What Is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion so deep that it can lead to lack of engagement and inability to make simple decisions or to complete everyday activities. During the height of COVID, the U.S. saw the impact of burnout perhaps most notably in the health care and logistics industries, as well as the education systems. Many retired early, many others changed jobs and rearranged their life priorities.
While burnout can affect anyone, the financial repercussions can become glaringly apparent when your employees are the ones struggling. This is why measures to support employee wellbeing have increasingly become a ‘must have’ for companies that want to hold on to their best people and job seekers alike. Below are some common job features that contribute to burnout and what to do if it hits your organization:
Workload - Unrealistic expectations and conflicting priorities can make a workload feel overwhelming and impossible to manage. A workload mismatch can also result from the wrong kind of work, which usually happens when people lack the skills or inclination for a certain type of work - even when it’s only required in small doses. Caution should be taken not to overwhelm people with tasks or projects you know are not a good fit for them.
To help employees better manage their workload, set clear priorities and goals together at the start of the week. If your employee is one that responds well to regular touch-base conversations, schedule short check-ins to check on their progress and to help prevent any hiccups.
Some employees work best when given the autonomy to prioritize and complete tasks on their own. If your employee is one that falls into this category, consider putting a temporary pause on check-ins while also reassuring them you are available anytime should they need to reach out. Either way, be realistic as some projects take longer than expected, and it’s impossible for people to succeed at absolutely everything.
Lack of Authority or Control - Not having enough authority or control over the resources needed to do a job can contribute to burnout. It’s important for several reasons that people have the freedom to pursue their work in what they believe is the most effective manner, especially when they’re committed to producing meaningful results. Work together to find the sweet-spot between support and autonomy.
Outline exactly what’s expected of someone in their role and try to provide any additional training or support, if needed. As the old saying goes, give your people clear goals and then “get out of their way,” allowing them to decide the best way to complete their tasks.
Rewards and Recognition – Naturally, paying people a reasonable salary is an important component of preventing employee burnout. However, financial compensation on its own won’t raise people’s motivation beyond a certain point. What most companies overlook is a lack of recognition. Too little recognition devalues both the work and the workers and can cause motivation to slide.
Recognition is the next most effective and cost-effective way to have a positive impact on performance, but employees need to be recognized for specific actions, results, or behaviors, not just given feedback. Employees should also be allowed to share their own success stories and communicate freely with both management and coworkers.
Finally, express gratitude. What do we mean? Say it. Out loud. Daily, if need be. It sounds so simple right? But when was the last time you verbally thanked your employees for their day to day work? I know there are some who may rebut this idea with something like, “That’s what their paycheck is for.” Listen, that may have been acceptable a number of years ago, but not any longer. Just like the spouse or partner that may ask the question, “Why do I need to say I love you? You should just know.” The answer is because it’s not about you. It’s about what’s best for your employees and how best to fulfill their needs. If we were to compare two positions with the same income and benefits, same job, same tasks, same daily drive time, but one position is with an employer that has a reputation for expressing gratitude, wouldn’t we all prefer to work in an environment where the leaders routinely said “Thank you”?
Finally, Be Objective About Unfairness - Fairness communicates respect and helps to confirm people’s self-worth, which is vital to building a shared sense of community. Unfairness in the workplace can occur when there is inequity or perceived inequity of workload or pay, poor handling of evaluations, promotions, and grievances.
If you’ve got a manager with a known reputation for being unfair, you’ve got a problem. Long gone are the days when unfair or unkind behavior can be dismissed with, “Well, that’s just how they are.” If your employees are asking themselves… why is he allowed to be himself, especially when it’s harmful to me? Why am I not allowed to be myself? Am I not worthy-enough at my place of employment to receive respectful treatment?
Finally, proactively manage employee expectations by establishing clear rules for everyone and owning any previous missteps you may have had in handling situations unfairly. Being transparent and consistent in implementing rules will build trust. Make the effort to understand your employees’ expectations and focus on better processes and better outcomes for all.
SVP Human Resources