Ignoring employee burnout can hurt company culture. Employers need to address burnout by prioritizing balance, flexibility and access to resources in the workplace.
Burn-out is a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, typically resulting from chronic workplace stress. “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.”
Having burned out employees can mean:
Losing employees to other jobs & positions, especially those that started the position with high engagement and enthusiasm.
Less creative problem solving.
Health problems amongst employees.
Less instances of taking initiative.
Decreased self confidence.
Less engagement with the work.
Here are some starting points for what employers and workplaces can do to help prevent burnout in their employees, as well as better recognize their role in employee’s mental & physical health:
1. Evaluate your communication channels
Having multiple routes of communication can ensure that employees have ample chance to bring up any troubles they are experiencing. This could mean that instead of only having large team meetings, there could also be smaller group meetings or 1 on 1 meetings where employees have more space to speak. The goal is to make sure that communication channels are suited to the team member’s dynamics, and not defaulting to an untailored approach.
Questions to ask: Are there any employees that are having trouble with communication within their own team? Are staff aware of how they can raise issues about problems with their direct manager? Have different opportunities for communication been established and well promoted? Have accessibility concerns been accounted for?
2. Clarify tasks and timelines
When a new project comes up, consult your team members first before finalizing the plan so that you can ensure reasonable timelines and division of work. Next, lay out every task and timeline for the project in a transparent and accessible format that the whole team can reference. This way each person will know exactly where the project is at, and who is working on what. As a bonus, having project plans documented in this way means having a reference point for the future so plans can suit the team better.
Questions to ask: Are the project tasks broken down enough to be manageable? Have the tasks been delegated in a fair and reasonable way? What was the team’s input on the plan? Can you pinpoint potential weak spots in the plan? How can the next project plan be designed to suit the team better?
3. Offer mental health days
Being proactive with mental health is incredibly important. Mental health practices are cardio for the mind, and to keep it in shape requires a consistent effort. Give employees the option to take days off to tend to their mental health when it’s needed. Share your sick days and mental health day policies as part of your onboarding or hiring process (or both).
Questions to ask: How are sick days and mental health days being promoted to employees? What is the company culture surrounding mental health? Are resources being clearly and consistently shared? What are the attitudes that come up when someone takes a mental health day? If the attitude is negative or full of stigma, where is the attitude coming from and why? Do team leads and corporate also take mental health days?
4. Encourage & enforce balance
Enforce is the keyword. Often companies have policies in place that define barriers such as office hours, vacation protocols, on call etiquette, but once a stressful project calls for extra work hours, boundaries start blurring. Where it’s possible, make sure that vacation time, and any time outside of work hours are a genuine break. No calls, no emails, no Slack messages, don’t require employees to be available 24/7. Rest is necessary and essential for the long term health of both the employees and the company.
Questions to ask: What are the policies surrounding work life balance? How are the current policies affecting employees? If there is a perceived need to have employees available beyond work hours, what is causing that need?
5. Evaluate your promotion criteria: be careful in defining what, “over and above,” means.
Promotions and raises need accompanying reasons. When HR and team leads are listing out what criteria employees need in order to achieve a certain promotion or percent raise, be careful in how the criteria are defined. Any criteria that fits the “over and above” idea, reference your work life balance policies to make sure they line up. For example: For a full 5% raise an employee needs to demonstrate consistent efforts that go beyond their job scope, but for a partial 4% raise an employee needs to demonstrate excellent work within their job scope. In this situation, employees are not able to get full raises unless they do more than their job description requires or put in more hours than a full time employee would.
Questions to ask: Do your raise and promotion tier criteria line up with your work life balance policies? Would an employee who works full time and does what is required of them receive a full raise? Are your job position tasks well described and reasonably laid out?
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