How Small Business Owners Can Prevent Employee Burnout

marketing plan templateIs your small business causing stress and employee burnout? Recognizing and preventing burnout will help with turnover rates and decreasing productivity.

Approximately 61% of Americans said that work was their biggest source of stress in 2017, according to the American Psychological Association. And when job stress increases or continues for a prolonged period of time, burnout often occurs.

Job burnout is an incredibly common problem and needs to be taken seriously. All too often, employees’ shortcomings are blamed for their inability to take the pressure. But according to many experts, the responsibility for burnout conditions may be the employer’s — and the onus may be on them to take the proper steps to address it.

Stressed, burned-out workers are bound to be less productive, less engaged, and unhappier with their jobs. Since disengaged and dissatisfied workers cost the North American business economy well over $350 billion every year in lost productivity, this isn’t a problem employers can afford to ignore. Burnout can also be blamed for significant medical costs: the health problems associated with burnout are estimated to cost $100 billion a year in healthcare spending throughout the United States. Individuals struggling with burnout tend to have higher rates of anxiety and depression, have significant trouble sleeping, and can be more prone to chronic health issues down the line.

So what can your organization do about it?

Unless you want to run an organization with high turnover rates, increased absences, and lower output, you’ll have to make burnout prevention a priority. First, it’s important to recognize the signs of burnout in your employees (and even in yourself). You’ll then need to take a hard look at your business and assess whether your organization is actually setting your employees up for burnout. Finally, you’ll need to take steps to avoid burnout in the work environment.



How to Recognize the Signs of Employee Burnout

Work stress is impossible to eliminate completely. But how can you tell whether prolonged stress is negatively impacting an employee?

    • Complaining or cynical attitude: Everyone complains about work at some point, but you should pay attention if an employee known for their positive, can-do attitude starts becoming more jaded or complains to excess about their job duties. A sudden shift to cynicism is a big red flag.
    • Disconnection from collaboration: Engaged employees are typically eager to offer feedback and work together with their peers to find a solution to shared problems. But employees who are feeling burned out will typically distance themselves from these situations and may even refuse to communicate like they used to.
    • Increased absences or general exhaustion: Emotional and physical exhaustion is a trademark of burnout, particularly if it’s prolonged. Because of the physical manifestation of burnout, employees may take more days off than usual, take longer lunches, or may display changes in their appearance. In fact, workplace stress causes approximately 1 million U.S. employees to miss work every day. And in some cases, their exhaustion can lead to major mistakes and even accidents when they are at work.

Is Your Business Part of the Problem?

Some business owners are under the impression that burnout is an individual problem, indicating that employees simply aren’t cut out for the job or they’re more prone to stress in general. But more times than not, the source of the issue lies within the organization itself.

For instance, an employer may have unrealistic expectations pertaining to workload or collaborative efforts. They could also be focusing on the wrong things, like encouraging high-performing workers while ignoring others.

According to a Gallup poll, only two out of 10 workers believe their manager is doing a good job of encouraging them to do their best work. Employers may also fail to encourage employees to take care of themselves. A recent Bridge by Instructure study found that only 33% of employees are encouraged to use their earned PTO and 11% are encouraged to use their sick days for mental health purposes.

What You Can Do to Help Employees Avoid Burnout

For the sake of your business’s success and the health of your employees, you need to make it a point to address burnout well before it occurs.

One way to do this is by reassuring your employees that they should use their paid time off and vacation days. American employees are very likely to leave their vacation days on the table, partially because they’re afraid using that time off will reflect badly on their performance. But if you encourage your employees to take a well-deserved vacation, you’ll actually be putting their health and the health of your business first. If you feel your small business’s time off policy may leave something to be desired, try to make viable improvements that can make a real difference for your employees.

Flexible work arrangements can make a big impact, too. Whether it’s giving employees an extra day off, allowing them to be less rigid with their schedule, or offering telecommuting options, your employees will be able to achieve a better work/life balance.

By improving manager-employee communications, you’ll also be able to gauge how stressed your employees are feeling. That way, your managers can address problems when they’re still on the smaller side. Ignoring these problems until the employee becomes too stressed to continue in their position will only lead to further issues; creating an honest and open culture can be a great start to burnout prevention.

Work stress will never be totally avoidable, but what you don’t know actually can hurt you (along with your employees and your business). By tackling burnout head-on, you may be able to improve employee health and overall satisfaction, reduce absenteeism and turnover, and create a work environment with sustainable productivity and success.




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Valerie M.

Valerie M. is a writer from Upstate New York. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from The State University of New York at Fredonia in 2016 and is currently working at a digital marketing agency where she writes blog posts for a variety of small businesses all over the country. Valerie enjoys writing about music, animals, nature, and traveling.