Is employee burnout an issue in your organization?  Not sure?  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have employees’ workloads increased substantially?
  • Are employees complaining about minor things more than usual?
  • Has productivity been declining?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, your employees may be experiencing job burnout.  True, most people are thankful just to be working these days.  True, unemployment remains high and candidates are plentiful.  As a result, you may be tempted to just ignore your employees’ plight and simply replace them if they can’t take the heat.

But this may not be the smartest approach.  Your organization has invested a lot of time, effort and expense in training staff and developing high performing teams.  If any member of those teams – especially a top employee – under-performs or leaves due to burnout, your whole business suffers.  Productivity declines, team performance is disrupted, and your company must recruit, interview, hire and train a replacement.

Given the high cost to your organization, what can you do to prevent burnout and foster an environment that drives performance?

Understand the Causes

Job burnout and chronic under-performance can be attributed to any number of causes, but here are the most common:

  1. Overwork/work overload
  2. Lack of a healthy work/life balance
  3. Feeling that one’s work is meaningless
  4. Demands that are disproportionate to rewards
  5. Lack of a sense of community in the workplace
  6. Belief that work circumstances are unfair

Recognize the Symptoms

Whatever the reason for burnout, every employee responds differently.  Look for these warning signs that work stress levels may be too high:

  1. Distraction or loss of ability to focus
  2. More work errors
  3. Increased irritability – toward co-workers, customers and/or clients
  4. Increased lethargy
  5. Overall loss of a normally well-managed temperament
  6. Increased sick days or health complaints

Foster a Work Environment that Drives Performance

When employees feel stressed, overworked or disengaged, limiting their hours just isn’t enough.  And frankly, there is no way to completely eliminate stress for your employees.  So what should you do?

To prevent burnout, you must address the root causes.  Create an environment that fosters self-care, do what you can to increase engagement and teach your employees how to manage work stress in a healthy way:

  • Examine working conditions. Take a look around your employees’ work areas.  Are they clean, comfortable and free of potential dangers?  Do employees have the resources they need to do their work properly?  Do workers have ergonomically correct work spaces to prevent stress and fatigue?  If you expect your employees to consistently perform for you, you must ensure that they have the tools and work environment to succeed.
  • Help employees evaluate their priorities. If your staff is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work they have to do, it can be tough to know where to start.  As a leader, give your employees the time, space and assistance they need to evaluate work priorities and develop strategies for accomplishing goals.  If necessary, carve out time for planning sessions to break large projects into manageable tasks which are less intimidating.
  • Ask for employee input. Encourage all your employees to submit their ideas for reducing stress and preventing burnout – and consider them seriously.  The simple act of asking for input can go a long way toward increasing engagement, but following through on that input will make a lasting impact on reducing burnout.
  • Review job responsibilities and work processes. Critically evaluate the way work gets done in your organization.  Make sure job responsibilities are in line with compensation for each position.  Identify ways to streamline work processes and increase organization.  Cut out unnecessary tasks, reports, etc. if they don’t provide ample results.
  • Help employees maintain sustainable workloads. Anytime you make a change that adds to the company’s workload, get together with your staff and ask them to list and prioritize their work tasks.  Using your team’s input, decide where you will focus, cut and eliminate tasks to produce a sustainable workload for each employee.
  • Balance recognition and reward with performance demands. If you ask for more from your employees, be prepared to give more in return.  If you can’t offer them more money, provide non-monetary rewards that are highly valued by your staff.
  • Foster a sense of community. Do what you can to create a team environment in your organization.  Suggestions include: taking staff members out to lunch in small groups; creating shadowing, mentoring and other cross-training opportunities; holding in-house seminars where speakers talk about topics of interest to your staff; participating in fundraisers or community events as an organization.
  • Show employees the “big picture.” Communicate the value of your employees’ work in terms that are meaningful to them.  Show them how their contributions make an impact on your organization, as well as in the lives of your clients and/or customers.  When employees understand how their day-to-day work makes a difference, they are more motivated to perform – even under stressful circumstances.
  • Make balance a priority. Help each of your employees develop a healthier work/life balance.  Create and enforce policies that require employees to take their vacation time.  Set limits on work hours.  Give them the time off they need to meet family commitments.  While it may seem counterintuitive, asking employees to work less can ultimately make them more productive, reduce burnout and increase retention.
  • Set the example. If you work when you’re sick, answer e-mails when you’re on vacation and make yourself available 24/7, you send the message that you expect your employees to do the same.  If you want your employees to take care of themselves and maintain a healthy work/life balance, be sure you’re leading by example.