The term burnout first appeared in the work of American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. Fifty years later, job burnout continues to be linked with health problems in workers and lower productivity and higher turnover in businesses. (CNBC, 2018)
What can your organization do to counteract these negative effects?
How to Identify Burnout
The exact signs and symptoms of burnout may vary. Ask these questions to uncover telltale signs.
- Are workers leaving early, arriving late and/or taking more unexplained days off?
- Do your employees seem less healthy and more stressed than usual?
- Are workers uncharacteristically frustrated, irritated and/or short-tempered?
- Have you noticed an increase in negativity, pessimism and sarcasm?
- Have individuals become disconnected and isolated from the team?
- Are workers less willing to take on challenges and offer feedback?
- Are employees missing deadlines and working more slowly?
- Have there been an unusual number of customer complaints?
- Is there an overall lack of enthusiasm and excitement?
If you answered Yes more often than No, your employees may be suffering from burnout.
How to Help Your Team
Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy answer to curing burnout, and it won’t disappear on its own. Follow these guidelines to design a plan of action.
Keep Open Lines of Communication – Discovering what’s wrong is the first step to finding a solution. Often the causes will be obvious; other times they may be surprising and unexpected. Hopefully, your employees will be honest and forthcoming especially when asked “What’s wrong?” If not, be prepared to reword the question to “What do you wish you didn’t have to deal with right now?” or “If you could change something about your job, what would it be?” Be patient if individuals are hesitant to respond. This process may take time, but letting your employees know you are concerned and have their backs can make a world of difference.
Make a Plan – The reasons for burnout may range from solvable to seemingly unsurmountable. For example, if an employee is struggling with personal issues, some extra time off may allow them to get back on their feet. However, if your company is facing larger obstacles such as budget cuts along with increased workloads, you may not be able to make dramatic changes quickly. In these cases, acknowledge current problems and try to work toward incremental changes that will consistently improve conditions over time.
Promote Balance – The United States is notorious for not taking advantage of time off. Fifty-two percent of American workers failed to use all their vacation days in 2017. (USA Today, 2018) Although this may sound like a bonus for businesses, tired and overworked employees are far less likely to be productive than those who are well-rested and energized. Develop company-wide expectations for a healthy work-life balance. Establish boundaries for checking email and phone messages, encourage breaks during the work day and remind everyone to schedule their vacation time.
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