Are your employees motivated, engaged or burned out? Why you should care and how to prevent the burnout trap
Leaders within organizations are tasked with taking time to know what burnout is, how to identify it, how to prevent it, and how to address it if it spotted. It may seem like that is a personal matter for the employee to tend to, however, there is evidence to the contrary. Organizations are, at the core, made up of people. Not taking care of them is like neglecting any process or element of the business. If you don’t address this problem which may be lurking in your workplace, it could cost the company capital, both human and financial.
If you do the math, the typical person spends one third of their working life on the job. The workplace is ideal for health promotion not only because of the time spent there but also because companies tend to have more access to resources than employees. By implementing programs to lower burnout, you can improve your organization and take part in health management. Staying ahead of burnout is a winning situation for everyone involved.
Stay on the lookout: Burnout affects many, so stay alert about factors and circumstances affecting your team.
Burnout is when your employees are exposed to stressors over an extended period of time (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). The majority of the research in the field describes employee burnout as feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job combined with feeling unequipped to perform his or her duties. This leads to a perceived lack of accomplishment (Maslach et al., 2001). They also experience reduced enthusiasm and motivation, and tend to feel drained which is highly problematic since all of that could lead to less professional efficacy, or their feelings about their ability to succeed (Crawford, 2014). There is also an exhaustion component which refers to feeling like one is taxed both physically and emotionally and unsurprisingly, stress is another.
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Avoid negative vibes in your work environment. Cynicism is when an employee feels a sense of detachment or negative feelings toward one or more elements of the job. They may start grumbling to others, feel resentment and therefore chose to not put forth their best efforts. Leaders should keep in mind that reciprocity is key, especially if you have high standards or highly demanding requirements placed on your staff. Think of the relationships between staff and leadership as one that needs continual nurturing. Do not lose touch with the mental health, family needs, scheduling preferences and other life-outside-of- work factors when it comes to your people.
Realize the costs to your organization: Burnout poses personal, business and performance risks.
Consider what sickness can affect.
Employees experiencing burnout are also more likely to call in from work and go on sick leave and have mental health problems (Maslach et al.,2001). They are also at an escalated risk for cardiovascular disease (Melamed, 2006), are more accident-prone and more likely to become injured or have negative situations at work (Nahrgang , 2011).
Take a closer look at the bottom line.
For one, employees who are burned out on the job tend to have negative attitudes towards the organization. Remember the cynicism mentioned earlier? As you can probably guess, the employee who is burned out is likely not engaging the most with her work. Think about losses from production. They are also more likely to submit their resignation letter (Lee & Ashforth, 1996). Consider the cost of rehiring, training administration that turnover leads to. Why not invest in the great talent that you already have. There is a very good chance that it will pay off in the long run.
There are many easy (and free) strategies you can implement to avoid burnout.
Accept responsibility instead of letting people "deal with it".
Most of the research from experts in the area have placed the onus of how to prevent burnout on the employee (Maslach et al.,2001). This is a problem because research shows that individual attempts to alleviate workplace stressors are pretty much futile (Maslach et al., 2001). Their own attempts to just “deal with it” do not affect their cynicism towards the job or feelings that they are just flat out failing. According to (Rothstein & Richardson, 2008), interventions based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) were most effective at lowering work-related stress, and noted that this type of intervention is best because the person is lead to deal with stress in an active manner. This type of therapy involves talking to the person in a way that challenges negative emotions and thought patterns in effort to change them and consequently change behavior. Confidential, 24/7 counseling helplines can be offered to an employee at the first signs of burnout (Crawford, 2014).
Use environment to your advantage: nature and relaxation can bring wonders.
You can, for example, encourage your employees to step out of the fluorescent office lights and from in front of the glowing computer monitors for a few minutes to go outside and take in some fresh air to take a moment to pause. This is especially true for highly demanding and faced-paced jobs. Having your staff remain in a continuous state of frenzy and not allow for sufficient moments of recharge is formula for burnout. Other causes are not giving enough feedback, having insufficient training, or antiquated technology and equipment (Crawford, 2014).
