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As the year draws to a close, stress levels at work seem to rise proportionally as employees feel the pressure of closing out their existing work while also making plans for the next year. Then there is the added stress of the holiday season with activities such as shopping, gifting, travel plans etc. With all of these to deal with, it is no surprise that employee burnout reaches unbearable levels at the end of the year.
A Gallup survey found that 76% of employees in the United States experience burnout at least sometimes. With such a significant percentage of the workforce affected, employers need to be more conscious about recognizing burnout in employees, especially amidst all the expectations and activities as the year comes to an end. We talked to some experts to gain insight into how employers can identify workers burnout along with the steps leading organizations take to manage it.
Identifying Employee Burnout
For a long time, there was no standard definition of burnout to rely on. However, in 2019, the World Health Organization revised its classification of diseases which also included an updated definition of burnout. It is now defined as a syndrome caused as a result of chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been managed successfully.
While employers may understand the definition, identifying it correctly among employees can be a little trickier. William Taylor, a senior recruitment advisor at VelvetJobs, has come across many instances of employees “losing focus, being unmotivated and unproductive, and it was mostly because of burnout.”
He believes “It is caused by different factors such as work and family stress, heavy workload, neglected mental wellbeing and others. You can spot employees experiencing this by observing their work performance. Examples include declining rates, attendance-issues, decreased productivity and unusually low-quality outputs.”
Tina Hawk, Senior Vice President of HR at GoodHire, says that a slowdown in a team’s performance can indicate burnout. “If you notice a decline in productivity relative to previous months, it could be an indicator that your team is running out of steam and feeling burned out. It’s not uncommon for this to happen after long stretches of hard work – particularly nearer to the end of year when the holidays are within reach.”
Frequent Time Off
Like any form of long-term stress, burnout can affect the immune system of the individual. Employee burnout makes them more susceptible to health complications such as insomnia, colds and the flu in addition to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. As a result, employees are more likely to take time off when they are burned out in an effort to recover. If you notice a sudden uptick in time off in your team, chances are project burnout is to blame.
Lack of Concentration
Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer at Resume.io, considers a lack of attention to work to be a sign of employee burnout. “The inability to concentrate or retain vital information is one of the most common indications of burnout. If your staff are regularly making mistakes or forgetting meetings or deadlines, you should look into why they aren’t paying attention.”
How to Prevent Employee Burnout
“Employees are not robots and they are prone to burnout.”, notes William Taylor. Organizations need to be proactive in recognizing workers’ burnout and manage it effectively to prevent work from coming to a standstill. Here are some ideas you may consider for avoiding such a situation.
Put Things in Perspective
As Tina Hawk says, “To start with, remind your team what’s on the line.” This is particularly relevant if your team has been involved in some big projects just before the end of the year.
Tina adds, “After working on a long, challenging project, some workers will start getting tunnel vision. Work feels less meaningful, the days start blending into one another, and productivity suffers as a result. This happens because workers have simply forgotten what they’re working toward. Show them the bigger picture; celebrate what they’ve achieved thus far, and keep the end goal in frame. This brings everything into perspective and motivates your team to push forward just that little bit more before the holidays start.”
Encourage Wellness Groups
According to Rolf, a supportive approach can be effective for organizations at identifying the underlying causes. “Take a supportive approach to determine the source of the problem, such as bringing impacted employees to a group meeting where they may discuss their work experience and explain which aspects of their employment are causing them stress.”
Encouraging employees to share their feelings in a safe environment where they are not judged can provide them some relief from stress. William adds, “Companies can implement regular virtual social meet ups with the whole team, whereby people can connect, catch up, emotionally and mentally support one another, and where employees can ask for help comfortably.” Set some time every week for these programs and ask all members to join in.
Even in the best of situations, employees find rebukes and criticism of their work stressful. However, when they are experiencing burnout, reprimands can make them feel a lot worse. At the end of the year, when stress levels and work pressure are expectedly higher, avoid censuring your employees even if they are being unproductive or performing poorly.
Rolf agrees, “Creating an effective health programme requires ensuring your staff that they will not be reprimanded if they disclose thoughts of exhaustion. If your staff are afraid of being disciplined or fired for discussing burnout symptoms, the side effects and blunders will only worsen, which could cost the company a lot of money.”
Allow Flexible Scheduling
Rolf notes, “Flexibility is highly valued all year, but especially during the holidays”. In addition to wrapping up projects and planning ahead for the upcoming year, employees may also have to deal with several things in their personal lives such as shopping for family members, work out travel details and more.
Flexible scheduling can go a long way in helping employees manage their time across their work and personal lives effectively. William agrees, “Such arrangements make it possible for employees to engage in self-care, and to prioritize family time, which also promotes employee wellbeing.” Rolf adds that “…allowing people more control over their working hours often means they will be productive when they are in the office. There has to be trust for this dynamic to work, but it can be a major productivity boost during the lead up to the holidays. ”
While taking steps to avoid and reduce employee burnout is essential, there may still be deadlines to meet. Organizations need to tap deep into their reserves of gratitude to keep motivation levels up. Not only during the end but also throughout the year, your employees have been giving their best to meet the goals you set for them. Instead of reproaching employees for their mistakes during this period, appreciate the hard work they are putting in.
If there are still targets to meet, Rolf offers some advice on motivation. “You can remind people of deadlines by thanking them for all of their hard work throughout the year and appreciating them in advance for hitting their holiday deadlines. This is a gentle way of reminding people that there are still targets to hit without being overbearing.”
Recognizing employee burnout and taking steps to avoid it should become a part of your year-end plans. However, it is important to address the real root causes of burnout instead of taking superficial measures that only improve employee morale for a while.