How To Address Employee Burnout

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Burnout happens to the best of us:  according to a Gallup study, about two-thirds of full-time employees have reported feeling burnt out at work.  And while there may be some comfort in knowing that burnout is relatively widespread in the workplace, for employers, the effects are still alarming.  Burnt out employees are more likely to call in sick, lose confidence in their role, and to search for another job opportunity. While burnout is a serious concern for any organization, it can be especially painful at startups, where employees are oftentimes required to wear multiple hats, work late, and become personally invested in the company, sometimes to a fault.  


Fortunately, burnout has some pretty obvious signs, and with the right office culture, it’s totally possible to fix it.  Read below to find out more on what causes burnout, and what you can do to fight back!


Learn To Say No


Are you routinely staying late at the office? Is your Gmail calendar perpetually time-blocked on the projects you need to finish?  Is your to-do list longer at the end of the day then when you first started? These are the signs of a well-intentioned, hard-working employee that has taken on too much work.  But burnout from being overworked can quickly ruin even the happiest employee’s morale as they start to feel like every day is a fire drill and dictated by all the requests happening outside of their control.  


We want to say “yes” because it’s in our nature to help as much as we can, plus there’s an opportunity to impress our coworkers by showing how valuable we are.  But time is a fixed resource, and oftentimes adding another project at work means taking time away from something you’re currently working on. These tradeoffs aren’t always seen by whoever is asking for help, or even by your manager, so it’s important to communicate tradeoffs before taking on new work:  “project X sounds like a priority, and I’m happy to help. It’s going to take me at least a week to get through it, so I’m going to need to de-prioritize project Y. If that sounds good, let me know and I’ll get started.”


This isn’t to say that anyone should go out of their way to help or to take on more work.  Before doing so, you should weigh your own bandwidth. Will taking this project on impact my ability to do everything else I need to do?  Is it important enough that it should de-prioritize my other tasks? Am I the best person for this, or is there someone with either more bandwidth or a better skillset?  


Make A Plan


No matter how much you love your job, there will be times that it feels like...well, a job.  Perhaps the work becomes repetitive, or you don’t feel like you’re being challenged. When an employee starts to feel stuck in a rut, they can quickly become disillusioned with their company and bored with what they do.  When this happens, it’s important to take a step back, look at where your career is currently, and look at the bigger picture to determine where you want your career to go. This can give you ideas on what you need to do to get there.


Once this is done, speak to your boss about your career, and collaborate together on a development plan.  Come up with the goals, projects, and tasks that are most important to the business and set timelines to finish them.  You should also agree to what achieving these goals will result in: a bonus, a raise, a performance review, a promotion, etc.  


There’s a couple reasons that you should always have a plan, regardless of whether or not you’re burnt out.  First, it gets alignment between you and your manager on what’s most important for you to work on. If something urgent comes up and de-prioritizes a long-term goal, it’s much clearer to both parties, and your plan can be adjusted accordingly.  Second, it gives you something to work towards, especially if it’s a performance review or promotion. Burnout can oftentimes be a result of feeling like you’re doing the same thing over and over with no end in sight. A development plan gives you a clear finish line on what to work towards.  

Stop Bringing Work Home


This isn’t about doing actual work after you leave the office; that should be addressed by learning to say no.  We’re talking about how too much time is spent by office workers after they head home just reliving all of the worst moments of your workday.  No one is paying you to obsess over what you should have said during that meeting, or to get mad during dinner at the fire that could have been prevented if someone had just talked to you before sending that email.  It’s important for your own health that you learn how to leave work at the office. If an employee doesn’t, then it doesn’t matter what job they take or where they work, they will inevitably burn themselves out.


If you’re burnt out and your vacation is maxed out, there’s a problem.  Go on vacation, and put the phone away. (And if your role has become so critical to day-to-day operations that you can’t take a vacation, then the company has an even bigger problem to fix). 

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