In an earlier era, employers were conditioned to see their employees as human-like machines. The more these employees gave to the company and the less they required in return, the better. To the limits of what the law would allow, employers demanded as much as they could get away with and paid as little as their employees would accept, and they called it “winning.” But in recent decades, we’ve learned a great deal more about the intersections between high productivity and physical, mental, emotional, and social health. It turns out that our predecessors had the equation backward. Happier and healthier employees are the ones who produce the most, not those who are squeezed the hardest. With that in mind, preventing burnout should top the priority list for employers who care about productivity. Here’s how to stop burnout before it stops your business.

Watch habits and patterns, not their effects.

If you wait until you spot the symptoms of burnout before taking action, you’ve waited too long. If burnout isn’t on your radar until your teams literally get sick, stay home, quarrel constantly, or submit their resignations, you’ve missed your moment. Instead, look for the behaviors that LEAD to burnout in the future, and redirect those behaviors. Don’t let employees stay late frequently, take on more than they can handle, or accept forced choices between missed deadlines versus sub-par work. If you see these things happening, head them off. Redistribute workloads, send employees home at night, and require intervals of breaks and rest.

Check in every few weeks at a minimum.

Once every two weeks or so, sit down with each employee and ask how he or she feels about their current workload. As they answer, read between the lines and take action. Learn to interpret their words. “I think I can handle it…I mean, I guess I probably can” is NOT a sign that all is well. It means it’s time to look closer and make some changes.

Recognize that your employees won’t announce their burnout.

Most employees try to hide the signs of overwork and fatigue, and they have trouble saying no to more work when their plates are full. But when they hide or mask the truth regarding their available bandwidth, this helps no one. It doesn’t help the employee, the team, or the company. So, encourage honesty instead of heroism. This is especially important for employees who feel sick with colds or flu, and for employees who are starting to cut corners, miss deadlines, or make stress-related mistakes. Require these employees to go home, rest, or hand off projects; don’t expect them to ask.

For more on how to monitor the approach of burnout and head it off before it undermines your profits or productivity, turn to the management pros at Extension.


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