4 ways to prevent burnout in your organization

Here’s how to help employees who are feeling physically and emotionally tired.
Workerburnout Panel

Overwork or stress that leads to physical and mental exhaustion — aka work burnout — produces disengaged employees who are not only less motivated to be productive on the job but also more likely to quit. The prospect of replacing those workers in a tight hiring market such as this one is daunting for employers, especially if a company has earned a reputation as a tough place to work.

Burnout is on the rise, even though many companies are working hard to hire more employees to meet increasing business demands. In a Robert Half survey of more than 2,400 professionals in the United States, 41% of respondents said they are more burned out now than they were a year ago.

You may not realize until it’s too late that your workers feel overwhelmed. That’s partly because they may not even drop a hint: According to that same Robert Half survey, more than a third of professionals (35%) are uneasy about expressing their feelings of burnout with their manager.

What is burnout?

Burnout can be difficult to describe. However, it’s not a medical condition. According to the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”

Employees may not realize they’ve hit burnout until it’s too late when they’ve crossed the line between “really tired” and “too exhausted to function.” Alternatively, some employees might be the type of personality who likes to stay busy and might not recognize when they’re doing too much.

Burnout also happens when work-life balance gets out of sync. This has been a common occurrence in the last few years, with the rise in remote work and technology permeating our daily lives.

Signs of burnout

Burnout looks different for everyone, although it can affect workers physically, mentally, and emotionally:

Fatigue: Fatigue is a major symptom of burnout and can affect all areas of your life. You might feel like sleeping all the time or find that even simple tasks take longer to complete.

Feeling apathetic or dissatisfied with your work: Everyone has days when they don’t want to get out of bed and go to work. When these feelings persist, it becomes a problem.

Headaches: Tension headaches are a common burnout side effect.

Changes to your diet or sleep patterns: Humans are creatures of habit, and when we experience changes to these habits, it’s often the sign something is amiss. This could mean you’re eating more (or less) than usual, or not sticking to a healthy diet. Sleeping at different times of day, or feeling the need to get more (or fewer) ZZZs than usual, might be another sign.

What can you do to prevent or counter employee exhaustion and exasperation? Here are four quick tips to help keep work burnout at bay in your organization:

1. Encourage boundary-setting

One key finding from the Robert Half survey is that 74% of employees are devoting more than 40 hours per week to work — even though most professionals surveyed said they have the ability to set their own hours.

The fact is, even though they’ve been living with pandemic-related work disruption for more than two years, many workers are still trying to settle into remote and hybrid work and the demands that even a more flexible work arrangement can place on their time.

Encourage your workers to reestablish boundaries between their work and personal lives, to the extent possible, as they settle into remote or hybrid work arrangements for the long term. Also, let them know it’s OK if they need to fine-tune their schedule to find the right balance. Emphasize that you want to hear from them if something isn’t working, so you can collaborate on a solution.

2. Reassess roles

If employees aren’t enjoying their work, it can make them feel frustrated and discouraged and set them on a faster path to burnout. So, make sure your employees are in positions that suit their strengths and interests — and provide them with clearly defined roles and expectations. That will help ensure that your workers don’t become frustrated laboring at tasks that don’t make the best use of their abilities.

Also, communicate with your team members regularly and keep everyone in the loop when priorities change. Making the extra effort to communicate information about changes is especially important if you have employees working remotely all or part of the time.

When possible, include your staff in the planning process for new projects and initiatives so that they will feel more invested in the success of those undertakings. By seeking out their expertise, perspectives and feedback, you’re also reinforcing their value to the organization.

3. Be realistic

Another way to set employees on the short track to burnout is by burdening them with overly ambitious or unclear assignments. Take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I assigning manageable workloads to my employees?
  • Do my employees have all the resources and information they need to handle their duties and assignments?

If you conclude — either on your own or after speaking with your employees — that the answer to both questions is “no,” you’ll want to rethink your current approach and adjust priorities so that your team members can realistically and consistently complete good work on time without burning the candle at both ends.

4. Recognize contributions

Feeling appreciated can make challenging workloads easier for employees to shoulder. Remembering to say “thank you” to your employees can go a long way toward preventing work burnout.

Offering appreciation can be as simple as a shout-out during a staff meeting or as significant as nominating your team for internal and external awards.

If your employees do something well, take notice. And if you implement ideas submitted by your employees, give them credit.

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