Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Putting out the fires for employee burnout

We all know the story. More work, less people, no extra money for raises, costs going up for everything else...put it all together, and what do you get?

Nope, not the hokey-pokey. You get employee burnout. Not your problem, you think? After all, lots of people would be happy to have a job, right?


Employee burnout is very much your problem as an employer or a manager or an HR specialist. Did you know:
  • Employees most susceptible to burnout tend to be your best employees. Yes, these are your star performers, your idea-machines, your "nothing is too hard for me" champions. So when they go get the picture.

  • Burnt out employees tend to self-treat by working harder. Which makes them burn out even faster. And deeper. Sounds counter intuitive, but it's true. They push and work and try to get through their burnout by giving more. And if you're like most employers, you encourage that. Reward it, even. Until they crash or quit or make some dangerous mistake...which brings us to our next point

  • Burnt out employees make mistakes.
    Lots of them and bigger ones. and because these tend to be your stars, odds are they have the access and the authority to do a lot of damage when they mess up. And those mistakes can cost you a lot of money.

  • Employees suffering from burn out at work usually start messing up other aspects of their life. Now, I'm not saying they're going to go postal or anything, but it is pretty well documented that employee burn out leads to marital and family problems, and is apparently correlated with increased auto accidents, family abuse issues and illness (including serious illness.)

So what can you do?

  • First, know the symptoms. Sudden increases in work hours, projects accepted and deadlines set can be a sign. But it's tricky. Another sign can be when a developed employee starts spending hours surfing the web or talking on the phone. Basically, it's a big change in behavior. Work behavior.

  • Look for the causes. Has this employee been charged with the work of several? Are expectations rising faster than any one can meet? Has there been a recent or radical restructuring of tasks or roles? Is there a constant threat of job loss?

  • Do something. Sure, it's great if you're saving the cost of two employees. But if that means your star employees are going down, the risk isn't worth it.

  • Provide training for managers and supervisors to help them avoid overloading staff. Teach them about the symptoms and the risks of employee burnout. Teach them why it matters.

  • Offer relaxation options like yoga or meditation or just a quiet room to sit and think.

  • Discourage working late and coming in early, as well as taking work home. Insist that vacations days are used, even if it's just for staycations. Make it a company policy, if you need to. Employee burnout is both caused by and symptomatic of an imbalance in work/life time. The few extra hours of work you may "lose" will be more than balanced by keeping your best and brightest employees happy and productive.

Are you seeing burn out at your company? Are you experiencing it? Leave a comment and let me know what you are doing about it, what caused it, or what you wish could be done. Let's share and see if someone has a way that works.

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