Burnout is an individual’s response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stress within the workplace — Masalach et al., 2001
Burnout is the human form of a volcanic eruption. It is explosive and extremely damaging. But fortunately, its contributing factors develop over time and preparation can be done beforehand to prevent damage.
In fact, a 2017 study of 614 HR leaders shows that Burnout is the primary cause of employee turnover.
It helps to understand the major causes of Burnout before working on reducing it:
1. Exhaustion- An employee who is overworked, sleepless and yet sitting on the desk trying to meet the next deadline, is on the first step of burnout.
2. Cynicism- Exhausted employees that for some reason, fail to find the motivation to work and feel emotionally distressed or irritated find themselves on the second step of burnout.
3. Desperation- Over time, as an employee cannot work (Exhaustion) and doesn’t feel the motivation to work (Cynicism), the first two points compound to create a situation of hopelessness. The employee feels buried under overload and sees no way of escape from it. This is the third step.
The trigger: A trigger could be anything, the next target, a petty argument or a dysfunctioning printer. Such employees, at the edge of the third step are prone to get triggered to an explosive burnout.
If your employee has walked up the three stairs, then it is not a question of IF the burnout will happen, but WHEN the burnout will happen.
To prevent your employees from becoming ticking time bombs, take these steps:
Step 1: Prevent exhaustion
- Set clear goals. And elaborately explain the expected work methods. Don’t overload your employees or expect impossible results.
- Provide the right resources, information and functional equipment.
- Allow them to have fun in the office. Provide equipment for this if needed and allow breaks whenever needed.
- Encourage flexibility, freedom and autonomy. Flexible work hours, freedom to choose work methods and autonomy in making decisions or setting course of events engages employees and adds the voluntary factor to the equation.
- Help employees in managing stress better. Allow vacations, mental health days, work from home options and conduct walking meetings. Even little things such as nudging them to try meditation can help.
Step 2: Prevent cynicism
- Set the rules straight. Favoritism, office politics and turf war corrodes the office and the employees. Standardize pay, promotions, evaluation methods.
- Be grateful and show recognition. Employees perform better when praised by their managers. Unrecognized employees tend to feel neglected and underestimated by their companies.
- Keep everything Democratic. Whenever possible, try to take a nod from all the stakeholders involved in an issue. Even little things like where the coffee machine should be placed matter.
Step 3: Prevent desperation
- Keep your feedback door open. Accept criticism and praise with open hands. Create channels that help you collect anonymous, honest and regular feedback from all of the employees.
- Respond and revert in words or actions to the feedback provided. As the saying goes, a small assurance can buy you as many as 10 days to take an action.
Remember, it is better to act before the volcano erupts than after!
Being proactive and cautious can go a long way in not just reducing burnout, but also increasing overall employee engagement and team performance.