December 19, 2014 | Jennifer Goodwyn
If you've noticed your employees are more irritable than usual, are calling in sick more often, and aren't as productive, have you stopped to consider that the problem may not be the employee, but rather their job? They could be suffering from employee burnout: a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by a long period of stress and resulting in a feeling of emptiness and frustration. Here are some tips for combating and preventing employee burnout in the workplace.
Know the Signs
While preventing employee burnout is quite a feat, catching the warning signs isn't terribly difficult. If you notice an employee has unexplained absences from work, shows up to work late and leaves early, shows signs of frustration or a lack of enthusiasm, and isolates themselves from the rest of the team, they could be experiencing burnout. While there's no quick fix for helping your employees overcome burnout, as a leader you do have enormous influence in these areas. By motivating your employees and keeping open channels of communication, you can improve their work life.
One of the core causes of employee burnout is working too much. If your employees spend 60+ hours a week at work and don't have time to spend with their family and friends, they'll eventually grow to despise their position and will do everything possible to avoid coming into work. Additionally, encouraging work-related research/side projects while on the clock is a great way for employees to clear their minds and it could prove to be beneficial for the company as a whole; in fact, Google's famous 20 percent time produced some of their most popular products.
Although many companies offer paid vacation days as a part of their benefits package, some employees are afraid of actually taking them, as they fear doing so will show a lack of commitment. While vacations won't cure burnout, they can ease the symptoms or even prevent burnout altogether. If your employees are particularly hard to find or in a difficult niche (think: hard-to-recruit tech employees) you may even want to consider paying employees to take a vacation. Some companies, like Evernote, provide employees with a $1,000 stipend if they take a full week away from work. For employees who continue to resist the idea of taking a vacation, encourage them to take a couple days off each month instead.
To help your employees enjoy their time at work more, give them more freedom and autonomy throughout the day. If your company role allows it, give employees the freedom to work on a flexible schedule, dress casually, and listen to music while they work. Other low-cost perks include stocking the break room and planning team outings on the company's dime. If you have multiple virtual offices in different cities, you can also give employees the freedom to have a flexible schedule or work from a different location. If you allow employees to be themselves, work their own hours, and enjoy time away from the office, they'll be more likely to enjoy their time at work and avoid burnout altogether.
Over time, employee burnout may subside but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an eye out for it. By communicating with your team members about things outside of work, you'll have a better understanding of how their mental health is holding up. Keeping up to date with your employees can be as simple as stopping by their desk for a laidback chat, or as structured as scheduling weekly check-ins. By offering review sessions and keeping psychological health in mind, burnout is less likely to go unnoticed and left untreated.