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Hannah Taylor

How to Prevent Burnout in the Workplace

Manager of a team? Perhaps you're wondering how you can prevent burnout in the workplace amongst your team members. If you're looking for guidance, start here.

Managing a team isn’t easy. Between keeping on top of your own workload and maintaining your team’s performance, it can feel like there’s little time for anything else.

However, building a healthy team that communicates well, is engaged with its work, and is resilient to challenges is a core part of your responsibilities as a manager. Much of this comes down to preventing employee burnout, which can cause team and company-wide disruption when managed ineffectively.

In this article, we’re breaking down the initiatives and support team leaders can put in place to manage stress and prevent burnout before it becomes a problem.

First things first: what is burnout in the workplace?

Experiencing burnout is more than feeling slightly stressed. In 2019, burnout was declared an occupational phenomenon and officially recognized in the International Classification of Diseases.

The World Health Organization has helpfully provided this definition: burnout is "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

How does burnout impact employees and businesses?

The impact of burnout differs from employee to employee, but here are some of the most common ways burnout disrupts people’s lives:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion: Physical symptoms like headaches and muscle tension are common among burnt-out workers and are often coupled with signs of mental fatigue. Considering many people struggling with burnout also struggle with sleep, the connection with physical exhaustion is unsurprising.
  • Decline in performance: Burnout can lead to decreased focus and creativity, impacting the quality of employees’ output. They may also miss deadlines and put less effort into their work.
  • Shift in behavior and attitude: Burnt-out employees often experience a shift in attitude, becoming increasingly irritable and finding attending work challenging.

These issues trigger a domino effect, with worsening employee performance impacting businesses’ cultures and bottom lines. Here’s how.

  • Reduced productivity: Over-tired and emotionally drained employees typically work slower, reducing their productivity. Business outputs may decline in quality due to missed deadlines and recurring mistakes.
  • Increased absenteeism: Burnt-out workers are more likely to experience illness and have a 57% increased risk of workplace absence. This, in turn, impacts team dynamics and productivity.
  • High employee turnover: There are many reasons why burnt-out employees leave businesses, from concerns for their well-being to a lack of support from management. Employee turnover and lost productivity due to employee burnout cost businesses around $322bn globally.

Signs of burnout to look out for

Burnout can’t be solved overnight, but it doesn’t happen overnight, either. Prevention is better than cure, so here are five key signs your team may be experiencing burnout:

  • Shift in employee engagement: Runn co-founder Rowan Savage says it best, sharing that “If a team member is actively engaged, it's a good sign that they are feeling excited about their role. However, if their level of engagement decreases, it may be a sign that they're struggling with something and in need of support.”
  • Physical symptoms: Burnt-out employees may complain of headaches, exhaustion, and illness.
  • Decline in performance: A decline in performance is marked by missed deadlines, frequent mistakes, decreased innovation, and substandard work.
  • Absenteeism: The damage to mental and physical health caused by burnout can lead to more unplanned days off and diminished engagement during work hours.
  • A change in personality: Previously positive employees may begin displaying persistent negativity, react badly to criticism, clash with colleagues, or stop engaging in social activities altogether.

Learn more ➡️ the signs of burnout to watch out for in your team.

How you can help prevent employee burnout

So, what can you do as team manager to help prevent burnout from occurring?

Preventing burnout starts with ensuring employees’ workplace needs are met, with most factors being within their managers’ control.

Burnout statistics reveal a clear connection between a lack of support from management, poor workplace well-being, and burnout, with one survey finding that a lack of support and recognition from leadership is the top driver of employee burnout. What’s more, when looking for new jobs, 81% will seek out workplaces that support employees' mental health.

From fostering healthy work environments to keeping employees motivated by communicating responsibilities effectively, there’s a lot you can do to reduce employee burnout. To get you started, we’ve compiled our top tips for preventing (or reducing) job burnout. Let’s dive in!

Lead by example

If you want to reduce burnout, you need to lead by example. When you regularly work overtime, answer emails on the weekend, or ignore signs of illness, you set a precedent for the rest of your team — whether you intend to or not.

Creating a happy workplace environment that shuns burnout starts with management. Demonstrate a good work-life balance by logging off on time, taking time off to recharge, and respecting boundaries. Over time, this positive behavior modeling will rub off on your team.

Encourage work-life balance

Poor work-life balance is a significant contributor to workplace stress. Employees need time to recharge, but when they struggle to disconnect mentally, burnout can ensue.

