Protecting Your Workforce from the Burnout Epidemic

Employee burnout is a problem that is affecting many businesses today. In our always-on, always-connected world, employees are reaching their breaking points quickly. In fact, according to the study in Employment Engagement Series by Kronos Incorporated, 95 percent of human resource leaders say that the employee burnout is sabotaging their workforce. It’s not only just mid level staff feeling overworked – the study shows that nearly half of HR leaders blame burnout for up to half of their aggregated staff quitting each year. Burnout costs companies millions a year in turnover, low productivity and healthcare costs. Even so, companies tend to treat burnout as a personal issue rather than recognizing it as a workplace cultural issue. Unless leaders advocate preventive measures, burnout will continue to be an epidemic that threatens the workforce. So what can you when you sense burnout? Here are some tips.

Limit Collaboration

Collaboration isn’t often cited as one of the underlying causes of burnout. However, feeling like every tiny movement at work is being monitored is a surefire way to stress out employees, leading to quick burnout. Millennials, who make up a large part of the workforce, think differently from previous generations. They are increasingly concerned with a workplace culture and environment when searching for jobs. They like to have some control and autonomy, especially when it comes to completing tasks. Automation is one way to run things in a smoother fashion, especially when it comes to employee scheduling and task assignment. By granting autonomy in scheduling, stress levels of both leaders and employees can be reduced. Excessive collaboration also leads to many meetings, conferences and more to make sure everyone is on the same page. This ends up taking away from working hours, and created a fragmented schedule that reduces productivity, forcing employees to work overtime to make up for lost time. It is thus important for leaders to recognize this, and limit unnecessary collaboration. Giving people back the time to do the actual work that drives the company will result in a healthier and happier workforce, as well as greater dividends.

Spread out responsibilities

Sometimes, due to hiring not matching company growth, employee workload tends to increase. Companies tend to overestimate the impact of digital technology in productivity. In turn the most capable employees are overloaded with work to meet deadlines and get things done. This cycle leads to burnout, often resulting in the loss of a company’s best talent. In one study the average manager was losing one day a week to email and other electronic communications and two days a week to meetings. It stands to reason that a highly talented manager would lose even more. This, companies must give bank this time by reducing workload so that managers can cope without overloading. Alongside this, instead of solely relying on the most capable, it helps to spread out responsibilities and leave some aspects of decision making to others, so as to balance workload.

Define communication expectations

Today, employees are always on. Studies show that Eighty-two percent of employees have responded to work-related emails while on vacation and 87 percent of employees think it is acceptable to call or text coworkers and clients regarding work-related matters outside the standard work hours. This continuous connectivity doesn’t allow for employees to ever feel like they aren’t at work, carving the path for burnout. Management can avoid burnout by utilizing resources effectively and thoughtfully putting together teams. As a part of this, it is prudent to develop a “communications” policy and set acceptable expectations when it comes to communicating. Employees’ freedom to disconnect should be respected, and even encouraged by leaders.

Encourage Breaks and Time Off

Even though most organizations give a set number of paid holidays every year, many employees don’t end up using them. Often, employees will let these add up with the intention of taking a long vacation at the end of the year, but when that time comes, something or the other prevents them from doing so and their leave lapses. Some employees even save up their leave in the eventuality they will need it if they fall ill or have a family emergency. While it makes sense to so with some amount of paid leave, employees should feel as though they are able to take time off even if it’s for a holiday, utilizing their paid time off the same. Going on a short vacation or simply having a little time away from work allows for much needed rejuvenation of the mind and body. Leaders should encourage breaks and utilizing time off, especially if they notice particular employees on the verge of burnout. Taking a step back may seem contrary to work ethic and instinct, but in the long term, it will keep employees more grounded and less likely to fall prey to anxiety.

Practice What You Preach

A company’s tone is set from top down. No matter the type of employees you hire, company culture is in part dictated by managerial decisions and behavior. With this in mind, leaders should encourage team members to communicate with one another, especially when it comes to setting expectations about personal boundaries and work availability. It’s important to promote activities that encourage team bonding, and provide personal development. Leaders need to take part in these activities too, not just watch from a distance. Similarly, when it comes to taking time off, employees should be able to see management taking breaks or going on vacation, so that they are encouraged to do the same. Leaders need to be the ones to constantly motivate employees to be more productive, whether this means sometimes working remotely, or taking walks through the day. The higher-ups must set the tone, so that employees feel comfortable enough to do what they need to do to maintain a good personal and work-life balance, thus avoiding frustrations.

