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5 Simple Tips to Prevent Employee Stress and Burnout
The world is a complicated place. Each and every person struggles with their life, from the pressures of their careers to the weight of family, to the burden of factors outside of their control. The global pandemic has brought this into the forefront, with many millions of people pushed to the breaking point or beyond as their jobs shuffle around, layoffs roll through many industries, and uncertainty reaches all-time highs.
Stress and burnout are some of the biggest concerns that employees and employers share in times like these. Good employers take steps to minimize stress and alleviate burnout, but many companies don't know where to begin. Thus, we've put together a list of five tips that can help prevent employee burnout.
1: Offer Employees a Good Work/Life Balance
In most cases, burnout in employees comes down to a simple lack of balance in life. There are only 24 hours in a given day. Consider everything a given employee may need to deal with in those 24-hours.
- Sleep, which takes up 6-8 hours minimum.
- Daily routine, including waking up, bathing, dressing, and more; another hour.
- Eating. Three meals a day can easily take two hours, especially if cooking healthier foods.
- Family duties. Caring for children and attending to a spouse can be several more hours every day.
- Commuting. A commute can be an hour or more each direction, every day for some people.
- Appointments. Whether it's a medical check-up, a therapy session, or any other similar arrangement, these can be dramatic disruptions to a day, depending on how inconvenient and time-consuming they are.
- Chores. Houses need cleaning, laundry and dishes need doing, groceries need buying.
It's easy to see why an employer that places steep demands on their employees will lead to many more employees burning out due to the stress. Even in the past, with an 8-hour workday, people burned out. Today, companies push for 9 hours as a default, many demand 12-hour shifts, and there may be overtime or on-call duties to attend to as well. On top of that, many people bring their work home with them, working on completing tasks despite the time being uncompensated otherwise.
On top of all of this, you may notice some things missing from the list. Where is time spent relaxing? Where is time spent on hobbies, hanging out with friends, or taking day trips? All too often, stress reduction gets treated as a luxury the average employee cannot afford.
All of this has only gotten worse as companies switched to working from home due to the pandemic while still leveraging steep requirements on their employees' time. Employees, meanwhile, no longer even get the mental divide of work versus not-work afforded by a commute and suffer continual distractions from their home life as they try to work.
A good work/life balance is the best thing for reducing employee stress overall. Set clear boundaries that work is not to be taken home or done outside of work hours, don't push schedules or extend shifts, and give employees time to rest and recharge.
2: Provide Flexibility for Each Employee's Needs
This is more of an issue in mid-size and larger organizations than smaller businesses and startups. However, it can still be a problem with any business that does not adequately think about the benefits they give their employees.
Consider that every person is different and that their lives, living situations, daily requirements, financial stability, mental well-being, health, and everything else about them is unique. Every person deserves equitable treatment, not equal treatment.
A clear demonstration of equality versus equity can be seen in the fence example. Imagine a situation with a baseball game where three attendees want to watch from outside the arena. A fence blocks them. One of the attendees is tall and can see over the fence. Another is shorter and cannot. The third is a child who cannot see over the fence either.
In an "equal" environment, each individual is given a tool, the same across the board, to treat each person equally. Each person is given a box. The tall person does not need it; they can already see. The mid-height person can use it and can now see over the fence. Even standing on the box, the shortest person is still too short to see over the fence.
In equitable treatment, each individual is given a customized solution to help them see the game. The shortest is given a ladder, the middle is given a box, and the tall is not given anything, as they do not need it.
Of course, the example can get taken further; a truly just solution may be to remove the fence, so the barrier is removed rather than worked around. That's a discussion for another day.
The point is every person is unique in their needs to avoid stress and burnout. Companies that provide a one-size-fits-all solution will not solve or address the problem.
- Offering flexible work-from-home hours may benefit some employees, but those who are "essential" and cannot work from home gain no benefit, and those who already work remotely gain nothing.
- Offering extended family leave benefits people with families, but does not benefit those without families.
