Employee stress is at an all-time high. Unlike previous generations that could easily decompress once they left work, employees today have to be available constantly and are often asked to learn an ever-changing set of skills, as well as frequently adapt to new technology. That combined with other work stressors from leadership, high workloads, commutes, and colleagues creates an environment where many feel strained. As a result, 52% of all employees on average experience burnout at some point in their career.
Burnout and job stress cost businesses over $300 billion in lost productivity annually and increase other expenses in indirect ways. For example, people are significantly more likely to seek new employment after experiencing burnout. That increases both churn rate and hiring costs for your company.
Preventing burnout is the best way to ensure your employees stay healthy, happy, and engaged with their work. That requires you to invest in quality leadership, foster open communication, and create policies that give people the flexibility they need to live well.
1) Develop strong leadership
Leadership (especially direct supervisors) is the most important contributor to both burnout and how well employees return to work after a stressful episode. Good leadership delegates work, communicates clearly, manages interpersonal relationships, and oversees team health in ways that prevent burnout. Meanwhile, poor leaders are either unable to do so or make things worse.
To build a thriving work environment, leaders need the tools, training, and freedom to manage operations and personnel properly. It can be difficult to identify those gaps in your organization, but if you implement 360-degree feedback, you can assess if and where employees encounter difficulties with leadership.
In addition, using assessments to check for competencies in emotional intelligence, communication, team management, and leadership abilities can help you find and remediate skills gaps in your upper-level personnel.
2) Implement healthy communication policies
Unless employees have separate work phones and devices, it’s important to create communication policies that prevent them from being “always on the clock.” If your employees go home and still have to answer work emails and respond to requests for last-minute assignments, they aren’t getting the rest they need. Lack of down time is a surefire way to induce stress in employees and encourage burnout.
Good policies define where, when, and how communication can happen. Those guidelines prevent managers and colleagues from talking about work or requesting work during a person’s off hours. Of course, you’ll need to include exceptions for emergencies, but in general, robust communication policies limit stress by reducing the need for someone to give up their free time to answer work communications.
3) Offer flex work and time off
Flexible work and time-off systems allow employees to work when it fits their schedules. Aim to accommodate various circumstances, whether it’s kids and family obligations, hobbies, secondary education initiatives, or even preferences for work rhythm.
For example, offering flex work can allow someone who’s constantly stressed about commuting to stay home two days a week and then come in after rush hour and leave late. The employee still logs the same number of work hours but is likely to be much more productive because they’ve removed the stress of commuting. In fact, one survey by Gartner showed only 80% of employees offered flex work believed they saw an increase in productivity thanks to it.
4) Refine your company culture
Company culture plays a large role in burnout and stress. If you have a high-pressure environment, people will be stressed. Last-minute assignments and people constantly putting out fires is the opposite of a healthy work culture; it should encourage the proactive prevention of these issues. Many workplaces pride themselves on having a fast-paced environment, but this often leads to missed deadlines and more frequent emergencies, which aggravates your team’s stress.
Burnout can also stem from other things related to company culture. For example, new hires not fitting in or people working late, not taking time off, and being 100% “on” at work all of the time leads to exhaustion.
Changing company culture can be a lot of work. But, if people consistently experience burnout despite changes in management, managerial styles, or even teams, culture is likely the culprit, so you’ll need to dedicate effort to it. This investment will pay off in the long run for both your company and your employees.
5) Invest in employee growth and coaching
When people stay in the same role without change or opportunities for growth, they become bored. Those feelings of stagnation can cause burnout just as easily as stress and work overload. Investing in professional development allows your employees to find opportunities for growth and change so they stay engaged and interested in work.
It also prevents people from becoming overwhelmed and stressed as technology and skill sets evolve. When someone’s role changes, they receive new software, or experience some other shift, they should receive coaching, training, and the option to move into a different role if their current one no longer suits them.
That investment not only lets you close skills gaps but also shows employees you’re invested in them, which increases engagement.
6) Create channels for employee feedback
Provide two-way channels for employees to leave feedback and to show their voices are heard and implemented. That means management must open time in their schedules so their teams can talk to them (in private) when they have concerns. It should also incorporate formal feedback tools like 360-degree feedback, where teams can score each other, themselves, and their management.
However, it’s not enough simply to collect feedback — you have to act on it as well. Sometimes that’ll entail investigating complaints and issues to see if they affect multiple people. In other cases, it’ll mean implementing changes, such as asking leaders to take training courses, altering how teams work, or providing employees with the time management and communication tools and processes they need to manage their work well.
7) Lead by example
Leaders must exemplify healthy self-care practices, clear communication, effective inter-team collaboration, and strong time management. That starts with simple things like taking vacation days and ensuring others do the same, not answering phone calls or emails during off-work hours, and providing open feedback. These actions then expand to building a culture where people are encouraged to learn and grow, ask for help if they’re struggling, and take on only the workload they can handle. If leadership fails to practice what they preach, no one else will.
The best way to prevent employee burnout is to build an engaging and positive workplace. When your company culture encourages a healthy work-life balance, open communication, and fair policies, people will feel more comfortable and less stressed.
Regularly review incidents like failed deadlines or overworking to assess workloads, stress levels, and how deadlines are set; this will foster a culture of good time management and work delegation to reduce stress. Often, you can maximize these assessments by crafting better communication standards, reducing meetings, or splitting work if you find teams are taking on too much. This kind of proactive approach will greatly benefit employee mental health because it creates a great place to work, and when your workers are healthy and focused, everyone will thrive.