Last year, WHO recognized burnout from work as a legitimate occupational phenomenon which can occur when employees suffer chronic stress at work for long durations. While human beings are capable of handling stress for short durations, prolonged stress can lead to burnout causing physical and mental issues. With WHO recognizing it as a work- related issue, the responsibility of preventing employee burnout has shifted from the individual to the organization.
While burnout is often considered to be an individual issue, the effects of burnout in the workplace can be significant. It affects creative thinking, reduces productivity, increases absenteeism and employee turnover. Some of the common reasons for burnout are unfair treatment, unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and unreasonable time pressure. While several Indian organizations have started with wellness programs to reduce employee stress, dealing with employee burnout needs organization level changes.
Preventing employee burnout requires creating an environment that reduces stress and improving engagement in employees to make them feel more connected to their workplace.
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Creating a work environment that decreases stress
For managing burnout in the workplace, organizations need to focus on building a secure environment and encourage stress reducing habits in the daily workflow.
- Encouraging a sense of safety: The workplace must be perceived as a safe space for employees to be able to collaborate and innovate effectively. To build psychological safety, organizations must set clear expectations and encourage employees to speak their mind rather than imposing decisions on them. While the work environment must be challenging to encourage innovation, it should not be threatening in any way.
- Streamlining processes: Defining clear processes and reducing the number of approval can eliminate time consuming procedures and uncomplicate work. This can help in reducing frustration and improving employee productivity.
- Improving physical work environment: Simple changes like changing the seating arrangements, improving lighting or temperature, reducing noise levels etc. can reduce physical stress caused by an uncomfortable work environment.
- Ensuring fair and competitive compensation: The pay structure must be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure it is in line or better than industry standards. Inadequate pay can be a source of stress and can leave the employees feeling discontented.
- Incorporating regular break times: The average attention span of human beings does not support long duration of focused work. Thus, employees must be encouraged to step away from their desks and disengage themselves mentally, every couple of hours. Physical movement and mental rest will give them adequate break required for burnout prevention and performing consistently.
- Respecting after-work time: Setting clear guidelines for after-work communication is essential for preventing employee burnout. When employees are constantly expected to respond to calls and emails beyond work hours, it can cause stress and anxiety. Thus, setting clear guidelines wherein emails and calls can be sent only when extremely urgent and keeping the bar very high must be prioritized for burnout prevention.
- Monitoring individual workload vis-à-vis team workload: Managers have a tendency to overload the best employees with work in order to get the best results. However, even superstar employees have a limit and can feel stressed with work overload. For managing burnout in the workplace, supervisors must ensure that work distribution in the team is fair and none of the members feel overburdened.
- Providing support: Even the most talented employees need adequate resources or support to ensure successful execution of tasks. Managers must identify what will enable their teams to do better– a new tool, another addition to the team or some extra training. Rather than loading them with extra work, part timers can be hired during busy times or manpower can be borrowed from a less busy section.
- Encouraging mandatory vacations: Employees must be encouraged to take annual vacations where they can disconnect from work completely. Answering work-related calls or emails must be discouraged so that they can unwind and relax without interruptions.
- Flexible and remote working options: When employees are given the flexibility to work staggered hours, they find it easier to achieve work-life balance. If the nature of the work allows, they can also be allowed to work remotely from co-working spaces or home.
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Build employee engagement
When the workers feel connected with their workplace and are highly engaged, it has many positive benefits including reduced stress, improved job satisfaction and higher productivity.
- Open communication and feedback: Lack of timely feedback often leads to frustration among employees. Managers must provide feedback consistently rather than waiting for annual appraisal or a major issue to arise. When there is open communication on a daily basis, team members are more likely to share their challenges and stress points.
- Aligning with interests: Managers must check with their team members regularly to understand their passions, interests and goals. It can help in assigning work that the employees would find more meaningful. Also, a change in the role or offering temporary projects can break the monotony and increase engagement.
- Autonomy: When employees are more in control of what tasks need to be done and how much time needs to be spent on it, they are less likely to experience burnout. They also feel more engaged when their suggestions are taken into account and are involved in decision-making. It gives them a sense of ownership of the task, ensures higher engagement, thus, preventing employee burnout.
- Commitment to employee’s growth: Often, team leaders want to hold on to good talent tightly which can curb their growth, leading to resentment. When given a chance to grow steadily in the organization, they develop a sense of belonging to the organization.
- Appreciation and recognition: When team members are recognized for their contribution, they are more likely to feel engaged. It makes them feel valued and helps them cope better with the demands of work. Sincere appreciation can go a long way in keeping up employee morale and preventing employee burnout.
Recovering from burnout is more difficult and time consuming than preventing it. An employee facing burnout might take weeks or months to recover to full productivity which can cause a lot of loss for business including loss of talent. Ad hoc initiatives or wellness programs alone cannot be effective in preventing employee burnout. It requires organization wide changes, beginning with sensitizing the managers about the effects of burnout in the workplace. They must be trained to identify early signs of stress and how to prevent burnout in the workplace to ensure a healthy workforce that feels connected with the organization.
- Five Ways to Prevent Employee Burnout in Your Business- Adam Cronenberg, 01 September, 2017
- Employee Burnout: 15 Ways to Fight Employee Stress- Karen Cavanaugh
- What is Workplace Burnout and How Can it be Prevented? – Asian News International, 15 September, 2019
- Do You have Burnout From Your Job?- Sweta Akundi, 04 June, 2019
- Burnout is About Your Workplace, Not Your People- Jennifer Moss, 11 December, 2019
- Making Work Less Stressful and More Engaging For Your Employees- Natalia Peart, 05 November, 2019