Employee burnout can seem to come from out of nowhere. One month you're managing a team with great momentum and drive, capable of meeting all of their deadlines and handling high-stakes projects. The next month, the momentum fades and at least one, if not more, of your employees struggles to focus. Something seems wrong.
That "something" could be a personal problem or even a physical health problem. But it could also point to employee burnout. As a manager, you need to value your employees. If you take care of them and help them to avoid burnout, they can continue to work at high levels of efficiency and creativity for a longer period of time.
The key is to not expect them to work at their highest possible level for days on end. You can either give employees' minds a rest or expect them to have a breakdown. Fortunately, avoiding employee burnout is easier than bouncing back from it. Here's what you need to know in order to take care of your employees.
What Does Burnout Feel or Look Like?
An employee experiencing burnout will likely complain of feeling stressed for an extended period of time. You might even hear them talking about poor quality of sleep. Sometimes employee burnout causes other physical symptoms, like irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, high blood pressure and increased susceptibility to infections or illness. But some of the major employee burnout symptoms are mental.
For example, keep an eye on an employee who has always been punctual but suddenly starts to arrive late for work. Employees who normally interact with their colleagues in a polite and friendly way may start being rude, snippy or argumentative when they feel the effects of burnout. If they normally are eager to participate in meetings and have no problem diving right into tasks, they might start to struggle to get started, to stay organized or to remain attentive. Deadlines might no longer carry much importance to them.
Other employee burnout symptoms are easier to mask, such as brooding thoughts about how the job feels like a dead-end or feeling like they have no purpose or importance within the company. Employees might find unhealthy ways to cope with the stress or depression caused by burnout, such as over- or under-eating, drinking alcohol or even using drugs.
What Causes Employee Burnout?
Employee burnout can have multiple causes. Having to work at a frenetic pace all day long can cause fatigue and stress that, over time, become chronic and lead to burnout. But it's not just high-stakes jobs that put employees at risk: monotonous jobs can also cause employee burnout thanks to the energy output required to concentrate on the work and not make mistakes.
Employees who struggle to establish a work-life balance also have a higher risk of employee burnout. They tend to place so much of their self-worth on job performance that they experience a great deal of stress when they have a tough day, and that can snowball into full-on burnout.
But sometimes managers can inadvertently create an environment that can lead to burnout among employees. For example, employees who feel socially isolated in their work can feel a lack of motivation, as can employees who feel like their concerns are never heard or addressed. Unclear expectations, constant changes in project direction, micromanagement or an overbearing colleague are just a few other factors that can contribute to employee burnout.
Can Managers Prevent Employee Burnout?
Some factors that cause burnout fall under the control of the employee, but many others reflect poor management styles. Simple changes in attitude and protocol from upper-level management can have an impact on employees' stress levels and reduce the rate of burnout.
As a manager or small business owner, you need to understand how important it is to retain good employees. Hiring and training new employees requires time and valuable resources. Plus, your company might actually earn a poor reputation due to high employee turnover. This means some of the best applicants, who know exactly what they're worth and how they should be treated, won't even bother to submit their resumes.
Here are some tips that you can follow to properly support employees, whether by remedying your management style or by passing along helpful lifestyle tips.
1. Establish Clear Job Descriptions and Expectations
One way to virtually guarantee your employees feel burnt out is to constantly change their routine and to ask them to do new things. No one enjoys feeling like they don't have a chance to work on projects long enough to accomplish anything substantial, nor do they like to feel like they're fulfilling three job descriptions instead of one.
Instead, establish very clear job descriptions and expectations. If someone ends up having some extra time on their hands on a regular basis, you can assign them additional work, but try to make it something they can consistently do day after day or week after week. That way, they can feel confident in what the workday holds for them, rather than stressed about what they might be asked to do.
2. Make Sure Deadlines Are Reasonable
Are you guilty of always asking for reports and files "ASAP?" Giving more reasonable deadlines could help reduce employee burnout. Employees need time to get things done, especially when a project requires a period of brainstorming or creativity. Too much pressure in regards to deadlines can stress out employees because their work can build up and they cannot reasonably pace themselves or organize their schedule.
This can lead to constant overtime, which in turn can lead to a poor work-life balance. Thus, stress factors can snowball until the employee feels thoroughly burnt out.
3. Communicate Often With Employees
Managers need to show support to their employees in order to avoid burnout. Managers exist not just to delegate tasks, but also to shoulder the responsibility of more difficult decisions and projects. If an employee is struggling, help them out and let them know they can trust you for support. Establish open and frequent communication with employees to nip problems in the bud.
4. Make Sure Complaints Are Heard
Communicating with employees and listening to their complaints is one thing. Actually doing something about it is another. Employees who feel like they have no influence over their jobs are more likely to experience burnout.
Take people seriously if they come to you asking for mediation with a colleague or for extra support. These employees want to do their jobs well and are seeking a solution. Do your best to accommodate them.
5. Establish Policies to Promote Work/Life Balance
There's only so much you can do as a small business owner or manager to encourage a work/life balance, but you should still try. Include health classes in your benefits packages. Let employees clock out a few hours early on Fridays. Establish generous paid leave policies.
When you show that you care about your employees' personal lives, their happiness at work can only increase. Try to be flexible and understand that work is not the most important thing in most people's lives. When it is, the result is inevitably burnout, and that is a lose-lose situation.