Learning & Development

7 Ways to Identify and Combat Employee Burnout

As the end of the year approaches and we’re continuing to battle the changing realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in all sectors are working hard to finish on a high note. But this year, many of the skilled hourly workers that restaurants, retail, and warehouses are depending on for the busy holiday seasons are the same ones who carried the load as “essential workers” during the most stress-filled, dangerous, and chaotic times in recent history.

The results of the burden these essential workers have shouldered are starting to show. More than 76% of employed Americans admit to experiencing some symptoms of burnout in the past year, and nearly 1 in 10 admit to “complete burnout.”

Keeping staff happy, healthy, and productive is a critical component to the economic recovery, and it is on employers to recognize and react to employee burnout before it is too late.

7 Ways to Help Reduce Worker Burnout

1. Look, Listen for, and Understand Signs of Burnout

Recognizing the warning signs of employee burnout—and addressing it quickly—is a critical step in employee retention. Burnout can happen to anyone, but men and women between 35 and 44 and those with children under 18 have been experiencing it at a significantly higher rate during the pandemic.

Signs of burnout may include:

  • Exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed
  • Issues with concentration, focus, and productivity
  • Lack of engagement with work
  • Reduced feelings of competence and/or accomplishment
  • Resentment, cynicism, and/or apathy toward work
  • Increased absenteeism

Business leaders must remain vigilant in looking out for these signs in members of the workforce and, perhaps more importantly, be listening. There may not always be physical signs of burnout, but employees may be expressing them in conversations with their coworkers and supervisors. Once burnout has set in, it can be difficult to move past, which is why it’s critical for leaders to understand the signs and address these feelings in their employees before they reach a point of no return.

2. Recognize that Flexibility Is the Future of Work

More than anything else, the pandemic has reshaped the way employees decide what is most valuable to them. Office-bound employees have moved more toward remote work, spending less time stuck in traffic on the daily commute and more time with family and friends, hobbies, and passions. Now, hourly workers see the flexibility that their colleagues in the digital economy have been given amid the ongoing pandemic, and they want the same for themselves. While most hourly workers can’t telecommute or work from home, they place a high value on being able to shape their regular schedules, ensuring flexibility to care for family and other personal matters.

Be prepared to review and potentially modify current practices and procedures to allow employees to work the hours that best suit them, and empower supervisors and managers to make decisions about granting time off or changing schedules when employees express the need for flexibility.

3. Increase Wages to Keep Your Best Employees (And to Attract New Ones)

While states debate a $15/hour minimum wage, many organizations are making the leap themselves to keep the employees they have and attract new talent. Roughly 90% of U.S. CFOs indicate they are raising wages, which has increased 3.6% since last year, to help with retention and hiring. This situation is more pronounced among hourly workers in hospitality (up 8.8%) and warehouse work (up 6.1%). While many employees list job flexibility as the number one criteria for retention, increases in pay are not usually far behind on the list. Rewarding quality and high performance with extra income is also critical.

4. Support Employees to Maintain Their Physical, Mental, and Emotional Well-Being

The pandemic has made employees acutely aware of their health and well-being, and they are bringing that awareness into the workplace. Nearly 60% of employees believe that supportive management that prioritizes physical health, as well as mental health, can greatly improve retention.

While implementing a wellness program that encompasses both mental and physical health is a way for businesses to demonstrate a vested interest in employee well-being, simply listening to the needs of staff and supporting them can also go a long way. Work flexibility provides employees a way to decompress and re-energize in between shifts, allowing them to arrive focused and excited about their responsibilities. When employers invest in the well-being of their workforce, it builds loyalty and increased productivity.

5. Provide Opportunities to Retain and Reward Top Performers

The entire U.S. workforce is well aware of the continuous changes happening in the labor market, and those with ingenuity are not afraid to take advantage of their opportunities. Employers need to recognize that employees are weighing more options than ever, from changing jobs for better pay and benefits to changing careers and exploring new passions.

One important way to keep valuable employees is to demonstrate they have a future within the organization. Communicate the goals for their advancement, and provide a clear pathway for them to reach it. Go one step further by truly investing—both time and resources—in the training and support necessary to help employees achieve advancement. This not only helps shape the company leaders of tomorrow but also aids in building loyalty and improves the chances of retaining the best staff.

6. Demonstrate Empathy Through Open and Frequent Communication

Having a good rapport with employees has always been important, but in a post-pandemic workplace, it is essential. Data shows that since the pandemic, employees who have been feeling their managers are not good at communicating are 23% more likely to experience mental health issues than their coworkers.

It is also important to demonstrate an understanding of employees’ challenges through clear and regular communication. Employees respect and respond to managers who express empathy toward their needs and communicate often to reduce anxiety and burnout. For example:

  • Schedule regular check-ins with employees, and don’t ask about current projects; this is a chance to connect with the individuals.
  • Keep all employees—from leadership to interns—informed about any organizational changes or updates.
  • Clarify any changes to expected work hours, schedules, and company operations.
  • Urge leadership to set expectations about workloads, and help employees prioritize their projects and time.

7. Acknowledging and Adapting for the Future of Work

Employee burnout is real, and as we continue to trudge through the continued pandemic and the realities of our “new normals,” there may only be a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Keeping current employees happy and supported should be a top priority for businesses across all industries. Business leaders need to acknowledge that many of these workers are feeling the effects of helping to keep businesses (and industries) afloat during the pandemic and will require significant changes to policy and procedures to keep them satisfied and productive. Employers that can adapt and demonstrate tangible support for their employees by offering flexibility in scheduling, open and empathetic communication, and competitive wages and benefits will be in the best position to succeed during Q4 and beyond.

Mark Wallace is the Chief Financial Officer at Instawork.

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