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Published February 28th, 2017 by

How to Reduce Employee Burnout and Improve Productivity

Whether you’re an employee, manager or member of the C-Suite, you’ve experienced burnout: you’re exhausted, stretched to your limit, your productivity doesn’t even register. Even the most productive and creative employees can suffer burnout, suddenly losing their spark and interest in work.

The question as a manager is: how does this happen and how can we prevent it? Because burnout has much to do with workload, time off and company culture, you’re in a good place to get any issues under control, and keep productivity high. Diagnose your office with these six common causes of burnout and learn how to put a halt to all of them.

1. Workload is Not Manageable

A to-do list that spans multiple pages and the feeling of never being able to get caught up can cause frustration and feelings of inadequacy, both of which lead to burnout. Oftentimes, employees are afraid to seek the help of other coworkers for fear they aren’t doing a good enough job or will appear weak. In addition, some try too hard to be the superstar and want to do everything themselves. To avoid this, it’s important that work is delegated in a way that each employee does not carry too much of the load.

Improve productivity: To increase productivity and ensure overall workloads are manageable, ask each team to hold a weekly meeting where everyone shares what’s on their plate that week. They should talk about what they may need to put off for later or hand off to someone else who has more time or is more knowledgable. As a manager, this requires you to be involved in day-to-day operations to some extent. You often aren’t aware of how much work has been piling up for others, especially if you don’t have an open door policy. Show your employees that they can come to you with questions or when their workload is seemingly impossible. This style of teamwork improves morale and reduces burnout.

2. Lack of Clear Expectations and Inadequate Feedback

Both of these issues lead to a lack of confidence in employees. Expectations, progress meetings and constructive feedback should be given to all employees consistently. The number one fear among American adults is the fear of failure, and knowing what they’re doing well and how they’re contributing to the company assuages this fear, reducing burnout and improving productivity.

Improve productivity: Provide clear expectations for every employee and confirm that they understand, according to Workplace Stategies for Mental Health. Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based) so that employees have something to strive for, but are setup for success. It’s best to set these expectations during your onboarding process, otherwise bad habits are almost impossible to break. Of course expectations can be revamped and updated as time goes on, but the basic principles of what is accepted from day-to-day should be explained early on.

Consistency is important—be sure to hold everyone to the same standards and if they are not following expectations or seem to be confused, schedule meetings to get them back on track. When employees have done well, or perhaps need some guidance, provide this in a timely manner, so they’re not left to wonder and stew in their worry.

3. Micro-Management

Most employees don’t want to be micro-managed; they want to be trusted to do the job they were hired for. If you are constantly checking in with your employees on every single thing they are supposed to be doing, you’re probably coming off as extremely overbearing. This management style can lead to lack of trust between employee and employer resulting in employees who lack autonomy and frustration among employees who have valuable skills, but can’t use them.

Improve productivity: Encourage employee self governance: “The data shows that as employees gain more control and autonomy in their positions, job satisfaction rises in tandem. There is a strong statistically significant relationship between job satisfaction and levels of control and autonomy at work,” according to study authors at The Office Club.

While it is true some people require micro-management in order to efficiently get their work done, these people may not be a good fit for your company. If this is the case, it may be time to sit those employees down and explain to them your process of work-flow and expectations of accountability. Don’t waste valuable time micro-managing when it could be used in a more productive way.

4. Poor Compensation

You may not have control over this one, depending on your position within the company, but nothing will cause employee burnout faster than an inadequate salary. Low pay says that you don’t appreciate their hard work and they’re not valuable enough to the company to compensate appropriately.

Not to mention, a stressful job is easier to manage when compensation is appropriate: “Some occupations just are stressful, and it’s one of those things that you just accept along with the paycheck—if the paycheck is sufficient. However, if demands are high and financial compensation is low, workers find themselves thinking, ‘They don’t pay me enough to deal with this!’ And the burnout risk goes up,” according to Early Predictors of Job Burnout and Engagement.

Improve productivity: Make sure that all compensation packages are competitive with similar jobs in your geographic region. If you don’t already, build opportunities for bonuses and raises into your yearly review process so employees have something to work toward in terms of financial compensation. They’ll work harder if they know that reaching a certain goal means they get a bonus.

5. Vacation Time is Frowned Upon

With most people now working 40+ hour work weeks, significant vacation time seems to be an afterthought, especially for upper level management. In addition to low compensation, employees who never get to take time off for fear they will get scolded or fall behind in their work, tend to be less productive. According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Employees who take most or all of their vacation are more productive, experience greater job satisfaction and are more likely to stay with their organization longer.”

There’s only so much work someone can do without needing at least some sort of vacation—and that includes the C-suite.

Improve Productivity: Evaluate vacation policies for all employees, be sure that it’s in writing and be sure taking time off is both encouraged and supported. The “use it or lose it” vacation policy actually reaps the most rewards for both employees and employers as the liability for the company is low and employees use more vacation days because they can’t cash them out or roll them over. This policy combats extensive leave as a result of unused vacation time and hefty payouts for when employees decide to leave the company.

This type of vacation policy, however, is only successful when the entire organization believes in the value of it. Otherwise, employees still won’t use up those vacation days. They should never be afraid to take time off for fear of job security or advancement in the company, as the policy must be engrained in your company culture.

6. Opinions are Not Valued

If employees consistently feel like their opinions don’t matter and they have no power or input on tasks assigned to them, burnout is likely to occur. People want to feel valued and respected, especially in the workplace. If they offer new ideas or ways of thinking that are continually shot down, it can take a toll on their self-esteem and self-confidence in getting the job done. They are often left feeling not good enough or have a “why try” type of attitude.

This type of negativity isn’t good for anyone, especially the productivity of the company as a whole. For the younger generation especially, appreciation of opinion is actually demanded from employers and they will often move on and find a company who will listen to them and show appreciation.

Improve Productivity: It’s impossible to consult everyone each time a decision is made but you should allow your employees to regularly give their feedback, insight and opinions. It might look different for each company—whether it’s during weekly open meetings, one-on-one sessions or even making a suggestion box similar to what you had in grade school. One of the essential qualities of being a good manager is demonstrating a willingness to listen to others. Just be sure you aren’t only listening to what you agree with—difference of opinion is important to the growth and success of any business.

In addition, your employees can be your biggest asset when it comes to fresh, innovative ideas, but only if they feel their creativity and input is welcome. Maximize their knowledge and turn to them to help you brainstorm for big projects. When people feel comfortable coming to you with suggestions, productivity and profitability is much higher.

Burnout happens at every company, big and small. When it’s well managed, however, you can fix the problem before it starts. Often a top-down approach is necessary for revamping your office culture and it doesn’t happen overnight. All levels of management should be on the same page and policies documented and enforced. Of course, don’t forget, sometimes the smallest things count the most, like being heard, getting feedback and being trusted to work autonomously.

Holly Rollins

President at 10x digital
Rollins is the President of 10x digital, a digital marketing, content and SEO firm. She is also Senior Editor for Carpe Daily, hollymrollins.com and is named one of the top content marketers globally by the Content Marketing Institute: 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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