Your employees are your greatest asset, which means that they need to be carefully managed and maintained, just like any of your other productivity-boosting assets. The difference is, your employees aren’t just another solution - they’re human beings, and as such, they aren’t tirelessly motivated. In fact, if your employees aren’t treated properly, they could… burn out.
Oh, no! That certainly wouldn’t be a good thing… but how can you prevent such a thing from happening in the workplace, when you really can’t tell if workplace stress has worn them down, or if it was a more personal issue? You can’t keep things from influencing their personal lives, after all.
Maybe they just need to get more sleep, or something.
Besides, what if you just happen to work in an industry that creates more stress upon its workers by nature of the work? It isn’t as though you can help that, either.
Sure, that’s fair.
You can’t be expected to be in control of your employees’ personal lives… but you should be in control of their professional environment.
While general stress can contribute to burnout, certain job factors and features can create “special” kinds of stress that contribute specifically to burnout tendencies. Let’s consider these factors briefly.
Look, I’m not saying that a business should be a stress-free area. That just isn’t realistic.
However, businesses typically experience busy, stressful times and once those times are over, there is usually a period of time that employees get the chance to recover. Bookending stress with these low-stress times (and adequately compensating your team for their stress) can make employees feel better - but keeping them in a constant pressure-cooker certainly won’t.
How frustrating would a puzzle be without a picture on the box to reference?
Each and every time an employee is given an unclear task, they feel that same frustration. They’re just trying to do their job, but they can’t if it is unclear what that job is. It only gets worse if the tasks that they are assigned literally (yes, in the literal sense) can’t be done.
The more stress and frustration that builds up with tasks like these, the more likely burnout becomes.
Some workplaces have higher stakes than others. For instance, you have those who work for child services, whose work frequently takes them into risky and heartbreaking situations.
People in positions like that have a much more stressful job than, say, a fortune cookie writer or the greeter at a superstore. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that high-stakes workplaces frequently see higher rates of burnout.
How would you feel if your considerable efforts were, day-in and day-out, overlooked? If you went above and beyond in everything you did, and not one word was said to you?
Chances are, you’d probably feel unappreciated, demoralized, and unmotivated. Workplaces like this can have a severe morale problem.
Welcome to burnout.
Without proper communication, any of the other problems your business is experiencing will only get much, much worse. Unclear and incomplete statements will make issues more complicated, especially if you are trying to deal with an employee’s issue.
As a result, demoralization and burnout become very real risks.
Finally, if a strong, fair, and supportive leader isn’t present in the business, employees could be accelerated on their way to burnout by the lack of guidance the missing leader should be providing. Employees may feel like they aren’t getting something out of their employment - be it recognition, support, or job security - and swiftly lose the drive to perform well.
Clearly, there is no shortage of ways for an employee to reach the point of burnout… but how can you tell when one really has?
There are quite a few signs that can indicate if an employee is truly burning out, or if one is simply having an “off” day. I’m pretty confident that we’ve all felt and exhibited some of these signs - maybe even all of them - at one point at least.
How many of these symptoms have you seen among your employees?
Again, we’ve all had an “off” day, where these kinds of things are almost to be expected. It’s just a part of life.
It is when these symptoms have become chronic, stretching out beyond hours or days to weeks, that your employees may be suffering from burnout. Thanks to these symptoms, burned-out employees may appear depressed, and are actually at a higher risk of developing depression later on.
So, why should you care?
Well, basic human decency aside, burnout can have some significant impacts upon your business itself. For instance, sick leave is much more commonly taken among employees who are burned-out, and they are also far more motivated to find another job.
If they are successful in the latter, you will need to spend the significant costs associated with hiring a new employee to replace them.
You also need to consider the “typical” state of your employees. They might actually be some of your top performers, simply struggling through a hard time. What impact on their productivity will your business be able to just absorb?
A burned-out employee in the wrong position can exacerbate the problem, too, as a burned-out manager can easily create a burned-out team… killing productivity and morale on a wider scale.
You also need to consider the optics that burnout can produce - what business or potential employee would want anything to do with a business that has what is really a very visible issue?
(I certainly wouldn’t.)
Bringing basic human decency back into consideration, this condition can actually do a number on a human being. Not only can the influence of burnout impact an employee’s personal life and relationships, it makes them slightly more likely to visit the emergency room.
Keeping these warning signs in mind can help you to better spot when one of your employees is clearly going through a rough patch. While you may not see it as your job as their boss, it is your job as a fellow human being to offer them some support.
The easiest way to start this process? An honest conversation.
Have an informal sit-down with this employee and just talk to them about it. Express your sincere worry for them as a person and offer your support with whatever they have been going through.
This support itself could help greatly, and if it is another personal issue, some personal time may be all it takes to help.
Even the most competent employee you have could potentially bite off more than they could chew. Whether they overstuff their schedules, offer to help with anything they can, or both… before long, this employee is going to fall behind schedule.
You should go through that schedule with them, organizing it and trimming some of the fat to make sure it is humanly possible to accomplish, redistributing some tasks if need be, if not pausing them.
If your business has any collaboration tools, they can certainly come in handy here.
Teamwork makes the dream work, as some say, so if you can leverage your collaboration platform to help the task-redistribution process, it just makes sense to. You can make use of your platform as you manage your team, assigning them certain responsibilities and sharing the weight of their tasks between multiple resources, not just the one.
Email is a great collaboration tool, but many employees can find the amount of emails they receive overwhelming, which (among other things) makes them less productive. You can help them out by introducing them to the different tools that email solutions can offer, like filters and rules to help organize incoming messages, and snoozing, to give them some uninterrupted time.
If you had an employee that was particularly good at Task A, it only makes sense that you would want them covering Task A as much as possible, right?
However, designating that employee to Task A will likely make that employee pretty sick of Task A before long… and all the employees who always get Task B, or Task C will likely feel a similar way. Try rotating the responsibilities of your team on occasion, taking their preferences and goals into consideration.
As we’ve alluded to here, there are many warning signs of impending burnout issues, and we’ve barely scratched the surface here. Doing everything you can to keep burnout from happening at all is a reasonable strategy.
Fix your company culture to focus on self-care. Try bringing in external experts to keep your employees happy and healthy, whether that’s a yoga instructor or accounting services. Remember that your employees have lives outside the workplace to live, and encourage them to enjoy them.
These, and/or many, many other behaviors will help keep your employees engaged, motivated, and happy.
One great way to keep burnout from taking hold is to allow your employees to work how (and when and where) they work best. Remote working solutions can allow you to give your employees the freedom to shape their work habits around their lives.
While this may sound like a way to let employees slack off on work time, many employers have found the effects to productivity more than worth it… and employees have certainly shown their appreciation for the flexibility.
At the end of the day, your employees are going to feel a certain way - you can only try and help them feel more positively about their workplace by giving them better technology, more initiative, and an ear to turn to when needed.
We can help where the technology is concerned.
For solutions to help your employees be more productive, more communicative, and more successful, reach out to Graemouse Technologies at 253.777.0763.