People spend the majority of their lives at the workplace, so it’s extremely important to spend that time well: in a comfortable environment. Unfortunately, for many people this isn’t the case. Stress and burnout are a persistent problem that affects both employees and enterprises.
After college, most workers are eager to dive into their fields and prove themselves. They don’t mind the late nights and challenging (and often redundant) tasks thrown their way at first. A few days pass—then weeks and months.
When Do you Know you Have a Burnout?
It creeps up slowly and stealthily. You yawn one day because you stayed up late the night before working. Then that sleepless night turns into sleepless nights. Eventually, you’re up most nights working. You need to keep hustling to work your way up the ladder! But your productivity is slipping, and you’re becoming less satisfied with your position.
Your energy level decreases, you become less motivated and because of that, your productivity slips even further away. You become stressed and frustrated that you’re tired and can’t reach your targets, but you go on anyway. You might not notice it at first, but you’re stuck in a vicious circle you can’t get out off. Congratulations: you’ve reached burnout.
Psychology Today defines burnout as, “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”
There are hundreds—probably thousands—of articles focused on burnout in the workplace. In fact, HR Exchange Network recently surveyed 7,500 full-time employees and found that nearly two-thirds of them have experienced burnout at work.
People spend a large part of their lives at the workplace, so I believe it’s extremely important to spend that time in a comfortable environment and to identify and solve burnout in the workplace.
A persistant problem
It’s a persistent problem that affects both employees and enterprises. Solving this problem would be a win-win. So why are businesses still struggling with it at large scale? Employers, business managers and HR teams have the power and authority to take initiatives to boost well-being in the workplace.
So the question I want to answer: How can you structurally solve burnout within your workplace as an employer?
Identify Workplace Satisfaction
The fact is that burnout affects both employees experiencing it as well as their co-workers, employers and the business as a whole. As an employee, burnout leads to lethargy and potentially even depression. As an employer, having employees who experience burnout means a significant loss of productivity in the business. That’s why it’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid burnout in the workplace.
How can you identify employees on the verge of suffering from burnout?
This isn’t always an easy feat, especially with employees who try to hide their dissatisfaction. But potential burnout is too often identified until it becomes a full-fledged problem.
Loss of productivity will most likely be the first sign, followed by more serious issues such as blatant mistakes. So if you, as an employer or HR official, want to identify loss of productivity and motivation before it results in actual burnout, you’ll have to find a way to objectively measure variables like productivity, satisfaction or motivation. This is challenging to measure, especially without benchmarks or references.
That’s why the easiest way to identify potential burnout is by simply asking. Open up conversation with your employees and let them know that you care and want them to maintain a healthy work-life balance. You can do this verbally with each individual employee, but that can become time-consuming and the more employees you’ll see, the harder it will become to collect data to take constructive action.
They could already be working into the night unbeknownst by you, so you don’t want to take too much time away from them during the actual workday!
A more structured way to approach this is by using an employee well-being assessment.
Assess Well-Being in the Workplace
How can you measure burnout?
First of all, you need to know the two largest influencers of a burnout: energy and stress. If the energy level of an employee goes down, or the stress level goes up, you’re at risk of getting an employee with a burnout. Moreover, energy and stress constantly interact with one another.
The objective is to have a perfect balance between energy and stress in the workplace.
A Matter of Balance: Example
When you’re stressed out it can be for many reasons. Let’s take the issue of work overload as an example. You can’t get your work done, you can’t perform so you lose your motivation. Your energy level decreases because you can’t get satisfaction.
Normally, you get much of your energy from performing well, getting those results. You feel limited. Since you can’t perform according to your standards anymore, you lose your motivation, which is a strong influencer of your energy level. Instead, you feel stressed because you can’t perform according to expectations. You feel pressure. You are now out of balance: the balance scale leans towards stress.
But more than often, employees hide their feelings of stress or dissatisfaction, afraid to be deemed incapable to perform, sometimes even afraid of being fired. So how do you know, as an employer or manager, when one of your employees is heading for a burnout?
To measure the level of energy and stress within your team(s), you can create an assessment measuring the balance between both factors.
Prepare this assessment well. Decide beforehand which factors you’d like to measure. Of course, “energy” and “stress” will be at the top. But given the example above, you can surely imagine there are a lot of actions and variables subjected to these top criteria. It’s a good idea to brainstorm with your team and HR: Create a mindmap or a table and start thinking about what energy means for you, and what stress means. Here’s an example to get you started:
As you can see in this example, I chose two subdivisions:
Internal/external: influencers inside (internal) or outside (external) of the organization
Psychological/physical: the nature of the influencer
This is just one example of how you can start building your assessment. Bear in mind that creating a theoretical framework is essential to have useful results.
If you have an HR team, work with them. They have an idea of what is going on behind the scenes, and they’ll be able to provide the most meaningful insight in order to create a well-being assessment for your business.
Report and Advise
A well-being assessment is used as a starting point for an internal intervention. Insights are provided based on employees’ answers. It’s advisable to deliver these insights via an automatically generated report that can be shared with both employees and managers.
These reports are your opportunity to help your employees feel seen and heard. They are also your opportunity as an employer to advise workers on your expectations and offer genuine advice on how to avoid burnout.
How should you proceed with this in practice?
Once all your workers have finished their assessments, schedule out a time to meet with your HR team as well as managers and team leaders. Discuss overall trends you’re seeing from the reports and brainstorm ways to better help your employees maintain a work-life balance and minimize stress.
Have your team leaders meet individually with their team members and discuss their results with them. Let them ask them in-depth questions about why they are feeling the way they are—make sure to maintain a constructive attitude: Ask them for any ideas they have on preventing burnout within your business. Would they like more training opportunities, team buildings or time schedule changes? This is your chance to show them you are open to and welcome their feedback.
Be transparent: Share your insights with the whole team.
You don’t need to share personal information of each separate employee, these are possibly private and sensitive data. Instead, show the tendencies and conclusions from the team report. Like this, each employee can compare their personal insights with the team average.
The team report is even more important for you, as a manager: the average score provides you with essential data to engage in interventions and implement new strategies. This can go from introducing flexible working hours to installing a new ventilation system.
You want your employees to understand that you care about them and don’t want to work them to utter burnout. By creating an assessment aiming to identify signs of burnout, you’ll open up a conversation and build trust with them.
This strategy will only be useful over a period of time—make sure you circulate the assessment at least yearly. Be open to the feedback and continuously strive to improve your workplace.
Remember: Happy employees are productive employees, and productive employees are happy employees!
I wrote this article with the intention of helping managers to take action to solve a persistent, famous problem that is ignored all too often because business owners simply don’t know which steps to take to come up with a constructive, long-term solution.
With this article, I hand over a pragmatic approach that will take a one-time effort to set out. Once established, companies can fall back on the same assessment over and over again, updating it where necessary, and repeat this action after a fixed amount of time.
Repetitions through re-assessments are indispensable to evaluate the effectiveness of the changes made in the previous well-being assessment period. This is a constructive, structural way to check and ensure well-being in the workplace.