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4 Tips for Managers on How to Avoid Employee Burnout

The burnout crisis is real, and there is no ignoring it. But there are ways to bypass it.

Photo by Christina Morillo
Photo by Christina Morillo

Job burnout is a real concern for both employees and their bosses these days. It not only costs employees their health and well-being, but it also costs an estimated $125 to $190 billion in healthcare spending each year, according to Harvard Business Review. Employee burnout causes a lot more than just absenteeism; for some, it can mean work-related stress issues, heart disease, high cholesterol, and even death.

The burnout statistics get even worse: A recent Gallup Poll of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent feel burnt out at work either very often or always. An additional 40 percent report feeling burnt out sometimes. People also say that burnout has just become “part of the job” nowadays. According to that report, 63 percent of burned-out employees are more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to seek employment elsewhere. The burnout crisis is real, and there is no ignoring it.

It’s increasingly clear that the responsibility for this crisis lies with both managers and bosses. As we become more connected and “always on,” the risk of burnout for employees increases exponentially. As managers, it’s our responsibility to help our employees avoid the perils of burnout, and while that may sound daunting, it’s not. It turns out, as the Gallup Poll points out, burnout can be reversed and even repaired. Here are four things you can do to help your employees avoid the burnout trap.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Solving the burnout crisis comes down to communication—specifically, clear direction for employees in each of their roles and clear communication about expectations that you may have. By being clear, you take away any sort of unknowns that can lead to stress and burnout.

Think of this like establishing clear lanes of travel on a highway. Each car (employee) has their own place to be, and by staying in the correct path, they help prevent traffic tangles. Having a clear outline for each person’s role gives employees clear boundaries for their “lanes”—which allows them to work within those lanes and even gives them the opportunity to grow.

When team members have no clear idea of what their individual roles are, there’s far more room for misunderstanding and confusion. That leads to increased stress and anxiety for employees. What happens when something goes wrong? The wrong people get blamed, and no one takes responsibility. Having clear roles helps keep everyone in their lanes, completing the work that they need to do to be successful.

As I have written in previous posts, it’s always important as a leader and manager to keep the lines of communication open. This means letting your employees know what’s up even when it’s not the most pleasant news. Sharing information with employees (within bounds, of course) gives them the confidence to be able to do their best work, and it makes them feel that you have their backs should something go awry. Keeping the door of communication always open, within reason, inspires people to work harder for you and helps employees feel connected to the work they do for you and the company.

Additionally, it’s essential to give employees constant and consistent feedback. Scheduling weekly touch-base meetings to see how things are progressing on a project or just to check in makes employees feel supported. It also helps people feel like they are part of a team. Consistent feedback doesn’t always have to be positive either. Scheduling regular times to meet with employees gives them the freedom to bring up things that may not be working within the team and gives you, as a manager, the opportunity to provide constructive feedback on issues that may crop up. It’s beneficial to be part of the feedback loop and gives employees the sense that they are contributing meaningful work.

Let your People Unplug

It should go without saying, but sometimes it bears repeating: Let your people take a vacation and unplug. If you don’t, the consequences could be dire.

There is tremendous value in allowing your employees to unplug and recuperate. According to a  study by the U.S. Travel Association, more than 50 percent of employees leave unused vacation time on the table each year. That feeds directly into the burnout crisis as people put more hours into their work rather than time into their friends, family, or passions.

When your employees go on vacation and truly unplug, they come back with fresh ideas and even more enthusiasm. If you are always keeping in touch via email, Slack, or text, you are infringing on their well-earned vacation time and contributing to the burnout crisis. Allowing your staff to unplug and find their renewed passion for the work you do is well worth it.

In fact, it’s proven that vacations boost productivity. According to a story over at Psychology Today, a study at the University of California shows that vacation time and downtime boost people’s resiliency to stress and germs. Another study the piece cites shows that disconnecting from work on vacation helps make people more productive and engaged at work when they are there.

The benefits of disconnecting are immeasurable, so ensure that you are do not terrorize your employees when they take time off. Allowing your employees to unplug will stave off burnout, make you a better manager, and make them better employees.

Recognize the Good Work Your Employees Do

One of the best things you can do to help employees avoid burnout is to recognize their achievements and give credit where credit is due. A simple thank-you can do wonders!

According to this story from Harvard Business Review, building a culture of recognition can cause less employee turnover and better performance. It makes the work environment feel less stressful, more collegiate, and more like every employee matters. That can be crucial in combatting the burnout crisis.

One thing of note here: Don’t make recognition just a bonus or an annual event. A culture of recognition should happen both formally and organically in an organization. Remember that being grateful for your co-workers’ and employees’ contributions can make huge strides toward preventing burnout.

Encourage Purposeful Work

It’s a proven fact that having a purpose in work is crucial to employee happiness. According to the Gallup Poll cited above, people don’t just work for a paycheck; they want to find meaning in what they do. As a manager, it’s crucial that you show employees how their work impacts the larger whole of the company and perhaps even the outside world. This goes above and beyond just parroting the company motto on the wall.

Having purposeful work also offers employees the opportunity to determine priorities in the workplace. By defining what everyone is working toward, you help employees prioritize what they need to do to achieve the most important goal that you lay out for them. This also helps you, as a manager, so that you don’t have to direct every move an employee makes. Once employees have a clear mission or purpose, they can know precisely where they should dedicate resources to achieve those goals.

By honing your communication and being clear, letting people truly unplug, recognizing the work that your employees do, and encouraging purposeful work, you not only become a better boss, but you also create a culture that people want to be part of. Follow these steps to avoid employee burnout, and you’ll be sure to build a great team that wants to move forward with you, no matter where you lead.

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