Act Now Before Employee Burnout Burns You Out

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A key player in our operations area is getting burned out. We can’t afford to lose her. How do we find the balance between getting work done on time and keeping burnout at a minimum?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Burnout comes from stress, so step back and figure out where the stress is coming from. Teach staff about delegation. Focus on the most essential things. Give employees control and mean it. Create healthy outlets to work off tension.

A few challenges can be good, as they help to make things interesting. Too many challenges, problems that seem too big, too many things going wrong, too many hours invested in unproductive activities, can all lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, tense and, ultimately, burned out.

Too much tension is destructive. It eats away at happiness, health and general well-being. Your job as boss is to constantly monitor individual and group stress levels, making sure everyone is in the productive, not the destructive range. When people are strained, start asking questions.

  • Are things outside work contributing to stress at work?
  • What about the work environment isn’t working?
  • Are there enough of the right people to do the work?
  • Have things changed, such that the old ways don’t work so well anymore? Get everyone together. Talk about what’s not working. Brainstorm possible solutions.
  • Are people being encouraged to succeed?
  • Are expectations realistic?
  • Are people capable and fully trained?
  • Is everyone clear about goals and confident they can meet them?
  • Take an honest look at the environment. Realistically address problems. Let staff make recommendations for reorganizing and reprioritizing how things get done.

Too much work? Bring in temps to fill in gaps. Decide what to delegate to untrained support staff and what to eliminate altogether — either temporarily or permanently. Help employees decide what to delegate by making a list of everything they do. Figure out which tasks would be the easiest to hand off. Teach employees how to train someone to take over; don’t just assume they know how to let go.


If things are swirling and priorities are unclear, sometimes the best way forward is just to start somewhere. Ask people to decide which problems they need to tackle first. Giving them control is a way to increase their sense of well-being.

Keep in mind that employees might approach a problem differently from how you’d do it. That’s fine. Encourage staff to make decisions and take ownership. Monitor how things are going and acknowledge progress, building on successes until things smooth out.

Encourage laughter. It’s a great de-stresser. Teach people not to take things too seriously when the pressure is on. Mistakes are inevitable. Learn from them and move forward.

As much as we’d like to think that work and home are separate, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to completely set aside problems at home when walking in the door at work. If that’s the case for a good employee, consider how to lighten the load at work until things turn around at home. Try job sharing, shifting from full time to part time, sabbaticals and guaranteed work upon return.

Give employees permission to say, “Enough,” and mean it. Go work on something different. Take a walk around the block. Take a day off or a full vacation. One of the best things you can do as a boss is point out that the time for taking a break is now.

Consider paying for gym memberships as an employee benefit. Reward people who work extra hours with comp time off when things slow down — and make sure they take the time. Monitor vacation usage to be sure everyone is getting time away. Some companies have brought in meditation, afternoon breaks and on-site child care. The list of things that can help to reduce stress is limitless. Ask your people what they need.

23335570_lLooking for a good book? Try “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency” by Tom DeMarco.


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