How to protect your employees from burnout to keep them happy and healthy
It’s easy to think of job stress as just a fact of life. But when it goes unaddressed for too long, it inevitably results in full-blown burnout. Fortunately, employee wellbeing has been pushed to the forefront of the conversation over the last year or so. That’s why we’re looking at how to prevent employee burnout, and why, in this case, prevention is preferable to a cure.
Bumble’s founder recently gave her staff a full week of PTO
Some sectors have kept surprisingly busy during the pandemic, with one frontrunner being online dating apps. You might think social distancing rules would have quashed our love lives, but these apps have actually given people a valuable sense of connection during these isolating times.
All this is to say that Bumble has been working full-tilt over the past year and a half, and its employees have started to feel the burn. This is what spurred the company’s founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, to grant all 700 of her staff a week of paid holiday with no obligation to be accessible online. The sole exception is a team of support staff to keep the service running, but they’ll get an identical break once the others come back.
When done pre-emptively, this is a great example of how to prevent employee burnout. But when burnout progresses too far, it can take employees more than a few days off to bounce back. And, according to one executive, it sounds like Mrs Wolfe Herd made her move at just the right time, as she ‘...correctly intuited our collective burnout.’
Why burnout happens
Burnout is what happens when job stress is allowed to build up to an extreme. Usually, it’s the result of poor work/life balance, meaning that the employee isn’t able to recover and relax, whether due to lack of time or being unable to stop thinking about work. That’s why it’s essential for managers and HR to know how to prevent employee burnout from becoming an issue in the first place.
Think of stress and burnout like paying off debt when you’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck. The bills leave you with a negative balance, so when you’re paid, you have less money (or, in this case, mental fortitude) than you did the month prior. So, burnout is essentially when the pit of stress gets so deep that climbing out of negative figures becomes impossible.
How does employee burnout affect organisations?
Burnout is devastating on an individual level. It obliterates mental health and drives employees from their careers. In the most extreme cases, burnout creates lasting trauma that can take years to recover from.
Which means that organisations, those organisms made up of people, are incredibly vulnerable to the damage that unchecked burnout can inflict, which is why understanding how to prevent employee burnout should be one of your top priorities. Burnout affects organisations by:
- Limiting financial success by stymying productivity.
- Driving employee turnover, which in turn creates astronomical costs.
- Making employees cynical towards the business and limiting staff buy-in.
How to prevent burnout in your business
Don’t forget that managing burnout in the workplace should be about prevention more than reparation. So, let’s look at how to prevent employee burnout and create a more supportive and resilient workplace:
- Encourage employees to take time off: Giving someone a few days off when they’re already burned out is like slapping a plaster on a broken leg. It’s better to encourage staff to be proactive about using their vacation days. It means providing support so their responsibilities are covered and reminding them to take a break after a stressful crunch. And, for US employers in particular, it means actually bothering to offer paid time off in the first place.
- Take a hard line against presenteeism: Look, we all know that, sometimes, a little overtime is unavoidable. But when employees habitually stay late, or come into work while sick, they slowly wear themselves down and contribute to a culture of toxic expectations. It can be difficult for managers to model this behaviour, but you can still encourage staff to clock off at the proper time and make a point of sending someone home if they seem ill.
- Open up the conversation around mental health: If you can’t take mental wellbeing seriously, then you’ll never understand how to prevent employee burnout. Not only can job stress be the cause of poor mental health, it can also exacerbate other problems with mental wellbeing.
Mental health issues resulting from stress at work are much more common than people think, as they accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to ill health in the UK from 2019 to 2020.
- Enable job flexibility...: Flexible forms of employment, such as working from home, can help employees to take control of their work/life balance, which is key to them staying vibrant, healthy and engaged at work. Whether it’s by cutting out the commute, reducing their time in the office, or just giving them a more adaptable schedule, job flexibility makes even demanding careers much more accessible.
- ...But respect employee autonomy: A lack of autonomy often gets overlooked as a contributor to stress and burnout. After all, management itself can be incredibly stressful. But lack of autonomy means you’re stuck using someone else’s approach, fielding their queries and giving constant status updates. It’s fairly indicative of a lack of trust, which itself is stressful, because it feels like you’re expected to fail if you stray off the beaten track.
While it’s important for managers to set expectations and offer guidance, employees generally thrive the most when they’re given autonomy. In office, this means giving them their space and not micromanaging.
For remote workers, it means not burdening them with worthless, arbitrary productivity tracking software. Nothing’s more stressful than knowing the actual quality of your work is less important than how many clicks you’ve done across however many pages in the last ten minutes.