb?
You will also need to keep in mind that, like many things you’d rather not have to deal with, where there’s one burnt-out employee, there are almost certainly more. A burnt-out manager can be particularly problematic. Their feelings will likely be projected upon the team they manage, exacerbating your productivity and morale issues.
Finally, you need to consider how burnout is affecting your employees on a personal level. It isn’t as though burnout is just a glum feeling - it can actually cause a slight increase in their chances of having to go to the emergency room.
How You Can Solve Your Burnout Problems
While being able to spot the signs of impending burnout is a handy trick, it only helps you if you take the next step and address the burnout itself. As the authority figure of the office, the brunt of this responsibility will fall on your shoulders, at least at first. You need to set an example by supporting those employees who are being affected by burnout, as they will likely be frustrated with themselves.
There are a few ways that this can be accomplished:
Hash It Out
Putting business roles and all formal channels aside, take your employee aside and have a frank and honest conversation with them. Let them vent to you, supporting everything they say, even (and especially) if it could potentially offend you by questioning your decisions. It could be a huge help to just get the feelings they have out in the open, and if the issue is ultimately a personal one, offer them a few days to sort out what has been troubling them.
Easing the Load
Sometimes, an employee may just have too much on their plate. This is a common enough occurrence: projects can come in at unpredictable times, responses may not come back in as quickly as they need to, or they’ve simply been called on for help too often. Whatever the reason may be, their schedule might be the thing that is stressing them out.
Try sitting down with this employee and working on their schedule with them - reorganizing things based on how pressing they actually are so the employee can focus on what is really a priority. If your other employees can help out, give some of them the extra tasks to handle.
This becomes even easier when you leverage collaborative solutions. With the right solution, progress can be managed and responsibilities allocated to those who can effectively complete them. The right email platform can also help, as important messages can be sorted out through the solution’s filters and rules, and snoozing capabilities minimizing the interruptions an employee faces.
Sometimes, an employee could just become bored with the same rote tasks day-in and day-out. While it makes sense to want the employee most experienced in a particular process to handle it, they could find themselves with a mental repetitive motion injury. If you can rotate your team to occasionally give them different responsibilities and tasks, you can help them develop more rounded skills and maintain their morale. If your team members have particular goals and ambitions of their own, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate that into their rotation, either.
Avoiding Burnout in the First Place
Naturally, it’s best not to have to deal with burnout at all, if you can help it… and it just so happens that there are many ways that you can help mitigate the risks of burnout.
There are quite a few different approaches to doing so. If it’s possible, try bringing in external resources that can help your employees focus on their self-care. This should be largely based on what’s been bothering your employees the most. Financial concerns distracting them? Foot the bill for an accountant to come in and help them out. Stress building up? Set aside some time for a fun company activity so your team can blow off some steam. Remember, your employees have lives away from the workplace, so make it as easy as possible for these lives to be enjoyed.
For instance, it may help to offer some flexibility in how work can be completed - or, more specifically, from where. While remote working solutions tend to make managers a little nervous about potential employee abuse, most employees have leveraged it appropriately, balancing their work and life responsibilities in a way that suits them, and accomplishing both more productively.
Whomever you have hired, they will have feelings that you need to both respect and manage to an extent. Doing so properly can help improve their attitudes about their job and the place they do their work. From improvements in company culture to increased access to sufficient technology, work can (and should) be as positive of an experience as possible.
We can help with the technology aspect of it.
Nexela is here to deliver the solutions your business needs to remain productive and efficient, making your team as a whole more successful… an impact that will extend to your operations. To find out more about how we can help, reach out to us at (215) 525-3223.