The future of the workforce is, unfortunately, tired and stressed.
A recent Gallup study found that about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout at work, with 23% of respondents reporting feeling burnt out very often or always. Another study found that millennials experience burnout at higher rates than previous generations, suggesting that burnout is both on the rise and may impact certain positions in the workplace more than others.
While burnout is certainly not exclusive to millennials and other young workers further down the corporate ladder, these team members do have less control over their careers and day-to-day work than those from other generations.
The employees who have little say over their workloads, their company cultures, and the company’s boundaries don’t have the corporate power to address their own burnout. Instead, it’s in the hands of management and leaders like yourself.
And like it or not, burnout throughout the company is management’s responsibility.
A year-long survey by Blind revealed the top sources of employee burnout at tech companies, and they all boil down to poor leadership and management. Of the answers, 22.9% directly cited poor leadership as a main source or burnout.
But other top factors, like work overload, toxic culture, and lack of career control, are all ultimately caused by poor leadership as well.
So while it’s easy for SMB leaders to look at burnt out employees and think that they got themselves into the situation, it’s more likely that the problem is a systemic part of your company’s culture. That means it’s up to management – the leaders who drive your culture and set the example – to address.
Employee Burnout Prevention
Below are a few important culture changes to implement that will help address current employee burnout and prevent it in the future.
1. Cultivate Open Communication
First things first – employees need to feel comfortable talking about problems in that middle space between work issues and personal problems. Topics like burnout and stress feel very personal, which can make employees feel nervous about bringing them up in the workplace. They can feel isolated, leading to feelings of imposter syndrome and further burnout.
But as noted above, almost everyone in the modern workplace has experienced burnout before, and it’s not a personal problem employees will be able to overcome alone. Opening up lines of communication around mental health in the workplace will help your workers see that.
It’s crucial that they feel safe discussing these topics at work, both with other employees as well as with managers and executives.
Short-term, initiating the difficult conversation with someone exhibiting signs of burnout is an important first step. Talking to them about their stress might uncover opportunities to lessen it, and it also gives them the chance to discuss their current emotions, which is often a solution unto itself for reducing anxieties.
Long-term, shifting your company culture to address the current stigma around stress and other mental health issues will be important in fostering conversations about burnout. Openness and transparency around stress, emotions, and company culture should all be encouraged.
It requires a bigger commitment to addressing mental health in the workplace, but it will be worth it for your overall employee satisfaction, as well as efficiency. The CDC reports that patients with depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity over a three-month period. It’s easy to see how prolonged burnout can lead to that.
2. Set Boundaries Around Workloads
Making sure employees feel comfortable talking about and addressing burnout is a first step in moving away from a burnout-fueled company culture. However, in order to prevent it in the first place, leaders need to make more drastic shifts to the way the company is run.
For example, you might want to consider creating guidelines around employee workloads to help prevent burnout caused by overwork.
This has two benefits. First, it helps leaders and managers to have set boundaries that they need to stay within when planning projects and assignments. Second, it helps send a message to your SMB’s employees that they don’t need to be as busy as possible all the time in order to impress the bosses. They’ll know that you value wellness and balance as well as work performance, reducing self-imposed pressure.
Some examples of guidelines and boundaries that can reduce workplace stress include:
- Discouraging checking work email accounts outside of work, or adding the account to mobile devices
- Limiting how many large-scale projects any employee is part of at any given time
- Creating rules for meetings to reduce excessive planning and inefficient execution
- Providing incentives for using paid time off, as 52% of Americans have unused vacation days due to reasons like workloads being too heavy
It can also be helpful to relax other guidelines that may be contributing to stress and burnout. For example, offering flexible work arrangements or remote work arrangements can lead to increased productivity, less stress, and better work-life balance.
3. Implement Clear Systems
Finally, be sure to develop clear systems for your company, both around everyday work tasks as well as burnout- and wellness-related procedures. As found in the Blind study mentioned previously, employees cite unclear direction as a major cause of stress.
This lack of organization and clarity within your company creates additional work for your employees.
For example, systems and processes for the most common tasks team members complete can reduce decision fatigue and time spent “figuring things out.” Lack of systems can also lead to conflict between employees and increased risk of mistakes, which can cause great stress regardless of how overworked someone is. And additionally, if your company’s management is not skilled in systems and project management, it becomes much easier to unknowingly overload employees due to common occurrences like scope creep.
However, creating processes and systems that team members can easily follow for their most frequent and important work reduces the amount of friction involved in the task. This both reduces the amount of time it takes, which reduces workloads, as well as the amount of confusion or questioning involved in a task, which reduces stress.
Slowly Shift Culture
Ultimately, all of these changes come down to creating a workplace more open about stress and more organized around workloads. By shifting your company culture to one that discourages overwork and encourages systems and open communication, you can slowly address the roots of employee burnout and prevent it in the future. This will always be preferable to addressing burnout itself as your team members experience it.
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