Burnout Is Real — Here's How to Prevent It

employee burnout represented by an employee stocking shelves

People are starting to talk more about the importance of good physical and mental health at work, giving business owners the chance to manage more effectively. Burnout is a term frequently used in the context of workplace wellbeing — and you may already have a good sense of what it looks like — but how does a great manager go about helping their employees prevent it?

What is burnout?

Burnout is the state of feeling exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally. It is usually caused by an extended period of stress, where people feel unable to keep up with demands. Burnout affects managers and employees alike, with symptoms including:

  • Always feeling tired
  • Getting ill regularly
  • Physical pain and fatigue
  • Change in sleep or eating habits
  • Feeling incapable and unmotivated

The ways burnout manifests varies from employee to employee. Whilst some employees might start turning up late to work and leaving early, others might work extended hours to cope with feeling behind.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) via The Guardian, 526,000 British workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, with 12.5m working days lost as over that period as a result. Basically, burnout affects your bottom line.

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How to Prevent Burnout

Monitor employees’ workloads

Taking on extra or more challenging responsibilities and tasks is often a double-sided coin. On one hand, it’s an opportunity for employees to embrace a more senior position that may even come with a pay rise. But on the other, the increased workload, and the pressure that comes with that, can make them feel stressed and overwhelmed.

In the same way that businesses run inventory checks before ordering new stock, you can talk to staff about what’s already under their remit, how they’re coping with that and what space there is for more work. Software like Deputy could be useful in prioritising new tasks, creating realistic deadlines and redistributing some of their duties.

Focus on employees’ strengths

Maybe you hired certain people to own tasks or areas of the business, but those employees have taken on work that doesn’t suit them so well as your venture has grown. Give your team the opportunity to swap or share their responsibilities with others. Or if particular events are coming up that will increase or alter the work available (like the Christmas rush or a product launch) hold meetings where they can actively volunteer their skills.

Meet for regular check-ins

Whilst annual reviews allow you to take a thorough look at employees’ performance and wellbeing, a lot can happen over a 365 day period that you have no idea about. Bi-weekly or monthly meetings enable you to stay in the loop, quickly nip issues in the bud and build stronger relationships with your staff. The act of a manager checking-in to see how you are — not just what you’re achieving — means a lot; it’s the mark of a leader with emotional intelligence who recognises the impact of people within their business.

Small businesses are time-short, so try to follow a structured agenda that covers:

  • How the employee’s general wellbeing is
  • How they feel about their performance
  • How you or other staff can help them in their role
  • What feedback they have for you
  • What feedback you want to give to them

You may find that some staff take longer than others to open up, but this is the reason behind the regularity of your catch ups. Trust gets built over time.

Strive for work-life balance

Managed correctly, measures to achieve work-life balance can lead to higher productivity. The way this balance is achieved, and what’s possible, is dependent on your business. In some cases, flexible hours and work-from-home arrangements are suitable (and could help you lower the cost of desk space, for example). In others, staff-controlled rotas, the addition of a breakout space and altered shift patterns perform the same function.

Before jumping to any conclusions about what kind of balance your staff are looking for, speak to them. You may find that the business doesn’t require as much of a change-up as originally thought.

Improve the working environment

The environment your staff work in has a profound effect on their performance — “an artist is only as good as his tools” as the saying goes. Clutter, slow systems, faulty equipment, lack of stock, unhappy customers and poorly thought out schedules are bound to create a barrier to your staff doing their best. This will affect their speed, quality of work, peer relationships and interactions with the public. Here are some quick fixes to prevent burnout caused by the workplace itself:

  • Have a quarterly whole-team clearout, and hire a cleaner or reorganise your in-house cleaning rota to stay on top of clutter.
  • Update any slow or cumbersome software, such as your point-of-sale, invoicing and team management systems.
  • Refresh equipment or hardware, such as card readers, till systems, coffee machines and receipt printers — anything that helps your staff work faster and more flexibly.
  • Get some free customer feedback software to deal with customer complaints quickly and in private, avoiding fallout on social media or review sites.
  • Supplement your paper rotas with scheduling software that enables quick changes and notifications.

Lead by example

With so much focus on your staff, it’s important to finish up by thinking about you. At the end of the day, all bucks stop with the business owner, and that’s no easy position to be in. Managers are often spread thinly across their business, with responsibilities that take them well outside of working hours. Naturally, this can lead to stress and burnout that “trickles down” — a workforce led by a manager who’s tired, unhealthy, unmotivated, uncommunicative and overworked may inadvertently follow this behaviour.

Exercise, mindfulness and meditation, regulated sleep patterns, realistic goal-setting and general self-care are all ways you can take care of your own wellbeing. And in the same way that you lead check-ins with your staff, consider having your own catch ups with other business owners who can empathise and advise your approach.

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