Burned Up Over Burnout?

Some managers may not even notice a problem with employee burnout or consider that it’s only temporary during crunch time. Sadly, that may not be the case.

It’s easy for employees to become cynical about employee motivation when they experience what I call “Faux Inspiration”—the corporate posters with motivational sayings that don’t match the mood and actions of management. This is all too common now when pressures to produce meet tightened deadlines and scarcer resources.

Some managers may not even notice a problem with employee burnout or consider that it’s only temporary during crunch time. Sadly, that may not be the case. While some symptoms are obvious, like increased sick days, missed deadlines or chronic lateness, others, according to the Mayo Clinic, are more subtle and include increased irritability, impatience with colleagues or clients, and a lack of energy, initiative, enthusiasm or difficulty concentrating.

Although they may seem the same, burnout and stress are somewhat different. Stress involves too many physical or psychological demands—some of which have nothing to do with the workplace, although it surely has an impact. Burnout, on the other hand, may be caused by stress, but often involves feeling empty and apathetic, feeling cynical or uncaring and taking the path of least resistance about work issues. What you can do:

Model the attitude. As a manager, you should watch your own mood: It can affect your whole team. Stay positive and remain upbeat, and it will rub off on your team.

Take the time for some one on one. Check in with team members individually to see how they are doing, offer encouragement or troubleshoot for problems you can help solve.

Build positive relationships. Provide a time and place, away from work, and get to know your team. Remember to not talk about work.

Set clear goals and a reasonable approach to achieve it. While it’s always good to have a personal “stretch goal,” when leading others people need to see clearly what is expected of them, how they are going to reach the goal and the encouragement to believe that it’s possible.

Be enthusiastic about each person’s contribution. Recognizing and acknowledging when employees are doing well costs a bit of time and attention, but goes a long way towards making a worker feel validated and valued. Positive feedback, gift cards, an e-mail, or a weekly round up of achievements can help keep morale high.

Focus on employee strengths. While it’s tempting and easy to point out weaknesses, it’s more productive to focus on employees’ strengths and develop them. Not only will you see better results; you’ll have a happier team because they will feel they are doing what they’re best at and performing at a high level.

Support your team. When you remove obstacles to employee productivity, you are demonstrating your support for their efforts and your desire to help them develop their skills and talents. Your team will know you’ve got them covered.

Model the behavior you want. If you’re telling people to meet deadlines while missing your own, or asking for extra effort while leaving work early, you’re sending the wrong message and demotivating your employees.

Relinquish some control. Employees who feel disempowered—who feel they have no control over their working situations—are more likely to encounter burnout. While taking time for some “one on one” with your team members, be aware of any feedback that indicates you need to loosen your grip a bit. Sharing the authority and decision making gives all team members a sense of control that counters the apathy that comes with burnout.

Many managers make the mistake of thinking a bonus or a raise is sufficient to keep employees motivated. Other managers save the “atta boys” for the annual review. The pressures of the modern workplace, however, are constant. A smart manager understands this and takes steps to encourage a workplace culture that supports and encourages employees through the demanding times. Even small gestures can have a big impact, and when
you help others shine, the light reflects back on you, too.

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the “Cheetah Success Series” and a keynote speaker and industry thought leader. E-mail her at marketing@cheetahlearning.com.