The Christmas rush had many of us chasing our tails as we endeavoured to meet all demands by years end. The holiday break that followed was greatly welcomed as our dwindling energy levels were in much need of recharging. For some of us though, business never relents. We can keep pace for a time, but then burnout strikes. The snowball effect of failing to manage burnout can be catastrophic for an employee…and of course, the company.

There are some obvious signs to help us recognise when those around us are suffering from burnout – emotional and physical exhaustion, long periods of stress followed by frustration, feelings of helplessness and unhappiness. If not addressed, employees become less motivated and disengaged causing productivity to suffer and absenteeism to rise. The financial impact of employee burnout on the Australian economy each year is an estimated $12 million. Wow! I think a few HR departments just went into overdrive!!

As a business owner or manager you may now be starting to question if your business is falling victim to the effects of employee burnout. And furthermore, how much is it costing your bottom line? Your employees are operating in a stressful environment at the moment, but they are still in control and meeting their targets. Burnt out? No, but definitely stressed. Performance is a key indicator that employees are burnt out. Employees suffering from burnout find themselves mentally and emotionally exhausted and struggling to think creatively to find solutions. The tell-tale signs manifest themselves most predominantly in reduced productivity and work quality, withdrawal and poor attitudes.

Those suffering from burn out are not the only ones generally affected. Their depressing attitude and their approach to their work can also impact other employees. Negatively. There is no doubt that employee burnout is sabotaging employee retention rates. But there are other factors influencing burnout.  Most damaging are unfair compensation, unreasonable workloads and too much overtime or after hours work. Perhaps too we should also be asking ourselves if we are hiring the right people for the role. Is our staff adequately skilled to execute their job role to an acceptable standard? Have we failed to provide staff with the right resources to meet the demands of their role? If our talent management strategies are resulting in the wrong hire or failing to understand the demands of the role, are we ultimately manufacturing anxious employees and pushing them to reach burnout. Are organisations hiring strategies resulting in escalated retention rates? And what is the effect on our workplace culture and market brand?

Understanding the organisations role to contributing to employee burnout can lead to better strategies to reducing or eliminating employee burnout. Yet understanding that many factors cause burnout will give you more scope to managing the condition. And we are not all moulded from the same clay. We all react differently to different situations. What could tip one employee over the edge could leave another feeling excited about being challenged. Understanding how individual employees react in various circumstances can aid you to identifying which employees are most at risk of burnout and how you can help them to stay on a healthy path.

It is important to be able to recognise the cause of burnout. As a mental illness, the recovery period can be lengthy. Caught early, it can be addressed before it becomes a long term unhealthy pattern of behaviour. Better than recognising the signs of burnout is putting into effect coping mechanisms to avoid the breakdown altogether. Some clever techniques involve forcing staff to take annual leave. A tricky one with legislation dictating the parameters here, but that should not discount the option. Limiting one’s ability to take work home with them by not allowing technology out of the office is another avenue to forcing your employees to switch off and enjoy a more balanced life style. Limiting overtime and ensuring you have adequate staffing levels at all times are also good strategies. Or you can go to the drastic measure that one European company does and remove employees’ desk from their reach each day. Yep, up they go. At the conclusion of each day employees desks are raised to ceiling height, forcing them to clock off.

Failing to manage employee burnout could see an organisation could fall into a never ending cycle of disruption. Yet as staff burnout is a complex issue intertwined with diverse factors, managing the cause and effects may not be simple. Having the right employment strategy in place from the moment an employee commences their new role is a key element in the fight against reducing or eliminating the damaging elements that trigger burnout. It is an area of staff management that is worth investigation for to remain competitive in today’s business environment we need a solid, high performing workforce that is continuously motivated to reaching new heights.

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