One of the essential traits of a great leader is the ability to inspire motivation. However, even the most motivated employees can begin to feel burned out over time. In the last few years, employee burnout has become a hot topic in the business world, with organizational leaders combatting their own burnout while wondering how to help prevent similar feelings among their employees.
Burnout is an acute condition that results from chronic stress in the workplace characterized by cynicism, a reduced feeling of personal fulfillment, and physical exhaustion. When employees feel burned out, they may become less innovative, assess risks less effectively, and make poor decisions. Even worse, burnout seems to have a contagious quality and can quickly affect people throughout the workplace.
Addressing the Root of Burnout
When business leaders begin to notice symptoms of burnout in members of their team, they must first ask themselves what lies at the root of the problem. In general, six main problems can cause burnout:
Overloading—When departments are understaffed, other members of the team must pick up the group’s unmet needs While this solution works in the short term, individuals will quickly burn out over the long term, especially if they see that business leaders aren’t doing anything to address the issue.
Cultural breakdown—Team members must have mutual respect to function effectively. When the culture of an organization begins to break down, team spirit may also suffer, which can lead to conflict and eventual burnout. Great cultures help keep people feeling engaged and happy.
Lack of autonomy—Individuals want to feel like they have some control over their work. Micromanagement undermines the feeling of fulfillment that is so crucial for preventing burnout. Employees need to have opportunities to explore on their own and take chances in a trusted environment.
Conflict of values—Employees must believe that their personal values align with those of the company, or they will burnout very quickly. Leaders need to ask themselves if the company’s policies or actions could conflict with employee values. Conflicts may also arise when people pursue the wrong career path.
Unfairness—Business leaders need to remain acutely aware of any possible unfairness that could occur in the office, such as favoritism, workload discrepancies, or serious differences in compensation. When these discrepancies float to the surface, they can make employees feel underappreciated.
Lack of recognition—While employees do not need constant praise for their hard work, business leaders need to recognize when individuals go above and beyond their basic job descriptions. For some employees, verbal praise is enough. Other employees may expect bonuses or other forms of reward.
Addressing Burnout before It Become Serious
While burnout is not always preventable, breakdown is. Business leaders can use the following tips to help recognize and address burnout before more serious issues result:
Learn the signs of burnout—When business leaders pay attention, it can become very easy to spot the early signs of burnout. One telltale sign is a drop in productivity. As people start feeling burned out, they become less motivated and less interested in work. Often, burned-out employees continue to show up for work and meetings, but their heart is no longer in it, a condition known as presenteeism.
Another common sign is worker negativity and cynicism. This sign becomes particularly dangerous when it begins to affect the morale of other employees. Complaining, sudden belligerence, and forced smiles can all point to burnout. Finally, the chronic stress of burnout can lead to declining physical health.
Invest in employees personally—All individuals exhibit signs of burnout differently, so it is critical that business leaders develop personal relationships with their employees so that they notice when odd behaviors occur. Symptoms of burnout can also manifest in the home, so it is often helpful to check in about employees’ personal lives.
Through personal relationships, leaders can also help their employees audit their emotions. By themselves, emotions do not cause burnout, but when people have unhealthy relationships with their emotions, their work becomes affected. Leaders need to encourage their employees to recognize and deal with their emotions rather than suppress them.
Bring meaning to the workplace—Studies have consistently found negative correlations between employee engagement and burnout. When people feel a sense of meaning with their jobs, they are much less likely to experience burnout.
Great business leaders can encourage this sense of meaning by placing tasks in the context of the overall goals of the company and showing employees exactly how they are contributing to the organization’s success. Typically, this sort of engagement also improves the bottom line by increasing rates of employee satisfaction and encouraging them to work harder.
Create a system to prevent burnout—Business leaders worried about burnout can create a system to monitor employees and intervene when issues arise. Often, simply asking employees how they feel gives them the chance to vent and recover.
In the event that symptoms are more widespread or severe, the company may want to consider turning to a professional for help. While this may seem embarrassing for the employee, it shows that the company really cares about personal health. Business leaders may also want to consider more anonymous forms of reporting emotional health so that they can keep a finger on the general pulse of the organization.