A Manager’s Role in Burnout Prevention

Managers can implement these tips to prevent employee burnout.

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Here are ways you can help to ensure that your workers stay happy, healthy, and productive.

Here's what you need to know:

  • When employees feel overworked at their jobs, their capacity to go above and beyond is depleted
  • Closely monitor employees’ workloads and readjust and assign support as needed
  • Recognize and reward good work
  • Build well-being into the company culture
  • Ensure that members of your team feel seen and supported
  • Wages should be competitive and help employees to live comfortable lives

Burnout, work-life balance, positive company culture.

These are more than internet buzzwords or Millennial illusions. They’re realities that businesses need to take seriously for their employees’ long-term retention.

What researchers were calling “the great resignation” in 2021 and 2022 is a result of employee burnout, lack of recognition, and unfair wages. Employers thought it would be a fad, but, as The Washington Post highlights in their late April 2022 article, those who chose to leave say they’re better off emotionally, mentally, and financially.

So what is burnout and how do you prevent your employees from joining the corporation exodus? This article will highlight these details and give you some tips for implementing a better company culture in the meantime.

What is the definition of employee burnout?

The year just before the entire world went on lockdown, company culture and employee stress were at an all-time high. The World Health Organization (WHO) even declared burnout an occupational phenomenon and added it to their international classification of diseases in 2019.

They defined burnout as: “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

No manager wants a stressed-out team, so what can managers do to prevent burnout?

Burnout can lead to an employee, who once loved their job, feeling completely disconnected and unmotivated. This is not necessarily because they no longer love their job but because they feel overworked and stressed.

No manager wants a stressed-out team, so what can managers do to prevent burnout? The first step is recognizing the signs and causes of burnout, then implementing a plan to address existing issues, and making a shift to prevent the problem in the future.

Signs and symptoms of worker burnout

The WHO outlined some of the signs of burnout you can keep an eye on to help facilitate a conversation. These symptoms include employees mentioning how tired or exhausted they are, phrases or attitudes of cynicism about their job, and reduced efficacy.

When employees feel overworked at their job, their capacity to go above and beyond or show excitement about new projects is depleted. You’ll notice they are meeting the minimum requirements of their job rather than excelling for the next level.

What are the causes of employee burnout?

As you prepare to make shifts in your business to prevent future burnout in your employees, you’ll want to know what causes burnout in the first place. You’ll notice that the use of the phrase “must be able to keep up in a fast-paced environment” has littered job descriptions for a while now. What that indicates to job-seekers now is that there is very little downtime or space to be flexible, and every step they take will matter.

There are 5 specific causes of burnout, according to Gallup:

  • Lack of control
  • Excessive workload
  • Unclear communication
  • Lack of managerial support
  • Unreasonable time under pressure

Empowering employees means more than offering bean bags in the lounge or a free espresso in the kitchen. It means considering employee needs and how to best care for them in a demanding industry.

How can leadership help prevent employee burnout?

Open communication with your employees in a space that is free from judgment and does not threaten their job can be a huge relief. Start by asking yourself what is making the workspace unhealthy and how you can do more to make it flourish.

Then, talk to your employees directly about what makes them feel motivated and what depletes their energy. While you may not get the key to all of the solutions you need right then and there, you can get an understanding, from their perspective, of what isn’t working.

The effects of burnout are serious. Employees feel overwhelmed and can develop anxiety, making them more prone to mistakes. Productivity suffers and the quality of work decreases as well.

Talk to your employees directly about what makes them feel motivated and what depletes their energy.

The best way to prevent burnout is to get ahead of it. Here are a few ways to alter company structure and systems to make positive changes in your culture and relationship with employees.

Monitor workload and make adjustments to prevent worker burnout

The first step, according to a 2022 Forbes article by Forbes Human Resources Council member, Heide Abelli, is to have your managers be realistic about work demands and expectations. Closely monitor when employees are working and their workload throughout the week and month. Managers should act quickly to address alarming signs of burnout by readjusting workload and assigning support on bigger projects.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

Be an example for your employees in preventing workplace burnout

Managers need to also be models for healthy work-life balance. Employees join the company, hopefully, intending to grow with the business. That means following in their manager’s footsteps. So if managers are taking breaks to replenish their energy, making healthy work hour boundaries, and taking time off to enjoy the things they love, then so will their team members.

Recognize and reward good work by employees to prevent burnout

Not feeling valued on the job can contribute to burnout. Many employees will look at their work and think “what did I do all of this for if it doesn’t matter?” If there is no reward system, even if it’s a public shout-out in front of the team, then employees have no basis for what is contributing to the overall goals of the company.

It’s the small gestures that make a huge impact and resonate with people.

Consider employee recognition as a north star for your team. What has received positive feedback in the past and what has not?

Finally, be authentic and genuine about how you show team members appreciation. Everyone expects a shout-out when they complete a project successfully or when it’s their birthday.

However, it’s the small gestures that make a huge impact and resonate with people. Add your team’s favorite snacks or coffee to the break room, take the time to chat about non-work-related topics, or send them a personalized card out of nowhere.

Advocate for continuous learning

To break up the workweek and add in some perspective challenges, include a barely-flexible lunch and learn. It’s barely-flexible because some weeks are more demanding than others, but you want to make sure that you can commit to the day and time every week to the best of your ability. This gives your teams something consistent to look forward to and something new to break up their week.

Spending time developing new skills exemplifies a business’ commitment to the future of its employees.

Make well-being part of your culture

Well-being is more than PTO, it’s encouraging employees to develop a work environment that works for them.

This can mean:

  • Break time during the day so they can go work out.
  • A flexible environment where they can work from home on certain days of the week.
  • Implementing personal days for those times when the team member isn’t sick but needs to take a day for their mental health or their family.

Perks from HR like gym membership reimbursement, company bikes for local commuters, or even unlimited PTO depending on the work style can be huge morale boosters to help prevent burnout.

The point of these efforts is to communicate to employees that their life is not their work. There is built-in time for them to enjoy the life they’ve put so much effort into creating.

Understanding what employees could have in a workplace while still keeping the workflow going can be incredibly insightful. Measure productivity in a way that makes sense for your business and have exceptions to what a great workweek looks like for each team.

A command-and-control culture where managers are forced to put additional pressure on employees to perform at all costs is a straight-lined road to burnout. Consider how your business could make a shift for the better.

What a healthy team looks like to prevent worker burnout

Gallup did an extensive research report on burnout to explore what it is and how managers can best approach the phenomenon. In doing so, they discovered 5 elements of well-being that can help indicate a thriving team and one that is suffering from burnout.

The key to this list is taking note of which of the 5 limbs are lacking, and making improvements to them to elevate the others.

  • Career: Hire people who like their job and seek a future in the field. This ensures the employee feels like they are contributing their best to the success of the company.
  • Physical: Encouraging good health means improving energy levels to get work done efficiently.
  • Social: Do employees have time outside of work to improve their relationships with people and do they have support on the job from a caring team?
  • Community: Ensure that every member of your team feels seen and supported and that they can be themselves.
  • Financial: Wages should not only be competitive but help employees live comfortable lives that fit where they work.

To get started in ensuring a healthy work-life balance in your business, check out our People Operations Guide and Checklist for Employee Well-being.

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