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  • Heather Polivka

What to do about Employee Burnout

This is the last in a 3-part series on burnout…something we are seeing and hearing a lot about right now, and particularly as we get to year-end and the holidays!!

In our first in the series, we talked about how burnout happens. It is important that if you walk away with nothing else, you understand that employee burnout is about the ecosystem, the work environment, NOT THE PEOPLE.

In the second in the series, we explored the 5 Stages of burnout. Understanding the five stages allows us to start recognizing and addressing the signs of burnout earlier. If we start using coping mechanisms earlier, it prevents us from getting to the later stages.

So now let’s get to what we can do about burnout!


What do you do?

I won’t leave you in the depths of despair, in this blog we’re going to give you some tips and tricks, because we want you to walk away with some tangible actions you can take right away.

But we would be remiss if we didn’t explain that those tips and tricks are like giving a band-aid to a patient with a chronic illness. It’s well intentioned and, who knows, it might even have some positive impact, but there is a larger ecosystem that needs to be healed.

Just like the most serious illnesses are addressed through a system of care, so should the work ecosystem be addressed through a thoughtful, comprehensive strategy. Not all of that work ecosystem is within your control, and parts of it are!

This is the work that we do with clients, to develop a thoughtful comprehensive strategy. HeatherP Solutions helps them look at their workplace practices and the eight core aspects of the employee experience to holistically address employee burnout.

You will leave this blog with some band-aids, and I highly recommend you use them. And yet, keep in mind that the band-aids are not the same as addressing the ecosystem that creates the burnout in the first place.

Prioritize Mental Well-being

Lead by example- I have to say, in talking about how I’m working with my therapist, I’ve had one friend and 2 professional peers come to me in the past 2 weeks and ask if I would refer my therapist to them. When we talk about and take action related to our mental well-being, it creates a safe space for others to do the same.

Teach your employees how to be mentally healthy- You probably have on the job training or meetings. Make mental health just as important. Bring in mental health professionals to teach on how to cope with stress and other mental health topics, as well as offer confidential consultations with them.

Check in with your team: Use an emotional rating system. A rating system (eg. a scale of 1-10) might be easier for some employees to tell you how they are doing than talking specifics. Brene Brown kicks off meetings and asks people to share 2 words to describe how they are feeling right now. The results of such a system will help you keep a pulse on where burnout might be taking hold.

Talk about mental health to the general group, and not to specific people. You can avoid legal issues or uncomfortable situations if you talk about mental health as a group. Use news events to open the door. Simone Biles has given all of us an opportunity to talk about prioritizing mental health!

Reflect on what you recognize and reward

Rewards come about for different reasons. We mostly think of them as a kind of carrot on a stick, dangling something of value in front of our employees to get them to work harder and do more.

Sounds logical, but remember two things about that approach:

  1. You can only cajole so far, before the reward isn’t a motivator.

  2. The continued pressure to work harder to achieve a reward can lead to… employee burnout.

Rewards of that nature have their place, but if all perks and rewards are performance based, you set employees on a path of burnout.

Some rewards should exist simply because people matter, because of who they are, not just what they can do.

We have seen some companies taking BIG leaps on providing rewards that are not performance-based. One big example? Shutting down the entire company for a week. Why? Because their people need it. LinkedIn, Hootsuite, Bumble, Lessonly. Even some wall street firms have done this!

It could also be small recognition and rewards. Think about your company values. Are you rewarding people who are being those values?

Whether it’s a gift card, extra break time, some bonus paid vacation hours, allowing them to leave early, or amazing snacks in the break room, these little rewards over time matter. Letting a person know they have value whether or not they created monetary value for you goes a long way.

Design your work experience.

Our brains are not designed to be in meeting after meeting. They are not designed for call after call, zoom after zoom. We have to redesign work so that it supports our human brain's best function.

Be clear about when people need to be on camera, when they don’t… and default to less camera time is better.

Revise 30 minute meetings to be 25 minutes, and hour long meetings are scheduled for 50 minutes. This allows time for the bathroom, sustenance… and maybe even 1-2 minutes of meditation and deep breathing.

Be clear about when good enough is good enough….and clearly communicate that. Excellence and perfection is not needed in every situation, so be clear about when it IS and when it is NOT needed. ​

Prioritize work. When something gets added, recommunicate the priorities, re-evaluate deadlines….and also consider what comes OFF the list. Employees cannot continue to do more, more, more, with the same or less.​

When changes occur, communicate as early as you can so employees aren’t saddled with a huge pile of last-minute stress every week. ​That stress ads up. They might be able to handle the work, but the last-minute changes and requests are causing the burnout.​

With customers or clients, there are times to say “no” or “not now”. Or raise your rates so you can add resources. This is tough, I know. But consider the cost to you of losing team members versus losing some revenue.

Focus on outcomes and offer total flexibility for people to design their work as it works best for them to produce those outcomes.

Other aspects of the work experience to look for and address: ​

● Office Politics? Toxic leaders? Unhealthy behaviors? Your employees feel it, they know it. They are simply waiting for something to be done about it.

● Reduce the time pressure and pace wherever possible. That reduces stress. ​

● Check the workload expected of each employee. Maybe you need to hire more staff instead of bragging about the long hours your employees put in.​

● Define expectations and roles. You might think a culture free of definition and delineation is great, but many employees prefer to have guidelines to work within. Guidelines remove the fear and worry about not being sure what is expected. They provide stability and reduce conflict.

● Have buffer zones from customers. Managers or customer care specialists should be in place to protect your employees from unreasonable and aggressive customers. A weary employee doesn’t need to be berated by a customer. Nothing is solved or made better in that situation.​

Your work culture is a failure if people are not sure what they should be doing, how much they should be doing, and if they can take a needed break without derailing everyone.​

​Remember, employee burnout comes from more than just too much work. It happens when employees are weary, worried, stressed, depressed, upset, feel trapped, fearful, or lack a sense of community where others are working just as hard alongside them.​

Employee burnout is not a cookie cutter fix. But fix it, you must, if you want to reduce employee turnover, absenteeism, or poor customer experience.

Here are some questions to explore as you look to address burnout:

● What can you see about your work ecosystem when it comes to Employee Burnout? ​

● What aspects of the work eco-system might be negatively impacting employee well-being…no matter how small? ​

● Related to what you see about your work ecosystem, What is the Cost or Impact to your team, function, or business?​

● What is the cost or impact to you? ​

● How important is the impact to you, your team, or the ability of your business to perform?​

● If addressed, what could be possible? ​

● What is one “band-aid” action you will take out of today? ​

● What is one ecosystem element you want to address?

Interested in burnout in your organization? Schedule a no-obligation 30-minute strategy call with Heather by clicking here.

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