Employee burnout is an epidemic in today’s workforce with important implications for organizations. Burnout often simply boils down to excessive workload—too much work for too long and not enough resources to do the work properly. During the pandemic, roles shifted, and workers complained of job creep, taking on increased responsibilities. The result: a fundamental imbalance between a manager’s expectations and the resources provided to employees.
While things have stabilized somewhat since the end of the pandemic, burnout remains a serious problem amplified by inadequate managerial support. To address this growing epidemic, organizations must take action to train their managers on strategies that can prevent and reduce burnout in their teams.
Managers have the greatest direct impact on their employees’ experiences and are thus uniquely positioned to alleviate the factors that lead to burnout in their teams. There are solutions for preventing and treating burnout, and they start with training managers to establish practices that reduce burnout, to recognize the symptoms of burnout, and to address the root causes.
4 Ways Managers Can Prevent Employee Burnout
1. Adjust work demands and expectations.
Above all, managers must be realistic about task expectations and allocation. They should carefully monitor workload and work hours, and if they identify issues, they must act swiftly to adjust work demands and expectations. Managers must also carefully evaluate if direct reports have adequate resources, and if not, they must work to obtain the required resources. Additionally, managers should use pairs of individuals to deal with tough problems so employees faced with larger, more challenging assignments feel less isolated and more supported.
2. Model healthy time management and “boundary setting.”
To function optimally, employees require sufficient rest periods. Managers need to model healthy time management for employees and encourage sporadic breaks so employees can replenish their energy. Many businesses attempt to cater to this necessity by introducing policies like unrestricted personal leave and days off for mental health or illness. Yet, merely granting time off without efficient workload management and an organizational culture shift around taking leave fails to effectively combat burnout. It’s not just about managers allowing employees to take leave; it’s also about ensuring they can do so without feeling guilty or facing negative impacts upon their return to work.
It’s especially important for managers to model “boundary-setting.” When employees are remote, the boundary lines become blurred. Setting boundaries between work life and family life by logging off at a reasonable hour and not expecting employees to respond during certain hours of the day or over the weekend and taking the time to eat a proper lunch away from the screen are two examples of boundary-setting.
3. Limit meetings, and be thoughtful about when employees need to be on camera.
Managers should be encouraged to scrutinize the necessity of every meeting and decide who truly needs to be present at any essential meetings. Managers should also thoughtfully consider whether there are opportunities to condense meeting duration. Finally, if the team is remote, managers should balance videoconferencing with cameras on with audio-only conferencing. Being always on camera can contribute to burnout, so managers should use video meetings strategically, when they will add the most value to the interaction.
Have weekly meetings to foster support and camaraderie.
There are two weekly meetings managers should consider adding to employees’ calendars: “the check-in” and the “team half-hour.” Managers should check in with direct reports every week (preferably on an individual basis) to make sure they feel a sense of purpose in their work, that they feel valued, and that they feel treated fairly in terms of workload, resources, expectations, and support. Asking one simple question every week can go a long way: What else can I do to help?
These meetings also provide the opportunity for managers to help employees reconnect with the “why” that lies behind the “what” of their work and inspire and influence the team to find the purpose that originally led them to seek out the positions they now have. It’s also a perfect time for managers to coach employees on how to deal with any burnout symptoms they may be experiencing and help employees navigate the twists and turns of organizational changes that may be contributing to the stress.
The weekly team half-hour is about scheduling some laughter and fun into the workweek. This can be a half-hour during lunchtime when the team comes together or a Friday virtual happy hour scheduled at 4:30 p.m., with the expectation that everyone logs off by 5 p.m. Creating this kind of weekly ritual fosters a sense of camaraderie among team members.
4. Celebrate employees’ wins.
Managers should publicly recognize their direct reports for their hard work both within the team and outside the team. This can be as simple as saying, “You did a great job handling the customer’s problem” or “Thanks for your hard work on that project.” Acknowledging employees’ efforts and celebrating their wins can go a long way toward helping employees feel valued for the work they do.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Atlanta, employees who strongly agree that they feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout. These five simple steps are an easy-to-follow action plan for any manager to put in play. Because managers play such a critical role in employee happiness and engagement, they must be trained in burnout prevention and management so they’re equipped not only to spot burnout but also to take concrete actions toward helping employees become reengaged in their work.
Heide Abelli is the cofounder of SageX Inc., an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled e-Coaching and performance support application for the modern workforce. She’s an accomplished executive who has held senior leadership positions at leading educational technology and training providers, such as Skillsoft and Harvard Business Publishing, where she developed award-winning, groundbreaking corporate training solutions. She’s a seasoned veteran of product development, innovation, and product management in the fields of corporate training and ed tech and is an adjunct professor of management at Boston College.
Abelli is also a globally recognized subject matter expert in the areas of leadership, management, general business skills, the unique skills required for success in the digital economy, employee learning and development, and effective corporate training practices.