Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Signs pointing 2 directions: Burnout and Balance

Burnout Part 6: How to Prevent Employees from Burning out

by James Porter July 22, 2022

How to Prevent Employees from Burning out in your Organization and how to help them recover, if they already have burned out.

This is the sixth and final installment in a six-part series of articles on Burnout. The previous installment discussed resilience vs. burnout and this last installment will show you how to prevent employees from burning out and helping them recover if they are already there.  

So what are the most common signs of burnout? The author of a recent article in the Harvard Business Review on burnout described feeling: “perpetually exhausted, annoyed…unaccomplished and unappreciated.” Employees suffering from burnout may appear distracted, irritable, hopeless, and depressed. They may also be indecisive, lacking concentration and generally unmotivated.

These symptoms can manifest themselves in the workplace in the form of tardiness, disorganization, apathy, cynicism, absenteeism and difficulties getting along with coworkers.

Before the pandemic, burnout and stress in American companies were thought to be problems the employee had to solve, with little or no help from the organization. Since the pandemic, employers in the US have finally realized, that in order to be competitive, and attract the best talent they must develop strategies to lower stress and prevent burnout. Looking at the top five reasons why employees burn out, it’s easy to see why this problem must be addressed at the management level:

  1. Unfair treatment
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure 

If you want to address these problems from the top down, here are five ways of doing it:

  1. Hire better bosses
  2. Increase employee engagement
  3. Give workers a sense of meaning and purpose
  4. Give workers more flexibility
  5. Give workers more autonomy over what they do. 

1. Better Bosses. Maybe you’ve heard the expression, workers don’t quit their jobs they quit their bosses. Bad bosses erroneously think that increasing levels of stress will also increase their employee’s productivity. And yes, it does work in the short term, but in the long term it inevitably leads to burnout. Studies show that employees will happily work for less pay if that job is in a less stressful working environment.

2. Employee engagement. Asking employees what they think and soliciting their input into decision making particularly when it comes to creating new initiatives, can dramatically lower their stress. And a good boss recognizes their employee’s strengths and gives them assignments that emphasize these strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.

3. Meaning and purpose. At the end of the day, we all want to feel good about what we do for a living. And yet, employees who work in care-giving positions, who you might think would get the most job-satisfaction from helping others for a living, tend to have much higher rates burnout than in other professions.  

So clearly, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to providing a sense meaning and purpose. For one employee, it might be time off to see their children during special events in sports or at school, for another it might be one morning off a month to do charitable work in their community, for another it might be working on projects they feel passionate about and for still others, it might come down to having the opportunity to do creative work, even if this only constitutes a small portion of what they do each day.

Employers and more specifically bosses, must spend the time to figure out what’s truly important to their employees and recognize that in realizable ways, like those described above.

4. Flexibility. Giving workers scheduling flexibility may be the single most important thing an employer can do to prevent burnout in their organization. Attending funerals, seeing a doctor, working from home with a sick child are all activities where a general lack of flexibility leads straight to burnout. Offering up flexible scheduling prevents it.

5. Autonomy. Setting up realistic goals and deadlines, giving workers the training required to achieve those goals, asking for input on setting the goals and deadlines and then giving the worker autonomy over how to complete that assignment will go a long way toward lowering stress and preventing burnout in any organization. 

Just these five simple, cost-effective strategies, when followed consistently can prevent most employees from ending up with the burnout symptoms described at the top of this blog. If however, you find that an employee is already there, this is the time for counseling, EAP services, and other resources like support groups. Social support is undoubtedly THE most important weapon against stress and burnout. PTO, a change in job responsibilities, and enforced breaks throughout the day, can help jumpstart the process also.

James Porter
James Porter