Ultimately, managers should lead by example and inculcate a set of anti-burnout measures within the workplace. Yes, it’s easier said than done, especially when they are multiple deadlines to be met and external stakeholders to please. But with a few rules, transparent and reasonable expectation and an efficient division of labor, these changes will quickly become ingrained into company culture, extinguishing the tendencies towards employee burnout.

Photo Credit: WernerKappler Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on FOW Media. 

Addressing Burnout: Protecting Employees for the Future

Although some believe new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) will push humans out of the workforce in the future, the fact remains that humans are working more now than they ever have—due, in large part, to technology itself. With the rise of mobility comes the rise of accessibility—an “always-on” and “always-connected” culture that is pushing many Americans over the edge when it comes to work/life balance. In fact, Harvard Business Review recently published an article showing that psychological and physical conditions of burned out employees cost between $125 billion and $190 billion in healthcare spending each year. Nearly half of human resources (HR) professionals attribute up to 50 percent of employee turnover to burnout. In business terms, that’s not just a problem—it’s an epidemic.

I remember the first time—long ago—that I was given a business cell phone. Although it made me feel pretty important at the time, I later learned just how invasive it was to have anyone from work call me anywhere, at any time. That’s nothing compared to what employees in the digital landscape are experiencing.

Although mobility is offering an increasing number of employees the flexibility to work remotely, it’s also increasing expectations of how accessible employees need to be. Reports show that more than 80 percentof employees have responded to work emails while on vacation, and nearly 90 percent believe it’s OK to call or text someone outside of work hours. If your company is drowning in burnout and overwhelm, you’re not alone. But you’d do well to follow the recommendations below to reverse the trend before turnover and stress-related illness start robbing you of productivity and talent.

Evaluate Your Culture

I could argue that almost every issue in the digital workplace today is first and foremost an issue of culture. That is absolutely the case where burnout is concerned. Are there lots of last-minute, harried deadlines? Extensive approval processes? Do executives often work late hours and contact employees during the evenings and weekends? Would an employee feel awkward leaving work at a normal time—even though they weren’t specifically warned against it? If so, you’ve got a definite culture problem.

Model Healthful Behavior

Perhaps the easiest way to alleviate burn-out: stop burning out yourself. Employees will generally seek to model the behavior of those who lead them. If they see their bosses working all weekend or through the evening, they will often feel compelled to do it, too—even just for fear of losing their position. Help ease their concerns by taking regular breaks throughout the day, communicating hours of unavailability, and communicating about the importance of your own hobbies, family, and personal experiences in your own life.

Engage Employees in the Process

If you want a happy and engaged workforce, you need to actually engage them in the policies and processes that create your work environment. Talk to them about how deadlines are set, collaboration is performed, and the number of meetings and calls they have throughout the day. Those things are easy to fix, and are far easier to remedy than health issues or a mass employee exodus. Further, rather than assuming that 24/7 “on-time” is the norm, encourage employees to post “off times” when they will be completely unavailable—including vacation.

Know How Many is Too Many

One of my friends worked for a large electricity provider that was filled to the gills with collaborative projects, lengthy and complex review process, and a general issue of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Once, she noted that a boss had asked five employees to work on a draft of one single email—an email that could have been handled in less than an hour if delegation and trust had been properly placed. As a manager, know how many employees, meetings—and opinions—are too many, and establish a culture of trust so that you can delegate effectively.

Making Health and Well-being Part of Your Daily To-Do List

It is a leader’s responsibility to make sure that employees know how to balance work and life. At one Fortune 500 company, employees engage in “homeroom meetings” every morning to gauge the individual work levels, discuss who needs help for the day, and discuss any other issues, including personal overwhelm. Getting those issues out in the open—and knowing employees will be supporting when expressing them—will go a long way in preventing burnout for your team.

Technology is here to help us—not hurt us. But we are the only ones that can set our own healthy limits to ensure that it is used safely. “Always on” isn’t always good—and it’s time we all start recognizing it.

Additional Articles on This Topic:
How Data is Driving Employee Burnout—And What to Do About It
Enterprise Mobility: Eliminating the Need for Traditional Offices
Tackling Collaborative Overload in Your Organization

Photo Credit: ericwilson2214 Flickr via Compfight cc

This article originally appeared on Future of Work.