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November 16, 2020

5 key steps managers can take to address workplace burnout

Given the unique and incredibly stressful events that we’ve endured over the last six months, it’s no surprise that as a result, many employees have experienced symptoms of workplace stress and burnout, such as mental fatigue, energy depletion, irritability and reduced productivity. This year’s events have exacerbated our everyday stressors, and for team members who are new to working from home or who might be trying to balance work life with caring for children, the boundaries between work and home are often blurred. Employees may be working longer or at unusual hours as many feel pressure from both managers and family to be available on demand.

The effects of burnout aren’t limited to the workplace however, and can take an emotional and physical toll on a person’s body, which can negatively impact relationships and the entire family. While burnout stems from chronic workplace stress, there are a number of things employers can do to support employees to prevent or lessen symptoms of burnout.

  1. Create a supportive environment: Start by taking a hard look at your office culture - is it one where employees feel valued and cared for? One where they would feel comfortable asking for help? Understand that in addition to their regular job demands, many workers are dealing with stress and anxiety associated with the global health pandemic and the logistical challenges it has posed. In addition, the ongoing fight against racial injustices and the polarizing political climate can increase feelings of isolation, fear and anxiety. Employers should pause to acknowledge both the collective and individual struggles employees are facing and show compassion and understanding of their unique needs. One way of showing compassion is through your communication efforts. Consider sending positive notes of recognition and encouragement that come directly from senior leaders and direct managers. Employees might be more willing to seek help if they know their manager acknowledges their experiences. It’s also a good idea to continue employee resource group meetings virtually and create a peer check-in system to support this effort.
  2. Spot the symptoms of burnout: Stress and burnout can manifest itself in many different ways. While one person may become more sensitive and visibly anxious, others may show signs of irritability or low energy. An employee that is otherwise engaged and high performing may seem disconnected and uninterested or they may have increased absences and miss deadlines. Front-line managers are often the first people to notice that an employee is struggling. Train managers to recognize the signs and symptoms and to approach employees with care and compassion. Providing them with support and equipping them with the tools and resources they need will help to foster and promote more productive conversations between both managers and employees. 
  3. Evaluate your resources and know what’s available to you: It’s important for managers to be aware of resources, such as those offered by an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), so they can regularly remind their team of all that is available to them. Take a look at the scope of your EAP. Does it include access to virtual and face-to-face counseling sessions? Get creative on how you promote your resources - EAPs are typically underutilized, so it’s important to make it visible and incorporate regular promotion in your overall communications strategy. Other resources that are particularly relevant at this time include telehealth and tools to help parents find tutoring resources and child care options. If you find that your resources are inadequate, reach out to your benefits consultants and wellbeing professionals to help you evaluate possible vendor partners to add to your benefits portfolio.
  4. Encourage self-care: Remind employees that their wellbeing is top priority. Encourage employees to take time for themselves and their families. Regularly ask employees how they are doing and about their workload so you can make adjustments and offer additional support as needed. For example, make reasonable accommodations and offer flexible work arrangements. Whether it’s taking breaks throughout the day or spending time helping kids with homework – if employees know their managers’ support their needs, it will help foster a culture of wellbeing. For those that are physically together, provide a safe, private space for employees to take a mental health break, unwind and re-center themselves. At a minimum, managers should encourage use of PTO and other benefits.
  5. Boost workplace wellbeing: While providing opportunities for employees to get active, like offering virtual or in-person fitness classes, is great, understand that employee wellbeing encompasses much more than just physical health. It’s feeling financially secure, having healthy supportive relationships and feeling that you have a sense of purpose. Feeling socially connected is needed now more than ever, as many organizations continue to work remotely. Try to schedule virtual or in person coffee meet-ups and team building activities to help promote connectivity. These might be for fun or for a specific reason, like celebrating an employee’s achievement or milestone. If you are looking for a theme or activity - professional or personal development can be a great way to boost wellbeing as well. Topics may range from financial planning to boundary setting or building resiliency. Remind employees of your company’s vision and mission, and how each member of the team contributes to its success.

As you begin to think about what strategies you will implement to support employees, try to put yourself in your teammates’ shoes. Reach out and ask employees what they need or what you can do for them to make “showing up” to work each day a positive and fulfilling experience. Of course, employers cannot completely eliminate the workplace stressors that contribute to employee burnout, but taking intentional steps to show employees that you care about them as individuals may be the most important role you play as a leader.

Reprinted with permission from the October 27, 2020 edition of Benefitspro.com � 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

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