Working from home was once a rare novelty that only a few professionals were able to do, but now there has been an increase in telecommuting due to stay-at-home orders. With all of the stresses that have impacted the world, an increase of burnout has followed.
Employers had to quickly change to a work-from-home environment which came with flaws. There may have been technological setbacks and increased workload paired with job insecurity that lead to the overwhelming stress. Additionally, if your employees are parents they became teachers when school transitioned online. It is important to realize that your employees are affected by world events and are not immune to stressors, which can affect their work. This may seem obvious, but recognizing that your employees are not perfect will help quell your frustration with their diminishing morale and productivity. First, we will outline how to recognize burnout and how to help employees handle it.
How to Recognize Burnout
Burnout can be misinterpreted as laziness or cynicism as some of the tell tale signs of burnout is decreased productivity and disgruntled remarks. While some people may just be lazy or complainers, if an employee has uncharacteristically shown these symptoms they may be experiencing burnout. Before we get into handling burnout employees, here are some signs to look out for.
1. Diminishing Quality of Work or Decrease in Productivity
If there is an uncharacteristic drop in performance, this may be a sign that your employee is not enjoying their work anymore or is being overworked.
2. Detachment From Work
If an employee has always been chiming in new ideas or suggestions but has recently been more reserved, they may be losing motivation to work.
3. Increased Complaining or Pessimism
We all complain about work every so often, but when it becomes a repeated habit there may be deeper issues if the pessimism is uncharacteristic of them.
One or more of these signs can indicate burnout. Once you have recognized that some of your employees have been experiencing burnout, it is imperative that you address it early so that there are not long lasting repercussions. Here are some guidelines on how to thwart burnout.
Now you have identified symptoms of burnout, it is time to dilute the feelings of frustration and pessimism in your employees. Note that it is natural to feel burnout every so often, but during the pandemic these feelings can come easier and more frequently because of our circumstances.
1. Alternate Work Load
While it may seem counterproductive to give more pressing projects to an entry level person, it will give your senior employees a chance to take a break and challenge entry level employees. Cycling the workload will decrease employee burnout while giving experience to new employees.
2. Check In With Employees
Sometimes your employees just need to vent and be heard by upper management. If the workload has been tough or there are personal issues going on in someone’s life, it can affect your mood and outlook on work. Check in with your employees to see how they are doing. Listen to them and take action on any feedback they give you.
3. Allow Employees to Unplug From Work
Everyone needs a break. When your home and work life are intertwined it can be hard to separate the two, causing increased stress. If an employee needs to take a couple sick days or PTO, let them even if you have an impending deadline. Those days of rest will refresh them and may lead to better work produced and a happier outlook.
Be someone your employees can lean on for support. Expressing empathy, listening actively, and understanding how employees feel will make them value you as a person. We spend the majority of our time working, so it is no surprise that our work environment will impact our mental health. Now that you’ve learned how to recognize and reverse burnout, here are some tips to preventing burnout altogether.
Prevention is easier than treatment. These are suggestions and tips that will better separate work and home life that will lead to improved employee satisfaction and happiness.
1. Establish Boundaries
Since we are at home all the time, one might think that you are on call 24/7. However, that is not the case. Most people work to live not live to work, so establish that it is not expected to answer calls or emails after work. If boundaries are not established employees may feel obligated to work until they sleep which promotes burnout. Set clear boundaries and expectations for their work schedule. Make a point that when their shift ends, they need to disconnect from work.
2. Emphasize Taking Breaks
When working from home, there is a tendency to power through the day without taking breaks. People will work while eating lunch and work 9 hours without rest. This is a work habit that will lead to burnout and management can help alleviate this by emphasizing taking a break. Encourage employees to take meaningful breaks: don’t look at work emails when relaxing for 15 minutes, unplug from work when eating lunch. While refraining from breaks may produce more content or complete projects faster, it comes at the expense of your employees mental health. Your employees may feel guilty for taking breaks instead of working, so let them know that they are encouraged to take breaks.
3. Highlight Communication
No one will know how you feel if you don’t tell anyone. Let your employees know that you are a source of support and not criticism. If an employee feels overburdened by work, they need to tell you so you can help fix their problem. Congratulate employees when they tell you their struggles as this will lead to an open, safe environment. Active communication is important in the workplace as it will strengthen your relationship with your employees.
4. Consider Adding New Employees to Your Team or Cross Training
If your employees are able to handle the workload but it is at the expense of their mental health, it might be time to consider hiring a new team member. Budget cuts and other problems make this a sensitive topic, but if your employees are disgruntled and unsatisfied with their job it could lead to increased turnover and inadequate work. If hiring an assistant to help with daily operations would lessen the stress of your team, it is something to review with upper management and hiring managers.
If hiring a new person is not possible, consider cross training different departments to ease stress. This will also strengthen your employee’s skills as they will learn new tactics and techniques to better your organization.
5. Set Realistic Goals for the Week
Depending on the industry you’re in, business has not been booming. Your weekly or quarterly totals are going to be different from last year, so don’t expect the same numbers. Evaluate how you have been doing since the pandemic started and base your weekly goals on those results, not last year’s results. Expecting the same caliber of results from the year before may not be possible and it is not your employees fault that they do not reach or exceed the same level. Setting realistic goals will lessen the amount of pressure your employees will feel, decreasing the chance of burnout.
6. Incorporate Stress Relieving Activities During Work
There is nothing more fun than having fun during work. When working from home, we miss out on office shenanigans that would brighten our day. When having Zoom meetings, have a ridiculous theme or take 15-30 minutes to play a game. Find ways to make your employees laugh during work so that life isn’t so serious. We don’t laugh as much everyday, which is something that we should change.
There is a fine line between stress and burnout, and it is up to managers to guide employees through these struggles. Remember that you are subject to burnout too, so take care of yourself. The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways which can be hard to cope with. If you think that employee is experiencing a deeper problem than burnout, like depression, read our article about how to support your employees with mental health issues. What other ways can you prevent burnout?
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