How to prevent staff burning out

Why encouraging staff to lead a healthy lifestyle simply isn't enough

How to prevent staff burning out

Much has been written about burnout recently, but equally important is the phenomenon of organisational burnout – something that exercise, healthy eating and good sleep hygiene simply doesn’t address. When you consider the so-called “great resignation” that is now occurring, it becomes even more important for workplaces to ensure staff are comfortable and confident in their roles. MPA spoke with performance coach Andrew May from StriveStronger and neuroscientist Paul Taylor of The Mind-Body-Brain Performance Institute about organisational burnout and the ways brokers can help to prevent against this.

What causes organisational burnout?

“Organisational burnout is cultural,” Andrew May told MPA. “It occurs when the organisation has lots of triggers like change, transformation, reorganisation, workforce inadequacies and asking too much of people.”

Things such as publicly recognising employees who have stayed back to work late can send the message that in order to be successful staff need to work long hours. Leaders sending emails over the weekend or at night sends a signal that staff are expected to work in their personal time. This behaviour can be problematic for a workplace culture because it puts pressure on staff to always “be on” and ready to work rather than using their personal time to unwind and recharge.

Since active recovery is an essential ingredient to prevent against burnout, according to May, it’s important that leaders act by example if they want their organisation to run efficiently.

Who is most at risk?

Paul Taylor told MPA that it has been well established through research that people who are lower down in the work hierarchy are more likely to suffer from burnout. This is because they have less autonomy and are in less control of their destiny. He said females tended to be more vulnerable to this.

“Females suffer more from burnout and their brains become impacted more,” he said. “There is a myriad of reasons for that. From a brain perspective, there is a theory that because in traditional societies women have been hunter/gathers and in charge of the children, you want their brains to be more sensitive to stress and danger.

“There’s a whole host of other factors that go into it. There’s understanding there is that pay gap and we know that pay has an impact on burnout. There’s also the fact that females tend to juggle more in terms of work duties and personal. They often do disproportionately more of the home duties, so they have that extra stress.”

How to prevent staff burning out

Taylor said to help staff avoid burning out it was important to address workplace culture by doing the following things.

1. Provide certainty

Part of the reason the pandemic caused so much stress and anxiety across the world was the level of uncertainty involved. People didn’t know if they would catch COVID, die from it or how their loved ones would be impacted. They also didn’t know how long they would be in lockdown for, whether the vaccine would cause any negative side effects, or even whether the vaccine would stop them from getting sick. Staff in a wide range of businesses also experienced a level of uncertainty around job security and the future of their particular industries.

Read more: Transparency is key to managing staff remotely

Taylor said it was important to provide as much certainty as possible for staff in order to lessen their apprehension around the role.

2. Give staff autonomy

Giving people autonomy is probably the most important thing for leaders to consider, said Taylor.

“Autonomy is basically having a say in how you do your job,” he said.

The opposite of this is micro-management – something that is highly stressful for staff to endure, he said.

“The worst thing that a manager can do is micromanage their people,” he said.

3. Ensure clarity of expectation

Giving clarity of expectation is crucial to ensure autonomy. Taylor said Gallop did a global survey on engagement in the workplace to find out what the biggest factor was in reducing the risk of burnout.

“The number one thing was clarity of expectation,” he said. “Making sure that you are really, really clear about what you expect of people and that they are clear as to what you expect of them.”

This is particularly important if there is a lot of stuff going on as it helps to prevent against feelings of being overwhelmed or swamped.

Read next: How to avoid post-lockdown burnout

4. Provide resources and feedback

Resources and good feedback are also key, said Taylor. Once the staff member has clarity on what you expect of them, having all the resources they need to do their job will enable them to execute their role in the best possible way. Checking in on them and offering positive feedback helps to reinforce the good job the staff member has been doing and promote a happier work culture.

5. Promote a healthy work/life balance

Make sure staff understand it is OK to leave work early from time to time, said Taylor. The best way to communicate this is to do it yourself.

“Leave the office early once or twice a week and do it loudly,” he said. “Say, ‘I’m leaving early because I have to pick my kids up’.

“The toxic workplace cultures are the ones where the people feel like they have to stay until the boss goes home. It’s very 80’s and 90’s but there are still workplaces that are like that.”