There’s a popular expression in industry: “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother showing up on Sunday.” This means that if you’re not ready to work 24/7, we don’t want you.
How much does this mindset feed into employee burnout? Despite the fact that “burnout” has become a bit of a buzzword, it’s still a tough concept for some to grasp. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized burnout as an official medical condition and an occupational phenomenon.
The WHO defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Symptoms of burnout include mental exhaustion, entertaining negative or cynical feelings about your job, and reduced productivity.
Employers have reason to be concerned: According to a study by management consulting firm Gallup, burned-out employees are 63-percent more likely to take a sick day and more than twice as likely to be looking for alternative employment.
Where’s the dividing line between normal stress and a larger problem? And how much responsibility falls on the employer to help prevent employees from sliding down this slippery slope?
Overachievers are at a higher risk of burnout. These are people who often respond to work stress by taking on more work, which can be further exacerbated by a workplace that consistently looks to top performers to take on most of the toughest projects as well as additional tasks such as mentoring lower performers. Strategies to balance these expectations include:
- Avoid overachievers compensating for weaker performers. Consistently picking up the slack and coaching lesser performers can drain a high performer’s energy and morale.
- Give high performers choices. Do not assume overachievers only want to work on the most demanding projects.
- Watch out for the “yes” people. The overachiever may agree to every request if he or she feels it is expected, making it hard to say “no.” The employee who keeps agreeing to do one more task may feel like he or she is never getting caught up, is inadequate or is not living up to expectations.
Relying on your employees to be “on” at all times can lead to overworking and sends the message they need to outpace their peers to stay competitive for growth opportunities. This can lead to faster burnout if not managed properly. Management can utilize the following do’s and don’ts to keep the balance within their own teams.
- Set milestone goals and KPIs to track real-time productivity.
- Set clear job function guidelines.
- Focus on why the work matters.
- Encourage regular breaks in the workday.
- Watch for burnout signs and suggest actions to help manage stress.
- Set up tailored activity plans to help streamline efficiency and minimize off-duty work.
- Don’t make employees feel obligated to:
- Check emails while taking a vacation or long weekend.
- Take phone calls or text messages while off-duty.
- Excessively reach out before or after work hours.
- Overwork. Don’t encourage behaviors such as working through lunch and working extended hours.
When you identify an employee who may be exuding burnout symptoms, suggest a break — either leaving early, taking an extended lunch hour or even a complete vacation. Also, limiting caffeine, alcohol and tobacco as well as utilizing healthier coping mechanisms reduces the probability of burnout. While these can sometimes be soothing in moderation, you can quickly become dependent upon them, especially if you’re using them to cope with significant or growing stress at work.
A change of scenery can also do you a world of good, even if you’re still working 12-hour shifts seven days a week. Most employers offer the ability to work remotely from time to time, especially if you’re looking for inspiration. Find a local coffee shop, museum or park.
Running a business relies on longstanding client relationships, and productivity is directly tied to employee retention. Let’s face it: We are experiencing a candidate market and job-seekers have options. Those who are unhappy are not likely to stick around. Paying attention to signs of burnout and utilizing creative ways to implement preventive measures will keep your employees healthy, happy and productive.