How can employers prevent employee burnout?
A 2008 scientific survey says burnout’s a product of three overlapping factors: exhaustion, cynicism and a feeling of not being able to fulfill job requirements.
A 2012 survey from ComPsych reported that 63% of respondents “have high levels of stress, with extreme fatigue/feeling out of control.”
“A significant portion of the American workforce is burned out, and my concern is, that’s rising,” ComPsych CEO Richard Chaifetz said in a USA Today story.
Some of the other disturbing results of the research:
- 39% cited workload as the greatest cause of job stress
- 36% said they lose an hour or more per day in productivity due to stress
- 55% said they miss one or two days of work per year due to stress — but another 29% said stress levels cause them to lose three to six days, and
- 53% said they take frequent “stress breaks” at work to talk with co-workers.
Signs of burnout
What does job burnout look like? Josh Tolan, writing on blogging4jobs.com, offers some guidance:
They’re there, but they’re not there
One of the biggest findings from the ComPsych survey was that 22 percent of employees ranked being present at work as more important than getting tasks accomplished and improving performance.
There’s a lot of talking in low voices
As the ComPsych survey indicated, workers who are feeling overwhelmed often lessen the stress by talking things over with their colleagues.
Obviously, you want your people to communicate freely. But if managers start to get the feeling that casual co-worker interaction seems to have a negative vibe to it, there may be a problem.
Employees who are constantly under the gun and struggling to keep up with an unwieldy workload aren’t going to be able to bring their companies outside-the-box ideas. It will be all they can do to keep up with what’s currently on their plate.
So what can employers do?
Tiago Paiva, CEO of Talkdesk, laid out a checklist of tactics companies can employ in a blog post on kissmetrics.com.
Here’s a sample:
Be realistic when assigning tasks. Delegate an amount of work that is challenging, but not overwhelming.
Allow side projects. Allow your employees to spend some time working on a work-related side project that they feel passionate about. Some of Google’s most innovative ideas came from an employee’s side project.
Keep reasonable work hours. While developing Macintosh, Steve Jobs made “working 90 hours a week and loving it” T-shirts. Employees differ on how many hours they can work.
Schedule breaks. Allow and encourage your employees to have a full one hour lunch as well as 15 minute breaks throughout the day. They should use the time to take a walk, socialize, make personal phone calls, or stretch.
Be flexible. When a deadline or goal is unrealistic, change it so it’s attainable. If someone who is assigned a task isn’t the right person for the job, re-assign it.
Define concrete roles. Ensure that each team member has a specific job description, understands their role, and is aware of their expected contribution to the company.
Create a supportive culture. Make sure that being supportive is a company value. Model supportive behavior and reward employees who exemplify your supportive culture. Managers should spend time listening to and addressing employees’ concerns.
Encourage socializing. A moderate amount of socialization is optimal for team bonding to occur. Allow for employees to freely socialize on breaks, at lunch, or after work.
Give them a treat. Surprise your team with a treat you know they will love after a tough week or meeting a stressful goal. Mix it up with food, gift certificates, allowing them to leave early, or having a party at work.
Play together. Build team morale, inclusiveness and job satisfaction by scheduling company activities like snowboarding, go-kart racing, laser tag or kickball.
Don’t tolerate gossip. Address any behavior that isn’t in line with the company value of supportiveness immediately.
Provide ample feedback. Employees must know when they’ve hit a grand slam and when they’ve struck out. Take time to meet with each employee to provide direct feedback.
Acknowledge, reward and promote. Each employee’s contribution to the company should be acknowledged. Reward excellent performances with bonuses, awards, and/or promotions.
Let them know you’re listening. When an employee expresses frustration or concern, address it immediately. Make sure that they know you are taking appropriate action or give an explanation as to why you can’t meet their needs.
Educate employees on burnout. Provide information about burnout and how employees can prevent it — and explain what resources your firm has available if they need some help. Hold a seminar where employees can ask relevant questions about burnout. Consider asking a mental health professional to mediate the discussion.
Offer paid Mental Health Days. This is time that employees can choose to spend doing something that makes them happy. A little paid time off will go a long way.
Make everybody responsible for avoiding burnout. Have a “when you see something, say something” policy. Encourage employees to alert a manager when they suspect a co-worker might be burning out.