Strategic HR

3 Critical Challenges to Address in Every Employee Burnout Prevention Strategy

by Jennifer Ardery, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Kronos

Employee burnout. Everyone’s heard of it and most of us have probably complained about feeling burnt out at one point or another. How can we not? For many, the pressure to succeed at work has never been higher. This is true for both hourly and salaried employees, as the opportunity to unplug has become increasingly rare.

stressed employee

But just how big of an issue is employee burnout? According to a recent survey of 614 HR leaders from Kronos Incorporated and the HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace, nearly half of the respondents blamed employee burnout on up to half of their annual turnover. In addition, 95% admitted that employee burnout is undermining workforce retention efforts.

That data is staggering, demonstrating that employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions. It’s bad news for organizations focused on building an engaged workforce, as burnout will continue to undercut whatever engagement initiatives are launched.

While there is no one silver bullet to overcome employee burnout—retail faces different challenges from healthcare, which faces different challenges from manufacturing and the public sector—there are three critical challenges that relate to employee scheduling, which once addressed, can set organizations on the path to preventing burnout before it occurs.

Critical Challenge #1: Lack of Efficiency

Even the best planned schedules require adjustments at the last minute. The flu could hit one unit at a hospital; an unexpected storm forecast could create higher-than-usual demand for grocery stores; or a key piece of manufacturing equipment could unexpectedly go offline, bottlenecking production and requiring unforeseen overtime.

For organizations that run on manual or even semimanual scheduling processes, this can cause a significant headache for managers tasked with ensuring there is adequate staffing. They rely on outdated and inefficient processes to fill these holes, such as phone calls or text messages, hoping to secure a fill-in as quick as possible. Often, they repeatedly lean on the same high performers. In some cases, managers may even hoard overtime hours for themselves.

This approach will not only burn out the organization’s highest performing and most reliable employees, but it could also create resentment from other team members who feel as though they are being unfairly passed over for often lucrative overtime opportunities.

Critical Challenge #2: Poor or Hidden Data

With many organizations still creating schedules on spreadsheets or with basic scheduling software that doesn’t account for industry-specific business demands, managers are making decisions without having the complete picture.

It’s not their fault though—outdated (or dare we say antiquated) legacy technology provides inadequate visibility to key data. In many cases, this data is actually spread across several siloed systems. This fundamental lack of real-time information means on-the-fly staffing decisions are made exclusively in the present, for the present, with no visibility into how it will affect schedules, workload, and employees themselves later in the week or month.

In logistics, the U.S. Department of Transportation has specific Hours of Service guidelines to limit fatigue. On the production line, the European Working Time Directive requires 11 hours of rest over any 24-hour period to ensure safety. Similar guidelines exist in the energy sector. In healthcare, you need the right mix of skills and proficiencies while ensuring adequate rest for nurses or physicians.

In each of these cases, schedules are painstakingly constructed but one uninformed staffing decision can easily throw the rest of the week or month into turmoil.

Critical Challenge #3: Too Many Rules and Requests

Most organizations using manual or semimanual scheduling processes know one thing to be true: the schedule posted at the start of the week is often different from what employees actually work. Scheduling and staffing are complicated matters, and so are the compliance requirements that organizations need to adhere too.

When building a schedule, there are state and local labor laws, company policies, union agreements, employee shift preferences, and often the need to match specific skills and certifications with specific shifts. Trying to juggle all of this manually, whether on paper or via a spreadsheet, can result in unintentional errors.

While these mistakes can open up an organization to risk of noncompliance, including hefty monetary fines, it can also lead directly to employee burnout. In many cases, the pressure and focus to get this week’s schedule just right means there isn’t time to look back to see if certain employees have worked too much overtime or gone too long without a day off.

More than a Safety Issue

For many years, discussions about employee burnout and fatigue management have been driven by the fear of consequences: if an organization has fatigued employees, they’re at a higher risk of making a mistake, error, or causing an injury or accident. Because of this, it has been addressed through reactive measures—such as rules or regulations after something happens.

The reality is that employee burnout should be considered an employee engagement issue. Time and time again, research has demonstrated that having an engaged workforce results in higher productivity, lower levels of turnover, and higher customer satisfaction. (And that’s in addition to lower safety and compliance risk!)

Similar to other engagement improvement initiatives, organizations that wish to seriously mitigate employee burnout must deploy a proactive strategy. This will require organizational change on multiple fronts that HR is uniquely positioned to lead, such as ensuring the proper workforce management or human capital management technology is in place, a culture that is flexible to the needs of an employee (while still balancing the demands of the business) exists, and that managers are ready and able to act as role models to show employees it is OK to take the time they need to mentally and physically recharge.

Jennifer Ardery is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Kronos specializing in employee engagement, scheduling, and employee burnout.