Many of us know someone who has experienced burnout. Maybe it’s a colleague, friend, partner or yourself. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, burnout is defined as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” When someone experiences burnout they are so overworked and overwhelmed that it becomes difficult to remain highly functional in their role. It is harder to stay focused and it’s difficult to keep making progress towards our goals. Of course, this isn’t good for an employee’s career development nor is it beneficial for an organization to have team members feeling overwhelmed and burning out.
Preventing Your Team From Burning Out
While we all experience some level of stress and exhaustion, the goal is to prevent employees from experiencing full-blown burnout. Leaders and organizations must make a commitment to prevent conditions that cause burnout. Here are a few tips for helping reduce the likelihood of burnout and some guidance on what can be done to help those who are feeling burned out.
When people have more work than they can handle, they are much more likely to feel stressed and experience burnout. Try to manage the workload of your team, as best you can, to prevent this from happening. If there is a time of year that is especially busy for your organization (year-end, the holiday season, summer, etc.), let your team know how long this busy period is expected to last so they can “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” If they can’t see an end in sight, they’re much more likely to feel discouraged and anxious. Short term, intensive sprints are manageable, but when an excessive workload becomes a long term, overwhelming marathon employees reach their breaking point.
It’s important to be clear with your expectations and priorities. If your team doesn’t know when they are expected to complete projects or which projects take priority, they could feel overwhelmed and lacking direction, which can very easily lead to burnout.
Institute Rules on After-Hours Communication
One reason many employees experience burnout is because of the expectation of 24/7 communication. In today’s busy business world, it’s possible (and often expected) to be connected to your job at all times. At first this might seem good for productivity, but the reality is that the opposite is true. When employees don’t have downtime, their ability to focus and complete tasks suffers. Expecting employees to be consistently connected to their work, means employees rarely feel fully relaxed and at peace.
Institute a timeframe that is “work free”, which for example could be after 8pm or on weekends or holidays or whatever works best for your operational environment. During this time emails, instant messages, etc. should only be sent in an emergency. Ensure you adhere to this policy and lead by example.
Ensure Employees Take Vacation Time
Many leaders and employees pride themselves on how little vacation they take. They believe that always being at work and never missing a day demonstrates how dedicated they are to their roles. In fact, a study by Project: Time Off showed that 39% employees say they “want to be seen as a work martyr” by their boss.
Of course, working too much and never taking a vacation can be very detrimental to individual and team productivity. As mentioned, your mind (and your body) needs a break from work. Most people find that, when they return to work after a vacation, they are refreshed, renewed, and bring greater creativity and enthusiasm to their work. Make sure your team members know that you value the benefits that time off can provide and that you want them to use their vacation to disconnect, decompress and recoup.
Planning social outings for your team will get them out of the workplace (and out of the mental headspace of work) and allow them to have fun and relax. In fact, not only are social gatherings beneficial because they help team members to unwind, but they also allow colleagues to bond which strengthens team collaboration. By building stronger relationships, going to work becomes more pleasurable for everyone. When employee enjoy coming to work and being part of your team they are less likely to experience frustration and burnout.
Employees are less likely to feel burned out and stressed when they feel that their efforts are appreciated and that they are making a valuable contribution to the organization. Ensure that your team is aware of how their work helps the organization achieve its goals and recognize and celebrate achievements with your team on a regularly basis.
Even if you’re not able to let team members work from home regularly (or even on occasion) you may wish to allow for flexible start and end times or give people the opportunity to run personal errands. Flexibility reduces overall stress, provides employees with the opportunity to manage personal needs, and provides autonomy, which decreases the likelihood of burnout.
Watch for Signs of Burnout
While it’s important to take steps to reduce the likelihood of burnout, it’s also critical to watch for signs that your team members may be overwhelmed. Early identification will allow you to take action and attempt to resolve a stressful situation before it gets worse.
Signs of workplace burnout include:
- Frequent mistakes by your team
- If you’ve noticed that your team (or any individual) seems to be making more mistakes than usual, they could be burned out.
- An increase in the number of sick days
- If an employee is taking a lot more time off than usual, it could be due to burnout.
- Does your team (or employee) seem tired? Are they having trouble getting to work on time? Do they seem to have difficulty focusing?
- Cynicism and irritability
- Are members of your team lacking enthusiasm? Are they more likely to snap at one another (or at you) than in the past? Are they communicating in a more negative way?
Lead by Example
It’s important that leaders set a good example for their teams. If a leader is frequently sending and responding to work email and instant messages at 2 am, then team members will likely believe that the same is expected from them… especially if they desire to more into a leadership role in the future.
This is also true for leaders who do not take vacation time and don’t demonstrate a good balance between work and their personal lives. If you want your team to avoid burnout, you must take the steps to do the same for yourself. Ensure you not only model the right behaviours, but that you take good care of your own physical and mental health so you can avoid experiencing burn out yourself.