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5 Ways That Managers Can Help Decrease Burnout and Stress for Their Employees

Creating positive and productive workplaces.

Levels of burnout and stress are concerning to say the least.  A Gallup study found that 23 percent of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes, leading to decreased wellbeing and health as well as increased health-care and business costs.  There are several approaches that can be used to proactively avoid burnout as well as deal with it if you do find yourself in a state of burnout, from both an individual and organizational level.  The Gallup study also found that employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.  From our work helping managers cultivate leadership skills that empower a positively energized and productive culture, here are some considerations for those who want to support their employees feel less stressed!

1: Understand the whole person

To be able to best support their employees, managers need to understand the whole person.  This goes beyond a person’s role, the work they do, and the surface. This means understanding what motivates them, their work style, how they consume information, their triggers, their personal goals, and their circumstances.  With changing working styles, leaders need to think, work, respond, and engage differently.  Having these types of insights about an employee, enables a manager to best value them, support them, and engage with them.

For example, if an employee is having a stressful time at home, a manager will know how to best help them.  If an employee’s work style requires more check-ins or less, more direction or less, a manager can best enable them to be productive.  If an employee desires to achieve certain accomplishments, a manager can help them understand their options, their career paths, and what they need to do to get there.  All of these things, and more, contribute to helping an employee feel emotionally well.

2: Understand how behaviors impact the team

What works for one doesn’t work for all.  Today, work-life harmony is a critical component in helping employees address all the demands on their time and energy, decreasing stress.  A part of this is looking at the behaviors and working styles within the team and how they interact with each other. This includes the managers own working style and the impact to the team.  Often times, people have the best of intentions but can be unaware of the reality of how their behaviors impact others or make others feel.

For example, a manager may like to take care of emails on Sunday evening while they have some down time after their children go to sleep.  It helps them get started in a productive way on Monday morning and stops unopened emails from building up…which stresses them out. This individual system works for them.  They have no expectation that anyone should respond to these emails on Sunday, they are simply getting the work done on their end. However, for their employees, when they receive the emails they think they have to respond.  They do not want to keep their manager waiting and so will respond even though they may be doing something else, such as spending time with their family or relaxing. In this case, unnecessary stress is caused, which could be resolved with some understanding and communications. There are several ways to handle working styles that may differ.  The manager could have an open conversation with their employees letting them know why they work this way and that they do not expect a response. The manager could also still write all their emails on Sunday and then send them quickly on Monday.  The point here, is that the solution is often not black and white. It is about understanding the optimal systems that need to be in place so that different work styles, that work for the wellbeing of the individual and others, can be honored.

3: Transparent communications and feedback

Employees can feel more stressed when they do not know what is happening or feel in “limbo”.  We have probably all been there, and we see it often when we run our culture diagnostics, those organizational changes, strategies, and decisions that employees do not know about or are left wondering about.  Obviously, there are decisions and information that cannot be shared until the time is right for legal or business reasons. However, having the view to be as transparent as possible, can help limit the worry and unnecessary stress caused by the rumor mill or “what-if” wonderings.  

A culture of transparency needs management support.  As a manager, you can make sure that you are keeping your employees informed, you can let them know that you are there for them should they have questions (especially in challenging times such as layoffs or restructuring), and you can make sure that they know the reasons behind decisions.  We all know decisions may not be what we want in business, however, giving the reasons behind why decisions are made, helps people understand it and move forward in the best way.

4: Look at what you can control

While your organization may be working to have more of a focus on wellness, as a manager, you can look at what you can do today, within your scope of control, to support the wellness of your employees.  For example, do you have the ability to provide a session for your employees to learn wellness strategies? This can take many forms, from bringing in experts, to having the team share their tips, or sharing quality, informative content that you find online.

Crunch times are inevitable.  There are times when employees may have to work more than usual.  How can you help them through this time? For example, perhaps letting them have an afternoon or morning to rest and re-energize.

Linked to understanding working styles, there are several daily work habits within control that impact an employee’s wellbeing.  For example, managers can look at when they plan meetings, how often they talk to their employees, and how they implement two-way feedback. Additionally, managers can look at their own actions to see if they are role-modelling healthy, positively energizing behaviors that align to their personal value system and the cultural values of the organization.  This includes how a manager responds to stress and how they process difficult moments, as employees can suffer from “trickle-down stress” and negative emotions.

5: Incorporate wellness into your employee development plans and goals

While companies do spend on employee development, there are other factors to consider that impact the success of development programs.  The development needs to include both technical skills for the job as well as soft skills, new behaviors need to be engaged and practiced in context outside of the learning program or class, and, manager involvement has been found to be a critical ingredient to increase employee engagement with learning.

Having development that includes cultivating the underlying behaviors and mindsets needed to be aware of their mental state and energy and enabling employees to navigate to positive and productive states, includes capabilities such as resiliency, being authentic, building awareness, and creating positive and productive response systems to challenging or stressful moments. Incorporating this type of growth into employee’s plans can help them create space for it.

In summary

If you are looking for ways to support your employees experience less stress and burnout, consider:

  • Are you taking the time to understand each employee, their goals, their work styles, and what motivates them?
  • Do you have clarity in the behaviors within the team, how they interact, and how your own behaviors are perceived or make your employees feel?
  • Are you communicating with transparency, explaining why decisions were made, and making sure your employees are kept as informed as possible?
  • Are there things within your control that can help you support your employee wellness needs, for example providing them education or helping them through stressful times?
  • Is your employee development holistic, including the growth of capabilities to decrease stress and burnout?

Of course, it is worth remembering that managers also need to be empowered by the organization. They need to be equipped with the management capabilities, tools and environment in which they can best support their employees.

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