On occasion, you may notice a star employee becoming irritable and late for work on a regular basis. Enthusiasm has waned, and productivity has dropped. Now you are starting to feel irritable every time you see this person, and are becoming frustrated with how the situation is affecting coworkers.
Have you considered that the problem may not be with the employee, but rather with his or her job? Is this person overwhelmed and under-appreciated? Perhaps he or she is suffering from workplace burnout, a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that is brought on by a long period of stress resulting in a feeling of emptiness and frustration.
Understanding Employee Burnout
Most commonly, burnout is the result of being overworked and under-appreciated, and often, employees end up with more on their plate than they can get done even by doing overtime. On the flip-side, burnout also occurs when employees are bored or depressed and become under-stimulated. Others experience burnout because they are fearful of losing their job and feel insecure about their level of work, or are unclear about job expectations.
While preventing employee burnout is quite a feat, catching the warning signs is not as difficult. Be on the lookout for:
- Unexplained absences from work
- Showing up to work late/leaving early
- Decrease in productivity
- Apparent frustration
- Decline in health
- Lack of enthusiasm
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for helping your employees deal with burnout. Sending them off on vacation will not make the problem go away upon their return. A real change needs to be made to their work, their work environment, and their emotional state.
You, as the boss, have enormous influence in these areas. By communicating, motivating, and leading your employees, you can reshape their work life.
Communicate With Your Employees
1. Hold Regular Staff Meetings
This includes both staff meetings and one-on-one meetings with each employee. Shoot for at least one meeting monthly, if not biweekly. Give your employees a chance to not only discuss what they are working on, but also any issues they may have concerning their workload, the difficulty level of their work, the work environment, and their completion of career goals. Allow this time for your staff to open up to you by letting them know that you are their advocate and are on their side.
2. Emphasize Positives and Downplay Negatives
There are pros and cons to every job, and when employees have burnout, they often forget about the positives and only focus on the negatives. For instance, an employee may focus mainly on the tedious tasks he or she has to do, while overlooking the more exciting project work he or she does. Put the emphasis then on the work that excites your employee each time you speak to him or her. In this way, you can keep what your employees enjoy about their work at the top of their minds.
3. Recognize and Acknowledge Their Work
Recognize your employees’ hard work and say that you appreciate it. Be honest, but make it part of your job to really look for these things, even if it is among mundane tasks. Maybe you’ll find evidence of solid effort or accomplishment in an employee’s customer service skills, or his or her email etiquette. Find a reason to build employees up on a regular basis, and tell them what you have observed.
4. Clarify Expectations and Job Requirements
Another common reason that employees experience workplace burnout is because it is unclear what they should be doing. Perhaps their tasks are vague, or perhaps they get instructions and feedback from multiple superiors. Regardless, it is your job to make sure they know their precise role. Otherwise, money and time are wasted, and frustrations will continue to grow.
Motivate Your Employees
5. Find Out What Motivates Your Employees
Does praising your employee in front of the other staff members improve his or her attitude and productivity? Does pointing out an employee’s shortcomings in a one-on-one meeting provide motivation to work harder? Does “Casual Friday” get your crew in a positive mood? Hone in on motivators, and remember that each employee is different, so motivate each individual according to their needs, not yours.
6. Encourage Stress Relievers
In addition to directly motivating your employees, encourage them to self-motivate by allowing stress relievers: Let them listen to music while they work, flex their work hours, allow casual dress, or institute telecommuting. This will help your employees enjoy their time at work, while also demonstrating that you care about their well-being.
7. Show Your Appreciation
I always felt appreciated when I walked into work to find that my boss bought coffee and bagels for the group. It gave me a little extra motivation for the day. You can show your appreciation by providing breakfast, an afternoon snack, early release, or even a tension massage session. These things can be the highlight of an employee’s day during an otherwise dull one.
8. Encourage Getting Fresh Air
Everyone needs a little fresh air now and then, and it can be quite refreshing after sitting in an office for hours on end. If your type of work and workplace allow it, have employees go outside for a while. Perhaps you can even bring laptops. If not, encourage them to take walks during their breaks, or hold a staff meeting outside. You may even wish to schedule an afternoon once per quarter to enjoy a staff picnic or some other special outing.
9. Encourage Vacation Days
While making employees take a vacation will not cure them of burnout, it can start to ease the symptoms. In fact, it may even motivate some of your employees to use vacation days more regularly. If you have a particularly resistant employee, encourage him or her to take one day a month at minimum to relax.
10. Increase Compensation
Increasing compensation is also unlikely to cure burnout, but it can motivate an employee who is bored with tedious work to keep at it and provide additional incentive to do a good job. For example, if an employee knows that a pay raise is on the horizon, it can motivate him or her to get the job done. If you are unable to increase compensation, consider giving bonuses for outstanding work.
Lead Your Employees
11. Improve Your Leadership Skills
It is crucial that you continue to develop your leadership skills. Not only does this bring harmony to your group, it enables everyone to work as a team and be more efficient. Read some leadership books, learn about great leaders, and attend a leadership workshop or conference. By doing this, you’ll have more ideas on how to handle burnout situations among your employees.
12. Send Your Employees to Training
As a leader, it’s important to discern which skills your employees need to improve so that they are able to perform to their full potential. Training not only boosts productivity, it also boosts the spirits of your team. Consider training in time management, improving customer service, stress management, or specific computer programs.
13. Assign Tasks Accordingly
To be a good manager, you need to evaluate whether tasks are assigned properly given the unique abilities each employee possesses. For those who are under-stimulated, consider new and exciting responsibilities that will push their existing skill-set. If everyone is doing some sort of tedious work, rotate it so that everyone can try something new. Just make sure that workloads are distributed evenly and that no one is taking on the brunt of the work.
14. Limit Overtime
Unless employees are getting extra pay as a motivating factor, working excessive hours is less than desirable. Get your employees in and out of the office in the number of hours that were agreed upon at their hire. This may mean decreasing their workload, hiring temps, or hiring another employee altogether. While occasional overtime is harmless, consistent overtime only increases workplace burnout.
15. Encourage Participation in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
An employee assistance program is a counseling service offered by employers to their employees, either directly through the company or through insurance. If your company offers an EAP, let your staff know, and encourage them to take advantage of the service. EAPs often deal with people who suffer from workplace burnout, which makes it an ideal place for employees to seek assistance.
Anyone is susceptible to workplace burnout. Don’t think that your employees are immune to burnout just because you are fulfilled with your career. Take the time to evaluate your staff’s level of burnout and implement measures to deal with and prevent it. Each person has a different reaction to different jobs, and it is your job to make sure that employee and position can be molded together.
Have you dealt with workplace burnout? How did you address it?