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The curse of staff burnout: How to avoid overworking your employees

Burnout is one of the biggest problems facing businesses, defined as unmanageable levels of workplace stress. 22% of the UK workforce have experienced it, while poor mental health — which is tightly connected to burnout — costs UK enterprises up to £45 billion a year.

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation, increasing our levels of stress in both our personal and professional lives. It’s clearly an issue every company must address, not only for the sake of its employees, but also for their profits.

Luckily, there are some simple solutions that can transform the mental health of your employees, and in turn raise their engagement levels and productivity.

1. Manage expectations

There are few things more stressful than not knowing what’s expected of you. Leaving lots of unknown variables makes people feel like they don’t know what they’re doing and increases the chance of them making errors. These won’t only demoralise them but also require more time out of their day to fix. By ensuring that your staff knows exactly what is expected of them — team-wise and individually — you’ll be taking away a large portion of their stress. Allow your employees to come to you and tell you if they don’t think they can get something done, and be open to adjusting your lookout accordingly.

Another great way to do so is to implement some tech that assists you with efficient resource management. This type of software can help you assess what resources are needed to complete a project, how to allocate tasks, the time it will take to see through, and honing on everyone’s skills effectively. As stated by Precursive, by “see[ing] where your people are over or under utilised and when they will be free” using resource management technology, managers can “plan ahead to avoid staff burnout”.

2. Communicate and listen

You will never be able to tell if your employees have issues if you don’t ask them. But simply posing the question is not enough — they have to, first of all, feel comfortable to tell you the truth, and secondly, believe that you will do something about it. Feedback is always a delicate task, and when it comes to mental health it is even more sensitive. The best thing to do is to learn to listen. Actively ask how your staff are feeling, if there’s anything they think can be improved on, what kind of benefits they need. Do they require more flexibility with work hours? Do they want to work from home, from the office, or a combination of the two? Do they have too many tasks on their hands and need you to hire new people?

All of these are queries they might not have come to you with of their own volition. Make it clear to them that their answers will not be held against them, and that your concern for improving the workplace is genuine. Listen carefully without judgement or defensiveness, but don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Most importantly, make actual changes based on their feedback, and prove to them that your door is always open, so that next time, their suggestions will come when they arise rather than after waiting for you to ask.

3. Promote work-life balance

More than 40% of employees in the UK neglect other parts of their lives because of work, according to the Mental Health Foundation. This leads to worse wellbeing, more stress, and eventually, burnout. By paying attention to the hours your staff spend working, and investing time into improving the work-life balance in your business, you’re going to get happier employees who have rich personal lives and come to work ready for the day.

The change starts high and trickles down. If your employees see their C-suites or managers working 12 hour days, they will feel like they are also expected to do so. Make sure your management team has a limit on how long they can spend in the office, set a cut-off point for emails or Slack, and encourage everyone to take breaks. Speaking of management, urge them to focus on productivity rather than hours when it comes to their teams. You could also review your time off policies and see if you can afford handing your staff more annual leave, or even longer parental leaves. Most importantly, ask your employees how you can help them — that’s the best way to tailor the solution to what your people need.

4. Provide tools

No matter how much you care, your employees are going to experience stress sometimes. It’s just in our nature. However, there are certain tools and benefits you can provide for your staff to help them better their general mental health, and not just diminish their professional stress. For example, offering yoga classes can help reduce stress and combat insomnia. Providing a subscription to a mediation app like Headspace or Calm can do the same. You can also consider partnering with a therapist or counsellor and send staff who are interested in psychological treatment to them at a reduced price or for free. Taking care of your employees’ diet is also a crucial part of combating stress, which you can help with by supplying healthy snacks (or even a meal, every once in a while), as well as nutritional advice, for example. There are many employee benefits that are designed around encouraging mental wellbeing, so opting for a few could make a huge difference and prevent burnout.

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