Burnout has three components: exhaustion (lost energy), cynicism (lost enthusiasm), and inefficacy (lost self-confidence and capacity to perform). Burnout has a strong correlation with how employees are managed and it can adversely affect both employee health and their performance at all levels of an organisation. Employee burnout can trigger a downward spiral in individual, team and organisational performance; in this way the cost of burnout can substantially affect an organisation’s bottom line.
Prevention strategies are considered the most effective approach for addressing workplace burnout. These strategies, which include taking proactive steps for prevention, recognising workplace factors, and being aware of signs and symptoms can help reduce the incidence and impact of burnout on employees and organisations.
Burnout is more likely when employees:
- expect too much of themselves,
- never feel that the work they are doing is good enough,
- feel inadequate or incompetent,
- feel unappreciated for their work efforts,
- have unreasonable demands placed upon them, or
- are in roles that are not a good job fit.1
When an employee feels burned out, it can be challenging to get that person back on track. However, managers can help employees to avoid burnout in the first place.
- Listen to your employees’ work-related problems
Employers should strive to understand their employee’s motivators, hopes and difficulties, and to create the right support structure to allow their people to be the best they can be. Listening in order to understand your employees’ needs is the first step in supporting them. The best way to prevent employee burnout is providing a manager who actively listens to work-related problems. If evidence of burnout begins to manifest in an employee, it is important to get to the heart of their problem and to assist them in finding a solution.
- Encourage teamwork
Good teamwork can reduce stress when responsibility is shared. While it is a manager’s responsibility to create an environment where teamwork thrives and people help one another, co- workers are able to provide another level of emotional support for fellow employees who are struggling. Co-workers often understand the stress of a job better than their manager does. While it is important to foster a productive, supportive environment it is also important to be able to have some fun. Creating a work environment where colleagues can work and play together can encourage employees to reduce their stress levels and live a healthier lifestyle.
- Make everyone’s opinion count
Burnout may well be a consequence of employees feeling as though they have no say in organisational decision-making. Managers should actively create an environment where it is safe to communicate and solicit employees’ opinions and ideas. When employees know their opinions are welcome and make a difference, they will feel more valued with the consequence that they will be more inclined to take responsibility for their performance. This ownership reduces burnout because it gives employees a feeling of control over their work, rather than feeling like they do not have a voice.
- Make work purposeful
When employees understand and buy-in to their organisation’s vision and mission statements it brings them together. Employees are significantly less likely to be burned out when they can connect their work to their company’s mission or purpose in a way that validates their role in the organisation. People do not just go to work for a salary; they want to find meaning in what they do. If an employee does not believe in their organisation’s core activities, leadership, and culture they are likely to feel demoralised – even if they are still functioning well at work. Managers must do more than point to the mission statement on the wall – they must demonstrate how their employees’ contributions make a difference in the world.
- Focus on strengths-based feedback and development
Employees who are given every opportunity to perform at their best are less likely to experience burnout. Finding people who are a good fit for their job, maximising their natural talents, acknowledging their successes and developing their potential is a recipe for success in insulating them from burnout. The enthusiasm and optimism associated with strengths-based development reduces stress and helps employees to focus on success rather than seeing their job as a burden.
Don’t forget: Managers can experience burnout too
Even effective managers may experience a near burnout at some time in their careers. Managers are people, too, and they have the same fundamental human needs as the employees they manage. They need to be heard, to feel like they are part of a team, to know they matter and to contribute meaningfully; and to continue to learn and grow. Top management can take steps to help keep managers supported while occupying pressurised positions in which they are likely to burn out. Managers who are in the throes of burnout need support from supervisors who can offer psychological support—from people who value them as individuals and insist that they obtain appropriate help, and focus on their own wellbeing. 2