Team leaders need to strike a delicate balance. On the one hand, you need to motivate your employees to perform above and beyond their own expectations. On the other hand, you need to accept that they are human beings. It is possible to push them too hard, and this can result in burnout.
Even strong team members may lose their motivation and enthusiasm if they are overburdened with work. Unfortunately, your most valuable and ambitious workers may also be those least likely to vocalize their concerns and speak up when they’re facing a wall. People who are driven to succeed often dislike admitting they’re struggling to keep up with their workload.
As a leader it’s your responsibility to guard against burnout. Here’s how you can help your employees stay happy and engaged.
Help Them Focus
Some people can shift easily from one task to another throughout their day, or complete a major assignment in between attending meetings and firing off emails throughout the day. Such people are rare. Research consistently indicates that very few people have the ability to successfully multitask. That’s right—multitasking is a myth.
If you think you can split your attention between multiple tasks at once, you’re probably getting less done, becoming more stressed, and doing worse than you would if you concentrated on one thing at a time. Many people don’t even realize they are multi-tasking. While they may indeed only work on one project at a time, they’re still checking their email and chats throughout the day. Every time you take your focus from one task to another, you must spend time re-focusing when you return to the initial task. Altogether, multi-tasking is a great way to burn yourself out on the job.
Of course, you cannot force your employees to stop multi-tasking, but you can create a work environment where people have the time and space to focus on projects without a million distractions. Consider offering private spaces or “quiet rooms” in the office where people can bury themselves in a project when they really need to focus. Alternatively, you can allow employees to work from home at least some of the time.
Focus also on building a culture that allows people to log off when they need to get things done—don’t expect people to always be on email or their work chat, or to respond immediately. Set a good example by taking time off when possible. Your approach to meetings should also be examined. Does your team meet too often? Would people get more done if they didn’t have to attend meetings so frequently?
Even your office design can contribute to your employees’ ability to focus. Open office layouts were once universally considered preferable to the traditional, cubicle-based office floor plan. The open environment appears airier and brighter, and it encourages collaboration. While open offices may have some benefits, they are now being re-evaluated with a more critical eye. There’s some evidence that they can actually make employees feel more stressed and less productive, in part because there’s no privacy. Additionally, hearing your neighbor’s every conversation is obviously distracting.
Open offices can be particularly problematic for people who work in creative fields. One 2018 survey of creatives indicated that 65 percent of them needed quiet or silence to do their best work. You may want to rethink your office floor plan; you may not want to bring back the cubicles, but you might at least consider how you can incorporate more private areas into the space.
Research consistently indicates that employees are far more engaged when they feel their opinions are heard. It’s easy to feel burnt out and dissatisfied when you feel like your manager or the company leadership does not care what you think.
Your team members almost certainly have feedback for you. That doesn’t mean they naturally feel comfortable sharing it, however. Some workers assume they’ll be shut down, ignored, or even retaliated against if they offer criticism.
Guard against this by scheduling regular individual meetings with your team members. Clearly and directly let them know that you value their informed opinions, and that you want to know what they think, even if it’s negative. Initially, they may be reluctant to express their concerns. Over time, however, they’ll likely grow more comfortable communicating honestly with you.
Research Compensation Packages
Providing employees with competitive compensation packages is key to both attracting and retaining strong team members. A 2017 survey by Future Workplace and software company Kronos found that unfair compensation is one of the top contributors to employee burnout.
It’s important to remember that although an employee may have received a “fair” compensation package when they were hired, the situation can change over time. While your ability to offer raises depends on your budget, don’t forget to at least review your team’s compensation packages regularly and compare them with industry averages and your competitors’, if possible.
Examine Your Team’s Workload
All of these tips will help you avoid burnout among your employees. However, it’s still important to focus on a more basic, yet extremely common cause of burnout, according to the Future Workplace/Kronos study: an unreasonable workload.
What counts as “unreasonable” is somewhat subjective, but if your employees are complaining about their workload and calling in sick more often, arriving late, displaying signs of apathy or anger, and performing below your expectations, they’re probably right. These are all signs of burnout.
To help them, you might need to look at your organizational structure and think more critically about roles, responsibilities, and workflows. These can be reconfigured to help employees cope. In addition, look for inefficiencies or misplaced priorities—is your team wearing itself out on needless work or pointless procedures? Have you prioritized projects accurately? Is there some technology solution that would make life easier for everyone? In some cases, you may need to look at your staffing levels and see if expansion is merited, whether that means full-time staff or contractors. Finally, you may need to reset your own expectations and ensure that they are realistic, based on your team’s abilities. It’s good to challenge your employees, but it’s also possible to ask too much of people.