While nearly every job will have periods of stress, ongoing high demands and workloads can lead to burnout.
If left unchecked, this can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, resulting in reduced employee productivity and job satisfaction — and eventually, turnover.
If you suspect your team members are experiencing burnout, it’s important to know the signs and address the problem quickly. The Professional Times reached out to some of the industry experts to share their insights on how to identify and combat employee burnout.
1. Check in on your team regularly
Your team is your strongest asset. I find investing in my team gives me the best returns for my business. Staying engaged and noticing changes in behaviour, schedule, output and attitude can help you engage in conversation and check in on them. Have regular one-on-one meetings to check in on projects and goals, and also check in on mental wellness. Random acts of kindness go a long way.
2. Encourage active breaks throughout the day
Burnout has three key symptoms: feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance or cynicism and reduced professional efficacy. To effectively combat burnout, leaders should encourage active breaks throughout the day and regularly check in with their team members so they can recognize when someone may be feeling overly fatigued — often that is the first sign that they are overdue for a break.
3. Pay attention to your instincts
If you feel someone may be “off,” checked out or frustrated, ask them questions. Don’t wait to do it. The longer you wait, the more time burnout has to build. Be direct. Tell them you sense something is off and you’d love to know what’s going on so you can help. One of the best ways to fight burnout is to encourage people to volunteer and give back to the community.
4. Communicate about personal issues
Communicate with team members about their lives, not just their work. Burnout often occurs when personal issues like grief, family difficulties or a child’s struggles are taking more of their mental energy. Be flexible with them, offering a “quiet room” in the office and more leeway with getting things done. Offer or refer them to supportive counselling services. Let them know you care personally.
5. Focus on prevention
Just assume all of us are burned out, as our society pushes mindsets and behaviours of being constantly “on” and doing more. The question is how bad it is at any given time. Much of corporate benefits and mental health support go to treating something that’s already a problem. Focus on prevention instead: Keep workloads manageable, help employees prioritize and encourage regular self-care and boundaries.
6. Encourage open communication
Staying ahead of burnout is one of the most important leadership responsibilities. Open communication within the organization will allow team members to know the door to leadership is always open, and working together in a stable and open environment will keep everyone accountable. Always remember to check in with team members, praise them and provide a healthy, growing and trusting environment.
7. Address the underlying causes
Burnout is not just an individual employee problem, but a cultural and systemic issue. Employers who take preventative steps to address the underlying causes of burnout and engage strategies — such as planning for employee appreciation, ensuring employees take time off and establishing practices like front-loading a portion of PTO — can lessen the effects by creating a supportive environment.
8. Practice what you preach
I find practising what you preach to your team is a great starting point. We all want our employees to take time off to avoid burnout, but if a leader doesn’t do the same, then we are all at risk. When teams see the leaders take time off, then it becomes more acceptable. While working, I find taking breaks to move and clear my mind is essential to my own productivity.
9. Promote time off and leave work at work
Promote vacations and leave work at work. Don’t call your people after hours, and allow for family time. I try to shut down completely once I leave the office, and I ask our people to do the same. Work will always be there, but missing that dance recital will cause animosity.
10. Build trust, then listen with empathy
Leaders need to create an environment of trust, transparency and open communication. If your teams don’t trust you, they will be very reluctant to tell you when they are burned out. Once trust is established, your teams will tell you how they feel. It is then your responsibility as a leader to listen with empathy and provide the necessary time and space to rest and recharge.
11. Help your team unplug
First, identify whether you are resting and unplugging as a leader. Your team can sense if you move, lead and work from exhaustion, and they will expect the same from themselves. Then, make sure there are formats to ask if they are resting, refilling and unplugging. For example, on Friday at noon, ask those who work for you what they need in the next few hours to make sure they don’t work on the weekend.
12. Limit daily tasks
Set no more than five tasks for each team member per day; hitting their tasks and accomplishing them will give your team members a sense of accomplishment. This releases endorphins and will create happiness, even in the face of a mountain of work. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
13. Consider sabbaticals for longer-term employees
When someone appears to be tuning out and cannot follow the conversation, especially after working for a gruelling stretch, give that person some quick time off to recharge. For longer-term employees, a sabbatical might be good also to give them a chance to reflect on their career in the company.
14. Create a safe environment
Burnout is real and present. Ensure you create a safe environment and culture for your staff so they understand they can share what is happening with them. Then, as you notice signs they are not as engaged, it’s easier to have a natural conversation around this area that they can enter into without fear of any negative impact to them.
15. Watch for changes in work quality, and reach out proactively
Two of the first signs of burnout are disengagement and a lower quality of work. As soon as you identify these, it’s important to reach out to the employee, check up on them and help them restore or improve their work-life balance. Knowing that they have your support and backup will help your team members overcome burnout and what is causing it faster and more effectively.
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