Steps to preventing employee burnout

Oct 14, 2020 | HR Insights

Overwhelmed. Emotionally drained. Physically exhausted. Sound familiar? Most people can resonate with you. 

In a recent Gallup survey, 23% of Americans reported feeling burned out at work and 63% occasionally experiencing those feelings. As pressures and challenges continue to evolve around us, it’s more important than ever to recognize the signs – both for yourself and your team.

No matter how engaged and passionate a person is about their work, they can still be at risk of burnout. In fact, a recent University of Cambridge study of more than 1,000 US workers showed that many highly engaged employees feel exhausted and ready to leave their organizations. This can be particularly true for those who work in purpose-driven professions, such as care workers, where their identities lie so strongly in the meaning behind their vocation that they find it challenging to switch off from it. The result? They continue to take up new responsibilities and increase the mental load, without considering their overall wellbeing.

What is burnout?

Psychology Today defines it as a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress but its definition has been long disputed among the medical community. 

When it comes to burnout, society tends to frame it as the individual’s problem. A quick internet search will bring up a whole host of self-help ideas, from meditation and boundary setting to learning how to be more resilient. But the reality is that burnout goes beyond the individual. It can have a ripple effect across the organization, touching everything from team morale to decreasing work output by up to 22%.

In the current circumstances, many employees are now working from home which means burnout is becoming increasingly likely as the line between work and personal life blurs. 

So how can we spot an employee who is moving towards burnout? First of all, it’s important to look out for common symptoms, which usually include feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, depressed, and suffering from sleep problems

This lack of energy can lead to substandard work, reduced productivity, poor presenteeism and low effectiveness. Employers also note a 41% drop in employee experience when individuals reach burn out.

Now it has been officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an “occupational phenomenon,” businesses and organisations are being held accountable for finding solutions to this global issue.

Care is your superpower

When it comes to supporting your team, care is your superpower. 

When your team is feeling the pressure, it’s an opportunity to practise generative leadership with them. Take the time to listen to their narrative, exercise your empathy muscles and try to understand the situation through the lens of their different roles. This will support them in communicating their needs and feelings to you as an employer, highlighting areas where they need additional support. When you recognize and value all that a person does, they will feel more connected to the company. 53% of Lifeed learners tell us this behaviour makes them feel important at work, while 56% feel they are not alone in navigating complex situations (Lifeed, 2020).

The result? 87% report lower stress levels and 90% feel more involved at work. Surely that’s a positive change that’s worth investing time in achieving.

Signs of burnout also serve as a reminder to walk alongside your team, empowering them to see the resources and support network they have available to them. 

Transilience will become their greatest asset, becoming a driving force at work too. Our research shows that the more roles a person has, the stronger they become: it’s at the heart of our Life Based Learning Method. Perhaps there are parents in your team who are great at negotiating with their toddlers, who could use those same skills to close new sales deals for your business. Maybe there’s a team member who is studying alongside their work and is great at time and priority management, forming the basis of their project management skills moving forward. The reverse is also true: effective managers can “manage” their home life too to achieve different outcomes. The same soft skills can be honed, strengthened and applied across all areas of life.

Take Siram Veolia, for example. They used Lifeed programs as part of their support package for their employees, with the aim of continuing to build a caring culture. Following the program, 90% of participants found a new way of bringing work and life together, with 80% of participants striving to become an “agent for change” in their company to highlight the value that life experiences can bring to the workplace.

It doesn’t stop there. Over the past few months, 71% of their employees have seen a net improvement in time and priority management, empathy and listening skills – improving efficacy, productivity and communication across the organization. What’s more, 45% feel their manager is supportive of their work-life balance.

Organizations can take concrete steps to preventing burnout. It requires managers to be alert and take note of the signs and listen to their teams. By helping employees to unlock their true potential, and connecting them with a support network at work, they will be able to reframe the situation and bring their whole selves to work. They’ll realise that their diverse dimensions actually enrich them and they no longer feel that they have to hide parts of their identity and they’ll have more energy to effectively carry out their jobs. All it takes is generative leaders to point them in the right direction.

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