Employee burnout can strike nearly anyone for any number of reasons. Many people are feeling stressed in light of a possible recession and news of layoffs. Others have experienced more stress at work as hiring freezes equate to higher workloads. And some may be struggling with work-life balance as they navigate the new normal or changing circumstances in their personal lives.
If left unchecked, chronic stress can lead to burnout and a myriad of other concerns including emotional exhaustion, lower performance, turnover, and mental and physical health problems. This is a pervasive issue, as one in three workers have dealt with burnout over the last year.
Your best bet is helping your team members manage stress and 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.
Keep this in mind if your organization has been impacted by layoffs or a hiring freeze and remaining team members are helping pick up the slack. It’s important to prioritize projects and discuss which can be reassigned or put on hold to maintain a reasonable workload.
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 performance reviews. It can also prevent employee burnout. Employees whose manager is always willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62% less likely to experience burnout.
Manager check-ins are 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, lack of motivation, 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 paid time off, 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, mental, and physical well-being 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. For example:
- Go beyond the basic benefits like health care and dental insurance to include things like an Employee Assistance Program, gym reimbursement, or an office equipment stipend.
- Offer mental health-related development opportunities such as workplace stress and mindfulness courses.
- Consider how you can adapt your office space with things like plants, a yoga area, or an outdoor breakroom.
- 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 contributions
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. Offer flexible work options
Flexible work options such as remote work and condensed workweeks can allow for greater work-life balance and give your team members the time they need to take care of themselves. It’s no surprise that employees with access to remote work have lower rates of burnout in regard to work, their personal life, and COVID-19.
But keep in mind the opposite can happen if remote work isn’t well-managed. Forty-four percent of employees say they worry that their manager doubts their productivity while working remotely, prompting them to log into work earlier or stay online later. Again, managing goals and scheduling regular manager one-on-ones can alleviate those worries and help prevent burnout.
8. 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 those in the healthcare industry, 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 employee burnout.