Employee burnout can strike nearly anyone for any number of reasons. A new father could be heading toward burnout as increased responsibilities at home collide with responsibilities at work. A salesperson may be logging long hours as they struggle to meet quota in a down economy. Or the only female on an engineering team could be feeling burnout from biases toward her work.

But no matter how it comes to be, burnout can be detrimental to your company. It’s often accompanied by high employee stress, and low morale, which can lead to low engagement and productivity. This can be contagious, as burnt out employees can affect team morale and put more pressure on colleagues to make up for their reduced productivity. Your best best is preventing employee turnover altogether. Here’s how:

1. Set realistic goals

Unrealistic goals may lead to stress and burnout. Managers and their reports should set goals together during the employee onboarding process, and in regular intervals thereafter. This ensures clarity around expectations, and provides an opportunity to craft realistic goals that your employees are confident they can achieve.

You may also choose to create stretch goals that encourage employees to push a bit beyond their comfort zones. This may provide some guidance around how you define exceeding expectations, so employees don’t burn out trying to reach an imaginary finish line. Just be careful to communicate that it’s perfectly acceptable to meet expectations, and anything beyond that is a bonus.

2. Hold frequent check-ins

Managers should check in with their reports during regular one-on-ones to discuss progress toward goals, and any blockers in achieving them. Frequent check-ins can ensure that employees know where they stand at any given point, rather than finding out during quarterly or annual reviews.

This is also a great opportunity to discuss employee development plans and career ladders, so employees know they have futures at your company. Without this, employees may feel like they’re spinning their wheels without a destination. Use career pathing to show your employees where they can go.

3. Train managers to recognize signs of employee burnout

Help your managers understand causes and signs of burnout. For instance, answering emails in the middle of the night, sudden disengagement, or frequent illness. 

Encourage managers to address warning signs with their reports so they can get ahead of burnout. Perhaps that means re-evaluating goals, encouraging employees to use vacation time, or encouraging remote work. This works best when managers can exercise their own discretion to prevent and address burnout.

4. Lead by example

Employees take cues around expectations from their managers and company leaders. When managers and company leaders send emails on nights, weekends, and during vacations, employees often feel compelled to do the same. 

But when managers and company leaders take off from work early to attend a child’s school play, visit the doctor, or attend to other personal obligations, employees won’t feel as guilty doing so. 

Work/life balance is such an important part of preventing employee burnout. Lead by example to ensure that everyone—from your top executives to your entry-level employees—can reduce their own risk factors for burnout.

5. Prioritize overall employee wellness

Emotional and physical wellbeing are crucial when it comes to preventing employee burnout. Without them, employees may not be able to function at work as they normally would. For example, an employee may be able to handle a challenging workload under normal circumstances, but can’t keep up when they’re ill. Similarly, stress at home can take such a toll on employees that they can’t concentrate at work. 

Care for the whole employee by prioritizing wellness. Go beyond the basic benefits, like healthcare and dental insurance, to include things like an Employee Assistance Program, gym reimbursement, or an office equipment stipend. Consider how you can adapt your office space with things like plants, a yoga area, or an outdoor breakroom. And give employees the space they need to be well, whether that means taking a mental health day, resting when they’re sick, or going for a mid-day walk.

6. Recognize employees for their work

Recognition for a job well done shows employees that they’re appreciated, and can raise morale. This boost to their emotional wellbeing can do wonders to prevent burnout. Yet only 45 percent of employees are completely satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive at work.

Encourage your managers to recognize employees often, and share notable achievements up the ladder so company leadership can do the same. Better yet, work to create a culture of recognition so all employees freely recognize one another.

7. Learn what employees need through regular surveys

Quick Pulse surveys or longer employee engagement surveys can identify potential causes of employee burnout—and potential solutions. Survey your employees to learn their thoughts around work/life balance, the struggles they face in the workplace, and their ideas to create a better work environment. 

Learn whether they feel they receive enough recognition, or have realistic goals. Ask how they rate your benefits package, and which areas could use improvement. Find out if they feel they have the time off they need to recharge. If not, what’s standing in their way? Then act on their feedback so they know you’re listening.

Final thoughts on preventing employee burnout

Preventing employee burnout won’t look the same for every company, or for every role. Some fast-moving engineering teams have found that capacity planning and other Agile practices can help prevent burnout. Roles that take a mental toll, like nursing, might better prevent burnout through counseling services. Remote teams may find that core work hours allow people to disconnect more easily at the end of their day. Develop the programs and practices that will work best for your unique workforce, so you can take important steps to prevent burnout.


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7 Best Practices for Preventing Employee Burnout