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Preventing Employee Burnout

Burnout is a real threat to your team even in the best of times. With the uncertainty and fear during these trying times, employees may grapple with burnout. This problem leaves your employees feeling overextended, while at the same time worrying more than ever about finding balance.

Recognizing what burnout is — and what you can do to prevent it — can help your organization retain your best employees, be known as an employer of choice and provide a more productive workplace, both in times of crisis and of calm.

What is burnout?

While you may wonder if burnout is just the result of working overtime for weeks on end, Psychology Today describes burnout differently. Burnout is defined scientifically as “a state of emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”

When you understand the holistic definition of burnout, your leadership can better evaluate the workplace and determine how to better assist employees.

Six strategies to prevent employee burnout.

1. Be aware of the signs and check-in.
Start by making your leadership team aware of the signs of burnout. Symptoms of burnout include difficulty concentrating, uncharacteristic irritability or a “short fuse,” frequent illnesses and a negative attitude. Once you see the signs of burnout in an employee, make sure to schedule a one-to-one check-in as soon as possible.

While employees might keep pushing forward under the weight of burnout, you’ll help them in the long run if you give them a hand. Talk about what changes you can both make to make things easier. You might consider hiring an intern, moving projects around, determining priorities or providing a mentor. This small investment makes a big impact and ensures your organization can retain your best people.

2. Be clear on upcoming deadlines.
If leadership clearly sets priorities and deadlines, it’s easier for employees to do one project at a time instead of feeling overwhelmed by it all. Especially in a remote work environment, there’s no such thing as over-communicating.

Empower your company’s leadership to spend time reviewing projects and creating an order of importance. Utilize a project management system to communicate to employees what can wait and what to do first. And there’s power in setting a good example, too. Encourage your company’s management to self-evaluate how they present work to their teams. This can be an enlightening process!

3. Encourage autonomy.
Research shows that a secret to employee satisfaction is autonomy. Even if employees have reasonable project deadlines, explore where your organization can make room for autonomy as part of its culture. When employees have time and encouragement to work on whatever project they’d like, they feel productive and appreciated.

Especially with the current landscape, your employees are likely juggling more than usual. Children home from school, caring for family members, navigating social distancing, anxiety about what the future holds . . . the list goes on. In a world where more things than usual feel out of control, allowing employees to take greater autonomy in their work can be the key to thriving!

4. Ensure healthy work-life boundaries.
Even in the best of times, it can be challenging to truly rest and take time away from work. When the lines between work and home are blurrier than ever, boundaries become imperative. Employees are watching how your leadership behaves, and so your organization has the opportunity to model smart boundaries from the top down.

Direct top leadership to showcase work-life balance. It’s tempting to send that one email at 10 p.m., or get a jump on the week with some Sunday night work. But learn to hit pause. As your leadership models boundaries, they’ll be combating their own burnout too. With proper work-life boundaries, your employees start the day refreshed and ready to give you their best work.

5. Engage with human resources.
Utilize the experts in your company’s human resources department to get ahead of employee burnout. Engage your human resources professionals to review who may be at higher risk of burnout — identifying employees who haven’t taken any vacation recently is a good place to start.

And don’t ignore valuable data from exit interviews, where employees who have departed may reveal what your company can do to prevent burnout. As you engage your HR team’s expertise and knowledge base to build a burnout prevention plan, you’ll be creating valuable long-term strategies.

6. Encourage good mental health.
You are the role model for your employees. If they see you calm and collected, taking care of your mental health and prioritizing self-care, they will feel comfortable doing the same.

Make a special effort to highlight corporate mental health initiatives, like employee resource groups or employee assistance programs (EAPs). Mental and physical health are directly related, so double-down on promoting exercise and wellness programs too. Direct your team to resources for meditation and mindfulness exercises too.

Preventing burnout in your employees is essential to a satisfied, retained workforce — both today during the crisis and far beyond. Choose one or more of these actions to move forward with in your organization and you’ll see a positive change in the workplace in the current world climate and long after.

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