9 Ways You Can Protect Employees from Burnout
Grumbling around the water cooler. Falling productivity and innovation. Absenteeism and turnover. They’re all symptoms of employee burnout—a very real condition that occurs in response to emotional stress in the workplace. It can start small—with a single individual—but if left unchecked can devastate a team or even an entire company.
Know the triggers
Employee burnout is most often attributed to one or more of these conditions and scenarios:
- Lack of control—employee is denied a sense of autonomy or agency over work
- Lack of recognition—employee doesn’t receive enough encouragement/incentives for good work
- Work overload— employee feels pressured by workloads and/or expectations
- Work culture—employee feels disrespected due to many reasons, real or perceived
Preventative measures and remedies
There’s only so much you can do to eliminate workplace stress—especially in competitive industries and roles. But as a leader you can take preventative measures and remain vigilant about identifying at-risk employees.
- Recognize the signs: Cynicism, complaining, diminished health, and decreases in productivity are all signs of chronic burnout. Everyone reacts a little differently to stress. Knowing your employees personally makes it much easier to identify signs of burnout.
- Embrace mono-tasking: Studies have revealed that multi-tasking is counter-productive. While it may be necessary sometimes, most just aren’t that good at switching back and forth between tasks (even when they think they are). Encouraging employees to give a single task their full and undivided attention leads to better results and healthier workers.
- Encourage growth: Employees without an opportunity to grow are at high risk for burnout. Not every job offers a built-in career path, but you can help avoid burnout by expressing interest in an employee’s ambitions and offering what support you can.
- Advocate for respite: Long, uninterrupted stretches of concentration come at a cognitive cost. Work without respite negatively impacts output quality and puts employees at risk for burnout. Regular breaks are a proven way to sustain focus, energy, and mental health.
- Celebrate small successes: Employees who feel respected and appreciated are less susceptible to burnout. This is especially true during times of unavoidable on-the-job stress. Don’t forget to call out daily successes, and show employees you appreciate their hard work.
- Sanction passion projects: Ensuring that employees are doing work they are passionate about is ideal—but not always possible. If creating new roles or positions is unrealistic, consider allowing employees to dedicate some on-the-clock time to a side project or charity work.
- Build a culture of support: An employee who feels supported and heard is better equipped to manage times of stress. It all starts at the top. A supportive company ethos is the natural result when you model and reward compassionate and encouraging behavior.
- Construct more meaning: The search for meaning makes us human, and people who toil without a sense of relevance are prone to burnout. Contextualizing the parallels between each task and your company’s mission allows employees to appreciate their place in your “universe.”
- Permit time for play: Employees that socialize feel more connected to each other and the work that unites them. You don’t have to sponsor weekly happy hours (although it’s an idea). Something as simple as investing in a used ping-pong table for the break room can boost individual morale and build on company culture.
It’s expected that effective leaders have already embraced a good share of these tactics. After all, most of them are simply good leadership practices. But burnout can manifest in different ways for different employees under different circumstances. Being aware of the condition makes it easier to remedy before it impacts your bottom line and your employees’ mental health.