Stress & Resilience

Employee Burnout: How Managers Can Curb Workplace Stress

Greg Okhifun
Associate Editor
Corporate Wellness Magazine

Burnout is a real issue in the workplace, with many workers being continuously stressed with unhealthy work demands. Employers play a crucial role in curbing the systemic factors responsible for workplace stress.

Many managers may be underestimating the burden and risks of burnout in their organizations. In a recent survey by Deloitte involving 1,000 full-time workers in the United States, more than 77% of workers reported experiencing burnout at their current workplaces, even among employers who truly loved what they do.

Burnout is a spectrum of physical and emotional signs of exhaustion and stress, which occurs when the demands of work are greater than the capabilities of and resources available to workers. A number of workplace risk factors set the stage for this: excess work demands, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, poor employee support, poor work-life balance, and lack of control at work. These factors create an atmosphere that breeds employee burnout.

Employee burnout is a serious topic today because of its impact on the mental and physical health of employees, which in turn, stifles workers’ performance and leads to an overall decline in productivity. This is the vicious cycle it creates for any organization.

Burnout takes a huge toll on the health of a worker: with an increased risk of substance abuse, heart disease, diabetes, sleep disturbances,and immune suppression, employers will only see an increased rate of absenteeism and presenteeism, as well as increased worker’s healthcare costs,as a result of employee burnout. This cost accounts for an average of $158 billion in healthcare expenses every year in the United States.

What’s more? Job burnout costs organizations high employee turnover,making them lose their most competent hands to competitors, further crippling the business.

What steps, then, can employers take to reverse this trend and keep their employees engaged and working at peak performance? Here are a few ideas.

Make Job Descriptions Clear

Not only should job descriptions and responsibilities be clearly stated, they should also align with an employee’s qualifications and skillsets. Managers and supervisors make workers vulnerable to burnout when they are made to take up responsibilities they don’t have the skillsets for.

In addition, a poor job design may tilt responsibilities –including those that can be better managed by someone else or shared across teams – to certain employees who may be unfamiliar with or not well trained for such roles.

Another aspect of making job descriptions clear to employees is clearly expressing the objectives of their roles. New recruits usually take some time to find their feet in an organization and if uncertain about their job goals and objectives, may experience avoidable stress when supervisors start expressing disapproval for unmet expectations.

Open Communication Lines

Employees are likely to be more stressed in workplaces with poor communication lines. Poor communication creates a sense of ambiguity with work: workers perform all tasks with a sense of urgency, as the objectives,timeline, and resources needed for tasks may not be clearly defined. Workers,in turn, work under undue pressure to meet ill-defined expectations.

In addition, employees need to have opportunities for feedback. Feedback is essential to optimize an employee’s performance. Rather than recurrently reprimand employees for failed tasks, supervisors should give constructive feedback; give regular reviews of employee’s work performance,clearly stating what areas they can improve on and providing resources to help them improve.

Expand Corporate Wellness Programs

Wellness programs serve as effective preventive measures and “shock absorbers” for workplace stress. There is a myriad of wellness initiatives managers can incorporate into the workplace to ensure employees maintain optimal mental and physical performance.

Some companies offer flexible work options to workers,family leave opportunities, paid leave for mental health days, mental health and stress management training, as well as employee assistance programs. Some companies also provide as simple as sleep hours in the workplace and mindfulness exercises.

Aetna,for instance, offers its workers free yoga and meditation classes, food wellness initiatives, and on-site fitness programs to help prevent and cope with stress.

Provide Recognition and Incentives

Regardless of how competent a worker is, he or she will do better when appreciated. Recognition goes a long way in boosting a worker’s motivation and making them less vulnerable to stress. The Deloitte survey found that 3 of 10 respondents cited lack of recognition as the major driver of job burnout.

The reason is simple: A culture of gratitude and recognition relives the tension in a workplace and makes workers do their jobs with a sense of worth. Managers may not necessarily offer recognition in award ceremonies or grand events, a simple pat on the back like a “thank you”, “good job” makes workers feel valued and less tense about their work.

To keep your employees motivated, engaged, and valued, employers can leverage financial incentives, offering financial rewards, bonuses, profit sharing, and retirement benefits that show that an employee’s input to an organization is valued and appreciated. This loosens up the workplace atmosphere, motivating employees to put in their best in achieving job objectives.

Prioritize a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Workers will inevitably burnout if they are left with little time to focus on other aspects of their lives such as family and hobbies. Creating a work culture that encourages days off and vacation helps workers recharge and de-stress. However, vacations should not be interrupted by work-related communication with a worker, as this defeats the purpose of a time off.

One company taking employee vacation serious is German auto company, Daimler. Daimler created a program called “Mail on Holiday” which auto deletes any incoming mail to an employee on vacation with the sender given the option to resend the mail when the employee resumes work or send to a colleague.

Burnout takes a huge toll on the health and productivity of an employee, creating a vicious circle that costs employers millions in loss of productivity. Employers, therefore, have a major role to play in reshaping the workplace dynamics to lower job stress and keep their workers healthy and more productive.

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