Burnout may seem like just another HR buzzword, but it should be a top concern for employers across all business sizes and industries today. When a team member becomes overwhelmed by persistent and unmanageable workplace stress, one of two things is likely to happen: They remain on the job (and on the payroll) but mentally check out, or they seek employment else where in search of a less straining opportunity.
Here’s the positive news: Burnout is preventable, and the best way to tackle it is before it even creeps in. There are many low- and no-cost solutions to proactively help employees avoid chronic workplace stress.
1. Have employees complete a time audit. The first step towards fighting or avoiding burnout is to gauge whether workers are spending time, energy, and possible stress on tasks that can be eliminated or delegated. Are they focusing on what’s most important?Does their allocation of work time accurately reflect their role's goals and the organization's collective goals? Encourage team members to track and record what they work on and for how long – for a day, a week, however long they’re willing – and review this to ensure all mental energy is put to good use and no unnecessary stress is present.
Team members can repeat this exercise annually and whenever an employee’s role and responsibilities change to keep workloads clear of needless stressors that pop up over time.
2. Communicate gratitude. Many factors contribute to workplace stress (and ultimately burnout), and the doubt that creeps into many employees’ minds over whether they’re appreciated or on the right track is at the top of the list. A sign of gratitude from a leader, no matter how small, can make all the difference.
Saying “thanks” is an intentional act, so make it a habit by committing to a consistent process. For example, send a handwritten note of gratitude to a different team member every week or a thank-you Slack message at the end of every workday. Make this a responsibility for all leaders throughout your organization so no team member goes unthanked. Pro Tip: Block out time on your calendar for whatever gratitude program you implement – don’t trust you’ll stick to it otherwise!
3. Encourage mental and physical breaks. Rest for the brain and body movement are well-known stress reducers. Incorporating these into the daily routines for employees could go a long way in fighting burnout. But if workers don’t feel they have the time or permission to take breaks, that’s a failure for the employer. How can leaders not only allow employees to unplug throughout the day but encourage it? Lead by example. That’s right – managers can tell their team they need a 15-minute reset. They can update their Slack status to “Walking the dog” or “Mental Recharge.” Seeing leaders unplug permits others to do so guilt-free. During one-on-ones, managers can check in with employees to ensure they take the physical and mental breaks they need to avoid the effects of burnout.
4. Model boundaries. Setting boundaries is a big part of today’s unique hybrid workplace zeitgeist, but not every organization gets it right. Flexibility and work-life balance are so vitally important for employees – particularly for the younger generations of workers. So, similar to reducing stress through mental and physical breaks throughout the workday, leaders should allow (and even encourage) their people to fully unplug from work when stepping away from work, whether it’s at the end the day or taking hard-earned PTO. This is the best way for your team to reduce the stress that can quickly build up from 9-5… and compound into burnout.
Burnout poses a real risk of losing valuable team members nearing their breaking point. But it’s a risk that is avoidable. The name of the game is reducing stress, and it can be as easy (and free!) as workload tweaks, giving thanks, encouraging breaks, and taking time off seriously.
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