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Small business: Avoiding burnout on the job

Workers who say they very often or always

Workers who say they very often or always experience burnout are more likely to take a sick day, go to the ER or leave the job, according to research. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Suphaporn

Ignoring employee burnout comes at a price.

 Workers who say they very often or always experience burnout are  much more likely to take a sick day,  go to the ER or  leave the job, according to Gallup research.

But employers can alter this scenario by identifying and stopping the problem. Symptoms to look for: fatigue/exhaustion, sadness, anger, anxiety, headaches and irritability.

 “If you’re being proactive, you’re going to capture burnout before it escalates,” said Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy for Gallup’s workplace management.

 Managers can do this by improving their dialogue with employees so there’s an opportunity for  them to comfortably raise issues and for managers to notice behavior out of the ordinary, he said. Make it a priority to establish “a regular cadence of discussing work, career and life with employees.”

These don’t have to be big, time-consuming conversations, he said, but rather informal “quick connects” in the hallway or email, for example, at least once a week.

In a quick connect  of five to 15 minutes managers just basically initiate a chat  to hear what's going on and to show they care — maybe by offering to help if issues persist, Wigert said.  This can lay the foundation for later having more meaningful ongoing conversations about performance and development.

 Besides picking up on stressors, knowing the signs of burnout can be valuable.

Becoming less productive or careful of quality work and more cynical or complaining are telltale signs, along with more absences and tardiness, according to Randi Busse, president of Workforce Development Group in Massapequa.

Unfortunately, companies often have blinders on when it comes to burnout, she said. "It’s kind of like an elephant in the room, [but] just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Sometimes personal issues, like caring for a sick family, may be contributing to the burnout, and showing support in those instances can make a difference, said Busse.

There is a fine line though, and of course you don’t want to play psychologist or counselor, but listening, showing support and removing barriers where possible can help alleviate an employee’s stress, Wigert noted.

If burnout is coming from the job itself, you might take a look at people’s workloads, said Rick Gibbs, a performance specialist with Texas-based Insperity, a human resources and performance-solutions provider, which has offices in Melville and Manhattan. You may not realize how their responsibilities have grown over time.

Also listen to employees when they complain about processes that stress them out or make it hard for them to serve customers, said Gibbs, noting some efforts may not be necessary.

In addition, look for team development opportunities, he said. This offers another  chance for support, and sometimes  team members can spot the signs of burnout earlier, he said. 

Beyond that, encourage employees to take their time off, says Janine Truitt, chief innovations officer at Talent Think Innovations consultants in Port Jefferson.

Leaders also need to be taking their vacations and show employees that life outside of the job matters too, she said.

Be open to flexible work schedules if needed, added Truitt. Perhaps even  offer the option of a couple of mental health days or maybe even a day to do volunteer service.

If  staffers are dealing with issues, create a culture where they feel they can come forward.

And don’t  add stress internally.

“It’s important for managers and leaders," said Busse, "to see how they might be contributing to the burnout.”

Feel the Burn

According to Gallup research, 23% of employees report feeling burned out at work “often or always,” while another 44% report feeling burned-out “sometimes.”


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