Employee burnout: How to tackle it head-on

How do you help staff when most won't talk about it? We've got tips

Employee burnout: How to tackle it head-on

Almost all HR leaders understand the grave impact of employee burnout – 95% believe it’s “sabotaging workforce retention” within their organisation.

This is because burnout has reached “epidemic levels”, according to the study by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace.

The authorities have heard it loud and clear and for the first time, burnout is recognised as a proper condition by the World Health Organisation.

Employees cited top causes of burnout:

  • Unfair compensation (41%)
  • Unreasonable workload (32%)
  • Excessive over time work (32%)
  • Poor management (30%)
  • No clear connection to corporate strategy (29%)
  • Poor workplace culture (26%)

What’s worse, a separate study by the University of Sussex found that even ‘meaningful work’ can disengage staff and cause burnout in some employees.

‘Meaningful work’, typically defined as work that is “personally enriching” and “makes a positive contribution” could add unnecessary pressure for employees to “fake it”, said Catherine Bailey, professor and lead author of the study.

“Management strategies like this, when executed badly, leave huge numbers of workers who feel compelled to act as if they find their work meaningful, even if they do not,” she said.

“Faking it in this way, pretending that they believe things that they do not, for instance, takes a huge amount of emotional resource and can leave people exhausted, burnt out or wanting to quit.”

READ MORE: The real reasons employees are ‘burned out’

Tips to tackle staff burnout
Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director at Robert Half Singapore shared with HRD how leaders can help tackle employee burnout.

1. Train managers to identify signs and address mental health issues
“The triggers that drive workplace stress and burnout differ from employee to employee, so creating a space for early identification and response is important to help ease or change the situation,” said Imbert-Bouchard.

“Managers are well positioned to identify and act on mental health worries amongst their team, yet many are not appropriately trained to identify and address emotional distress in the workplace.”

Investing in education for managers around mental health in the workplace can help them to be aware of what contributes to a positive working culture, as well as provide a tool kit of identification, communication, and remedial strategies to assist employees who may display symptoms of increased stress.

READ MORE: 9 tell-tale signs of employee burnout

2. Provide support channels for employees
“Mental health is often still a taboo subject in the workplace so it is important to openly address the issue,” he said. “Set time aside to talk to employees.”

As a leader, by talking about mental health, you may find that employees are more likely to come forward to share their experience with mental illness. Also educate them on the support services available to them to address such issues.

Many companies today are implementing formal employee assistance programs (EAP). Providing a confidential platform for counselling and psychological services can aide in the proactive intervention for individual employees and their immediate family members.

3. Invest in well-being initiatives to encourage work-life balance
“Employees consistently cite work-life balance as one of the most valuable aspects of their organisation’s culture,” he said.

“Respecting the obligations and interests that occupy workers outside of the office, and helping employees take care of themselves on-site can help prevent burnout at work.”

Promoting well-being can be something as simple as supplying free fruit, to offering discounted gym memberships, time off for counselling, or creating a social club.

Best to ask employees which initiatives would make the biggest difference to their mental health and work-life balance and implement them – with the budget in mind of course.

4. Recognise hard work
Feeling appreciated and well-compensated can make challenging workloads easier to manage and contribute to cultivating a positive work environment.

Salary is an indication of an employee’s value to the company, so providing competitive remuneration with opportunities for growth is one of the clearest and often most valued recognition of an employee’s work.

“However, simply applying more money to a negative work environment or excessive workloads is not a sustainable solution and should not be used as a substitute for creating a mentally healthy workforce,” he said.

“Also, remember that frequently saying ‘thank you’ can go a long way toward preventing burnout.”

Showing appreciation can be as simple as mentioning the staff’s achievement during team meetings or as nominating them and their team for awards.

“If they do something well, take notice,” he said. “If you implement ideas submitted by your employees, give them credit.”

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