Reduce employee burnout

It will help you retain your top talent

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Employee burnout is an epidemic with serious implications for employees and businesses.

I personally lived with low-grade burnout, much like a low-grade fever, throughout much of my corporate career. Work and stress were synonymous for me, mostly due to my Type A personality – my tendency to take on a lot of responsibility and complete everything to perfection.  I’m certainly not alone. According to the O.C. Tanner 2020 Global Culture Studies Report, 79% of employees suffer from mild to severe burnout.

Most people think that burnout results from being overworked or having a boss you can’t stand. Surprisingly, however, a major cause of burnout is a lack of emotional connection at work. Not feeling inspired by a sense of purpose, a lack of meaningful relationships and not feeling appreciated at work are all contributing factors.

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Burnout spreads low morale and results in lower productivity, higher health care costs and turnover costs. Employees are 2.6 times more likely to leave their employer when they’re experiencing burnout, according to the O.C. Tanner report. And because Type A personalities (often your highest performing employees) are especially prone to burnout, you run the risk of losing your rising stars.

Luckily, some of the best solutions to lessen or prevent burnout are easy to implement in any organization.

Diagnosing burnout

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Before solving for burnout, it’s important to identify employees who are suffering. Here are key behaviors to look for in yourself and others:

  1. Mental and physical exhaustion – Do you have low energy during the day and low enthusiasm for work activities? Are you tired when you wake up or have trouble sleeping at night?
  2. Poor attendance – Do you dread going to work and try to find reasons to not show up? Do you have unexpected or frequent absences?
  3. Bad attitude – Do you feel cynical about work and the people there? Do you feel like nothing will ever get better, so why bother trying?

What can leaders do?

Leaders have tremendous impact on the employee experience because they are closest to “micro-moments” – little, daily moments that add up to the overall employee experience. For that reason, leaders have a great opportunity to create positive organizational cultures that can lessen or prevent burnout. Practices rooted in positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes humans thrive, provide a guide for easy ways to boost positivity at work through micro-moments. Here are some easy-to-implement remedies:

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Be mindful of people and purpose

  • Be present with others. Take time in one-on-ones to ask how someone is feeling and really listen to their answer. You may pick up if they are suffering from burnout.
  • Be present in meetings. At the start of meetings, articulate the purpose (remind others why the meeting matters to the bigger picture) and allow 30 seconds to pause and set intentions.

Express gratitude and appreciation to others

  • Show appreciation. Write notes to acknowledge the work of others and say thank you a lot.
  • Celebrate small wins. Take five minutes at the end of meetings to share and acknowledge small wins.

Invest in relationships

  • Ask better questions. “How are you?” are the three most useless words at work. The person asking doesn’t really want to know and the person responding doesn’t tell the truth. Ask better questions to spark more meaningful conversations with colleagues that will boost morale, engagement, collaboration and outcomes at work. e.g. “What are you learning that’s new for you?” “What are you looking forward to?”
  • Find happiness outside of happy hours. Try volunteering as a team. A volunteer project for a cause that is meaningful to colleagues not only fosters team building, but also connects people to a higher purpose and spreads kindness.

Real results

When you focus on these practices, employees will feel more positive, resilient, focused and committed. As a result, leaders will see improved engagement, performance and retention. And of course, this leads to greater progress toward the organization’s goals.

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