7 Steps to Stave Off Employee Burnout

The American workforce has been remarkably resilient during the pandemic but has also been under tremendous stress and at risk of burnout and these conditions remain today. 

Gallup researchers noted that “we have a long road ahead to recovery and face new challenges associated with transitioning back to the workplace.” They warned, “If organizations fail to engage employees and fend off chronically high levels of stress and worry, the result could adversely affect millions of lives.” 

What can company leaders do to help prevent employee burnout in an ever-changing business climate? How can you smooth the way for what psychologists have dubbed “re-entry anxiety?”

Here are seven suggestions.

Measure well-being:

Proactively ask about workers well-being and their areas of concern. Just a few questions in a pulse survey can elicit company-wide problems that need to be addressed. Measure well-being—and more importantly—act on the results.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 75 percent of high-performing companies regularly measure health status as a viable component of their overall risk management strategy. 

Engage one-on-one:

There’s never been a more important time for managers to engage in personal communication with members of their team. Such discussions can uncover individual issues that can be quickly rectified. Moving from the cocoon of one’s home environment back to a bustling office can be unsettling. Going back to what was normal might not seem so normal anymore.

To make one-on-ones truly effective managers should give members of their team the opportunity to provide forthright feedback and express their concerns and ideas while assured of absolute confidentiality. Trust is developed when managers agree to a course of action and follow up in a timely manner. As Simon Sinek says, “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”

Show that you care:

It’s not enough to ask employees how they are doing, team leaders need to listen, understand and act on any concerns that they express. The pandemic impacted individuals in different ways and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Humans are not robots and can’t automatically switch back to the way things were as if the pandemic never happened.

Show that you care by emphasizing a greater understanding of the need for a work-life balance that was heightened by the pandemic. Make sure employees know that honest feedback is desired and valued and establish back-to-the-office bonding sessions for small groups. 

Maintain flexibility:

When they worked from home many employees got used to working more flexible hours. If possible, continue to permit flexibility as it’s a perk that helps reduce stress and anxiety. Make sure you discourage overtime and its potential for burnout. Many workers found themselves putting in longer hours when all they had to do was commute from the bedroom to the living room.

Working from home and flextime are here to stay and company leaders should make it easy for workers to switch back and forth between in-office and remote work. Make sure they have the right equipment at home—software and hardware. Make every effort to prevent them feeling isolated by building in social time online and while in the office.

Promote safety:

A growing number of companies are insisting that all employees be vaccinated, which is obviously the number one safety measure they can take. Others may not have a vaccine mandate but insist on a weekly COVID-19 test and masks for the unvaccinated. It’s uncharted territory that will certainly test employer-employee relations.

Further many individuals will continue to have health concerns long after the pandemic is over. Reassure them by implementing health and safety protocols until risk is minimized. This could include staggered work hours so fewer employees are in the building at any given time and stepped-up office sanitation measures—especially something as simple as increasing the number of hand sanitizer dispensers. Encourage social distancing by reconfiguring spacing between desks and in common areas. Consider touchless technology for opening doors and insist that employees who feel ill stay at home.

Provide better training:

Employees often had to acquire new skills when they were forced into a work from home situation, and many companies weren’t adequately prepared to give them the training and support that they needed. This only increased the potential for burnout. Going forward, minimize the risk by delivering better training to increase employee comfort levels. Training budgets are often among the first items that fall victim to budget cuts which is a short-term fix at best with many long-term downsides.  

As McKinsey states, “Leaders should pursue a broad reskilling agenda that develops employees’ digital experience and their cognitive, emotional, and adaptability skills. Companies can’t be resilient if their workforces aren’t. Building your reskilling muscle now is the first step to ensuring that your organization’s recovery business model is a success.” 

While many training programs can be pursued online there are some that require in-person workshops to be most effective. Companies will also discover that they need to involve third-party expertise as it is unlikely they have the necessary in-house talent.

Highlight performance:

Workers need to know how their performance benefits the company as a whole, especially during a time of uncertainty and change. Recognize and praise their contributions personally and in front of their colleagues. It’s the best way to keep them motivated to overcome any new challenges.

It’s also good for the bottom line. A Gallup meta-analysis of more than 260 studies found that the business or work units that scored the highest on employee engagement had 21 percent higher levels of profitability than those with the lowest scores.

Understanding the real impact of burnout and how it can be countered goes a long way towards building a business that will thrive in the most difficult of circumstances. These seven steps will empower leaders to create more dynamic, rewarding, and productive relationships with their teams.