To help your team regain a sense of control over their personal and professional lives, you can introduce work-life balance initiatives, such as:

  • Workplace flexibility: encourage employees to work from wherever they want
  • Compressed or flexible work schedules: allowing employees to flex their professional responsibilities around their personal commitments
  • Sabbaticals: rewarding commitment with extended time off
  • Time off for volunteering: helping people regain a sense of purpose can increase their engagement at work

These initiatives will go a long way to mitigate the causes of poor work-life balance, with flexible working arrangements considering the reality of employees’ complex lives.

Create a happy, supportive team culture

Company and team culture has a huge impact on employee well-being. From promoting a culture of overworking to employing fear tactics to ‘motivate’ workers, many organizations fall into bad habits in the search for productivity.

However, happy, well-supported employees are often more productive than their overworked counterparts.

At Runn, we focus on reducing the risk of burnout by building healthy teams. This includes:

  • Operating an asynchronous work culture, which allows people to work when it suits them.
    As Rowan Savage explains, “We build a culture - and offer benefits - that try to allow people to live their best life and their happiest life. We operate an asynchronous work culture, which allows people to work when it suits them, so they fit their work around their lifestyle. Not the other way around.”
  • Encouraging the team to be supportive of their colleagues by prioritizing their requests for help. This builds a dynamic where supporting others becomes more important than working as fast as possible.
  • Not expecting immediate responses from colleagues. We live in a world where collaboration is easier than ever, but instant communication places unnecessary stress on people. Many workers, especially those working remotely, feel pressure to be constantly available via email, phone, or instant message. Reduce stress by supporting slow, asynchronous communication that allows people time to consider their responses.
  • Encouraging team-building activities and peer-recognition programs that strengthen team bonds.
  • Fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, challenges, and ideas.

When employees feel part of a supportive team, they are less likely to experience the isolation that can lead to burnout.

Help employees find their purpose

Employees can become disheartened and experience poor job satisfaction when they feel their personal values differ too greatly from their employer’s goals.

The antidote is to help people find their purpose. They joined the business for a reason, so ask yourself, how can you revive that enthusiasm by helping them reconnect to your organization’s mission?

We suggest taking the time to talk to each of your team members about how their contributions feed into the company’s broader goals. Linking their individual KPIs to the company-wide OKRs also helps reinforce why their job matters.

Share feedback privately and publicly

Following on from our point above, it’s essential for employees to feel appreciated.

So, let your employees know when they’re doing well! Everyone wants and needs recognition for their hard work, so always share positive feedback privately and on company-wide forums.

Create opportunities for advancement

People need to feel empowered to take steps forward in their careers. However, when managers neglect to provide actionable feedback, clear expectations, or development opportunities, they can quickly burn out.

Through regular one-to-one meetings, you can support your team in identifying their strengths and areas for improvement. But your support shouldn’t end there. Help your team take a step up within your organization by providing access to development opportunities that align with their goals, such as training and mentorship.

As a part of this process, you can work with your team members to define their career goals and their next steps. Some progressive organizations, such as Fuse Cooperative, are advocates for involving employees in a role advice process. Through this process, they open up a discussion about an individual's passions, learning aspirations, and their competencies.

This information becomes a basis for adapting and creating roles to best fit individuals, capitalizing on their passion and helping them focus on work that is meaningful to them.

Provide access to support

Ensuring employees have a safety net can help alleviate the job stress that leads to burnout. This can look like:

  • Destigmatizing taking mental health days
  • Partnering with a counseling service which offers impartial and confidential advice 
  • Paying for subscriptions to tools helping workers manage heavy workloads effectively

Make sure workloads are balanced fairly

We’ve mentioned overworking several times in this article because it’s a common yet avoidable cause of employee stress and burnout. At Runn, we don’t believe in doing overtime and take extensive measures to prevent our people from additional hours. However, employees can't take a step back without manager support.

The first step to reducing unnecessary overtime is to ensure your team’s workloads are balanced. We recommend using a workload management tool that flags when employees are overutilized - or, in other words, when they're assigned more work than they actually have time for.

By managing workloads in a dynamic tool like Runn, not only are vital utilization statistics surfaced for easy monitoring, but you can also easily move assignments between different teams members to help keep individual capacities balanced.

Taking action to prevent workplace burnout

When it comes to preventing burnout in the workplace, managers bear the brunt of the responsibility. By following the tips we’ve shared to create a psychologically safe work environment for your team, you have an excellent chance of beating burnout before it becomes a problem.

So, what’s next? Learn how to overcome burnout by balancing your team's workload with Runn.

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