Tips for Combating Employee Burnout

by Lee Polevoi

3 min read

As a small-business owner, you expect to work long hours, assume ever-increasing levels of responsibility, and think about your job all of the time. It’s easy to start expecting the same of your staff. But if you constantly overload people, you risk employee burnout, which can have serious consequences for your business.

When an employee’s productivity level drops, you lose money, in terms of both the company’s initial investment and its future output. What’s more, exhausted or unmotivated employees frequently make more mistakes than others, potentially causing more losses and triggering a breakdown in team efficiency.

The cost of allowing employee burnout is simply more than a small business can bear.

Look for Warning Signs

Some symptoms of burnout are more obvious than others. There’s a change in the worker’s attitude, from upbeat and enthusiastic to sullen and disagreeable. An employee who previously was a delight to work with is now unpleasant to be around. He arrives late and leaves early. There are more obvious errors in his work than before.

Other warning signs are less noticeable from the outside, but every bit as damaging. These include constant fatigue, an inability to sleep, and persistent head and body aches. She can no longer focus. She is easily irritated by the people around her. She may dread showing up every day or decide that tasks she once found rewarding no longer mean anything to her.

Whatever the symptoms, a burned-out employee is a liability you can’t afford. So, how you do fix the situation?

Address the Problem

Start by meeting with the employee and getting a sense of what’s going on. Ask whether he feels his own productivity and performance have dropped. If you’ve previously established open communications, the two of you may be able to determine a specific cause and address it. His current job may be too demanding or, conversely, not demanding enough. Be clear with your expectations and provide useful guidance toward getting back on track.

When employees feel overwhelmed, it may be time to step in and help them prioritize their job responsibilities. You can also let them take some time to think and create a viable to-do list.

Sometimes burnout occurs when employees feel underappreciated. Your positive feedback — even something as simple as “Great job on that quarterly assessment report!” — can lift their spirits and make them feel valued. Recognition and rewards, such as lunch on the boss or an afternoon off, can help to build employee morale.

Burnout may also be the result of nonstop work habits. Employees need to take breaks, and it’s up to you to see that they do. Make vacation days mandatory. Let people know that you value work-life balance, so they don’t feel guilty about being away from the office.

Another option: Rotate job responsibilities among employees. The opportunity to take on new challenges, provided they’re appropriate for people’s existing abilities and experience, can energize staffers who feel trapped in the same-old “day in, day out” routine.

You could also encourage employees to further their education and career prospects. Employees generally respond well to opportunities to expand their skill sets.

Set the Right Example

Finally, check your own behavior. If you never take vacation days or you come to work when you’re sick because you think you have to be there, the message you’re sending to your staff is “I expect you to have the same disproportionate commitment to work.”

Employees look to you to model a reasonable and healthy attitude toward business. Set the right example and they’ll likely follow your lead — and be less prone to burnout.

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