Five tips to help employee burnout

Gallup poll found that 23% of employees felt burned out often or always, while 44% felt burned out sometimes. Add them up, and you have about 70% of your employees struggling with this issue!

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on When I Work

Employee burnout is a real problem; just ask the World Health Organization which recently said that employee burnout consists of three things:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • Growing mental distance from an employee’s job, or negative or cynical feelings towards the job.
  • Reduced professional efficiency or productivity.

How do you help employees who are burnt out?

Get serious about mental health

There are several ways to keep employee mental health a priority without being invasive:

  • Use an emotional rating system. A rating system (e.g. a scale of one to ten) might be easier for some employees than talking specifics. You could use a rating system, whether anonymous or not, to determine the mental health and emotional state of your workforce. The results of such a system will help you know where improvement or help is needed.
  • Talk about mental health to the general group, not to specific people. You can avoid legal issues, or uncomfortable situations, if you talk about mental health as a group rather than targeting one person.
  • Be confidential and private. Some employees may feel open and comfortable talking to you about their mental health; as long as you don’t break any laws, that is fine. But always, always, always keep what you talk about confidential! If you tell someone else, word will get around that your office isn’t a place where confidentiality is guaranteed.
  • Teach your employees how to be mentally healthy. You probably have other, on-the-job training or meetings; make mental health just as important. Teach your employees how to deal with personal and work issues and how to cope with stress and other mental health topics. Bring in mental health professionals to teach your team these things, and offer confidential consultations with them.
  • Learn to spot mental health issues. While you can’t be expected to read minds, or act as a mental health professional, you can learn to spot some issues. Managers should be trained on what to look for in employees who might need some help or encouragement.

Offer rewards that work against burnout

Whether it’s a gift card, extra break time, some bonus-paid holday hours, you picking up their work or the end of a shift so they can leave early, or amazing snacks in the break room, letting a person know they are appreciated, whether or not they created monetary value for you, goes a seriously long way.

Ours is a world that makes your employees question their worth. They have to be on, and earning, and climbing the latter or they don’t matter. That’s a rat on a wheel; use genuine and heartfelt rewards to let them learn a different way of looking at things.

Avoid punitive, knee-jerk responses 

Let’s say you have an employee struggling with burnout. They aren’t comfortable coming right out and telling you, maybe because of the workplace culture, your managerial style, the response other employees have received or, perhaps, because they aren’t fully aware of what’s going on within themselves.

So, they are passively or subtly trying to let you know something’s not right. Maybe it’s side comments that you think are evidence of insubordination or a lack of respect. Maybe they’re starting to get their work done late, or they just seem down or cold towards you. Before you get out the public stocks, ask yourself:

  • Is this how my employee has typically behaved?
  • Are they usually a reliable or high-performing employee?
  • Does this seem out of character?

If the employee has been a complaining slouch their entire time working for you, that’s one thing; but if they’ve been a great employee, and cracks are starting to show, that needs to be part of the context of understanding what’s going on.

Talk to the employee privately. If you have a personality that responds quickly, choose to listen instead; control your facial and verbal expressions and let the employee speak. Don’t listen just to formulate a response to the contrary; listen to hear, and seriously consider what they say. Don’t take it personally. Rethink what you’ve expected of this employee and be willing to make some changes to avoid this happening again.

Make goals available for all

You need to create goals for your employees, which may include some of the following:

  • Monetary goals: everyone can use extra money so, at the very least, make employee pay increase reviews regular and realistic; this, at least, provides the possibility of a wage increase.
  • Experiential training goals: make conference,s or valuable experiential training opportunities, available as long-term goals. This isn’t about bringing in HR over the lunch hour with worksheets, but sending an employee to a conference elsewhere to be energised and get excited about work again.
  • Micro-position goals: while you might not be able to create bona fide managerial positions (vertical) to promote people into, you can create micro-positions (horizontal) for employees. This means you might create a shift safety officer, for example, which comes with a slight pay increase and a few new duties and perks. This is particularly useful if you have employees who are struggling to grasp all of their job, since you can use micro-positions to get each employee to focus on specific things in addition to the regular job; that’s a team with specialisation built in.

Keep tabs on workplace culture 

Some of the emotional and mental health issues that are involved in employee burnout have to do with a poor fit with workplace culture. While some cultural aspects may be set, consider the areas you can easily change:

  • Reduce the time pressure and pace wherever possible. This reduces stress. Shift the emphasis from output to the human factor.
  • Make sure management is top-notch at communicating with employees.
  • Check the workload expected of each employee; maybe you need to employ more staff instead of bragging about the long hours your employees put in.
  • Define expectations and roles. You might think a culture free of definition and delineation is great, but many employees prefer to have guidelines to work within. Guidelines remove the fear and worry about not being sure of what is expected. They provide stability and reduce conflict with other employees who encroach on their territory.
  • Have buffer zones from customers. Managers or customer care specialists should be in place to protect your employees from unreasonable and aggressive customers. A weary employee doesn’t need to be berated by a customer; nothing is solved or made better in that situation.
  • Your culture is a failure if people are not sure what they should be doing, how much they should be doing, and whether they can take a needed break without derailing everyone.

Remember, employee burnout comes from more than just too much work. It happens when employees are weary, worried, stressed, depressed, upset, feeling trapped, fearful, or lack a sense of community where others are working just as hard alongside them.

In other words, employee burnout doesn’t have a magic fix. But fix it you must if you want to reduce employee turnover, absenteeism, and/or poor customer experience.

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