How to prevent employee burnout



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5 mins

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With absence and presenteeism estimated to cost the UK economy £73 billion annually, ensuring employees’ wellbeing is a business imperative. Samantha Caine shares her top tips for preventing stress in the workplace and burnout among your staff

Employee engagement is essential to the longevity of any organisation, yet studies have shown that engagement is increasingly threatened by employee burnout. Organisations that fail to recognise the signs of stress, burnout or dissatisfaction among their employees risk low productivity and high staff turnover – both factors that will negatively impact their bottom line.

Managing and reacting to burnout isn’t just essential to retaining current workforces – it’s also important for bolstering the organisation’s reputation and attracting future talent. Tackling burnout must start at the very top of an organisation; as leaders, managers should be trained to recognise and react to the signs of burnout in themselves, as well as in their employees.

Here are seven steps that HR can take to better protect employees from burnout.

1. Write better job descriptions

A job description defines an individual’s key responsibilities and functions. Good job description will ensure that each individual’s output works in unison with their wider team and the wider organisation, ensuring maximum efficiency. Poor job design can result in certain responsibilities – such as those that be better shared across the team – falling on certain employees and creating unnecessary stress. When this stress leads to burnout, the wider team and wider organisation can lose efficiency because colleagues are required to take on these additional, unfamiliar responsibilities – potentially leading to more cases of burnout.

2. Make objectives clear

Without a clear set of objectives, employees are effectively flying blind, lacking purpose and direction. Lack of clarity is particularly problematic when a new employee is hired – presumably with a purpose in mind – but the objectives of the role aren’t properly communicated to the new recruit. The employee is at risk of getting stuck in a cycle of working hard at the wrong set of objectives, only to find their efforts are questioned or go unrecognised and unrewarded.

3. Ensure adequate training is provided

To excel in their roles, employees require the correct skills, knowledge and behaviours. While many will be well-qualified when they join your organisation, further development is often required to align the individual’s skills, knowledge and behaviours to the business and its specific objectives. Sometimes an organisation’s objectives shift and change, requiring staff to undertake further development. Ensuring that adequate training is provided will remove the stresses associated with struggling to fulfil objectives without the necessary skills.

4. Provide support

Employee stress can escalate if appropriate levels of support aren’t available, resulting in lower efficiency and a higher risk of burnout. It’s essential that employees feel able to talk about their stresses and anxieties – with line managers, colleagues and HR – if they are to be happy and productive. If support systems, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are available, make sure they are well-publicised and that employees feel comfortable using them.

5. Keep lines of communication open

Feedback is essential to keeping employees on track, and for making sure they know what goals they need to achieve, and which areas they may need to improve on. Line managers should have regular reviews with their staff, with targets given to each individual to complete before their next review. Providing feedback and objectives in bitesize chunks will ensure that workers don’t lose their purpose and can accurately track their own progress, leading to higher employee satisfaction.

6. Promote a better work-life balance

‘Work hard, play hard’ has become something of an overused mantra in the business world and it shouldn’t be assumed that all employees will share this principle. Some might want to work hard, then relax. Others will talk about ‘working smarter instead of harder’. Employers need to understand that the ideal work-life balance is different for everyone and each individual’s vision for balancing work and life should be respected and supported. This means recognising when employees are striking a poor balance and ensuring they get the downtime they need to maintain personal happiness, recharge their batteries, and continue to work productively.

7. Provide greater clarity about career progression

Career progression is a big incentive for employees to work to the best of their abilities. Providing individuals with a clear view of exactly what they’re working towards will increase motivation and reduce negativity when they are exposed to additional stress from time to time. Managers can use regular reviews as an opportunity to communicate opportunities for progression as well as to provide feedback on employee performance.

Samantha Caine is client services director at Business Linked Teams

This article was first published in March 2018. The headline was updated in July 2019.