Practice healthcare management and don't forget that exhaustion can be physical and emotional.
Workplace fitness programs are a good option. In addition, simple knowledge sharing can help. For example, you could make accessible information on subjects aimed at enhancing employee well being such as “How to deal with Sleeping Disorders” (Crawford, 2014).
Emotional exhaustion is a key part of burnout. In one study that did an analysis of many research studies, one of the findings was that interventions that use relaxation techniques have an impact on lowering emotional exhaustion (Maricuţoiu et al., 2016). You could create a peaceful, comfortable break room with calming music or even offer yoga classes. Completing a quick internet search can tell you which types of yoga are meant for relaxation.
Give employees the ability to differentiate between work and private life and nudge them in the right direction.
To help your employees stay positive toward the organization and free of other consequences of burnout, avoid spilling over into their personal lives. For example, do not send work-related emails over the holidays (Davies, 2016). A big part of avoiding burnout to allow time for detachment from work. Give them the ability to effectively balance their lives.
You do not want to come of pushy, as though you are demanding access into their personal lives. There is a more tactful way to go about this within your workplace. Companies can communicate with what are called nudges. Nudges highlight better choices over less-desirable ones. For instance, a nudge for health promotion can be a cafeteria offering healthy food choices. This method gives the employee a sense of control over the decision-making process (Davies, 2016).
Remember to say thanks, even for the small things.
Recognition also plays a big part in helping employees experience less burnout. However, the source does matter (Davies, 2016). Praise from more senior members of the organization tends to hold more weight. Have some system for recognizing good performance. Say something to show that you appreciated the late-night overtime that they put in. Do something that makes them feel appreciated.
Keep the workload reasonable and feasible.
Be careful to not overwork your employees with unrealistic or extremely high workloads. This is especially true during periods of economic low points which is when organizations tend to place excessive pressure on their employees. They expect them to do more and more with little or nothing in return (Crawford, 2014). Everyone has a break point with a certain amount of work. Help keep their minds sharp and make it well within reach to be successful in the role.
Burnout is something that management needs to be on the lookout for. Do not wait for them to come to you because there is a stigma to that could cause hesitation. They may just “tough it out” to not seem weak. Yet, what it can cost the organization in terms of human capital, productivity and healthcare costs are one thing. Burnout can also sneakily creep up and thwart organizational efficiency. Taking time to keeping a psychologically well staff is good for the employee and it is a good business practice. Talk to your staff. Find out how they feel about workload, having the proper resources to do their work, the work hours, etc. See what you can do to help them balance their professional and personal lives. It will be rewarding for all in the organization.
References and further reading
Crawford, R. (2014). How to manage workplace burnout. Employee Benefits , 7-7.
Davies, N. (2016). Avoiding staff burnout. Occupational Health , 14-15.
Lee, R. T., & Ashforth, B. E. (1996). A meta-analytic examination of the correlates of the three dimensions of job burnout . Journal of Applied Psychology , 123-133.
Maricuţoiu, L., Sava, F. A., & Butta, O. (March 2016). The effectiveness of controlled interventions on employees' burnout: A meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology , 1- 27.
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job Burnout . Annual Review Psychology , 397–422.
Melamed S, S. A. (2006). Burnout and risk of cardiovascular disease: evidence, possible causal paths, and promising research directions. Psychological Bulletin , 327-353.
Nahrgang J.D., M. F. (2011). Safety at work: a meta-analytic investigation of the link between job demands, job resources, burnout, engagement, and safety outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology , 71-94.
Rothstein, H. R., & Richardson, K. M. (2008). Effects of occupational stress management intervention programs: a meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology , 69-93.
Danielle Hall is a business consultant with over seven years of experience. Danielle has worked with N.G.O.s, government agencies as well as with private for-profits. She has helped several small businesses in the area of development and also specializes is quantitative analytics. Danielle holds a Master’s degree in psychology and an Ph.D. in organizational psychology.