Take the time to discuss the unique needs of each employee with them, and offer them flexible support to handle whatever challenges they need to handle. Whether it's a raise, time off, flexible hours, a childcare stipend, or something else, you should be able to provide it to lighten the load.
3: Invest in Stress Reduction Training
An unfortunate reality is that many people who experience stress compounding on a daily basis do so not because they are "weak" or because their stress is excessive, but because they do not know how to handle it. Thus, a good option for a business is to invest in training for stress management.
Stress can never fully get eliminated. No matter what, there will always be events and aggravations that lead to stress in your employees. Moreover, these stress triggers will vary from person to person. Some people may be aggravated by disruptions, some by noises or phone calls, some by time pressure. A huge part of stress management is learning to recognize precisely what is causing stress in the first place.
Our First Aid for Stress Activity Collection is one such example of training you can invest in for your business. This is a training product that includes 34 different activities, guided and designed to raise awareness and mindfulness of stress triggers and events. The first aid kit includes an in-depth description of stress management techniques, as well as options for avoiding, reducing, or coping with stressors. Each activity is accompanied by a detailed explanation of the purpose it serves. The library as a whole can be used to help promote more mindfulness, less stress, and a healthier lifestyle amongst your employees.
4: Promote Awareness of Conflict Reactions
Another of the most prominent sources of stress in the workplace is conflict. Conflict can crop up in many forms. Perhaps the most common is an interpersonal conflict between employees. Whether two employees don't like each other, communicate in different ways that each interprets as disrespectful, or compete with one another in a mean-spirited way, these kinds of conflicts ratchet up the stress for them and those around them. Not only do these employees have higher stress levels, but everyone who has to work with them, their managers, their reports, and everyone around them is affected as well.
Conflict can also arise with outside entities. Partners, vendors, and customers are not always on the same page, and sometimes communication breaks down. It's easy to shift blame, induce conflict, or find problems where no problems exist.
Another excellent form of stress reduction and training that an employer can implement is conflict-avoidance and awareness. Different people, when faced with conflict, react in different ways. Some get angry and yell, some fight, some shut down and simmer, plotting revenge, and some turn submissive. All of these can increase stress in unique ways.
The Conflict Style Assessment and Training Workshop is a potent training inventory for precisely these kinds of situations. It is a test and training module that helps individuals learn their reaction to conflict, how that reaction may be unhealthy, and how they can adapt to a healthier and more successful means of avoiding conflict.
Each form of conflict strategy – integration, compromise, competition, smoothing, and avoidance – has healthy and unhealthy ways of using it to handle conflict in the workplace. This training module helps identify which proclivity your employees have and how to leverage it positively.
5: Find Meaning in Work
Perhaps one of the most overlooked forms of stress in the workplace is the stress of feeling impotent, worthless, and meaningless.
Many employees, particularly those working for larger businesses, may feel as though they are spinning their wheels. Do any of these sound familiar?
- "My job is just putting numbers into spreadsheets, a piece of software could do it, and I'd be out of a job."
- "Nothing I do makes a difference; my accomplishments are downplayed, and the things I do are ignored or forgotten."
- "This company doesn't do anything meaningful. I want to change the world, not manufacture shoes."
Employees experience dissatisfaction in work in three primary ways.
First, they may see that their role within the organization is meaningless. Employees whose jobs could get replaced with software, employees whose role feels like busywork, and so on. These employees need reinforcement and an explanation of how meaningful their work truly is to their team and to the company as a whole.
Second, they may feel that their company is not doing anything to benefit the world around them. Many people, particularly those in the millennial generation, want their careers to affect meaningful change for the better. In some industries, this is easy. In others, it can feel as though they do nothing but enrich the wealthy and suppress the already broken. Finding the greater good that the company does, and promoting it, can be a beneficial channel.
Third, the employee may feel as though their career is going nowhere. It doesn't matter if they put in the bare minimum or if they go the extra mile; they'll never get a promotion or anything more than a token raise if that. They're under-appreciated, and they have no path to advancement. In most cases, this leads to turnover, as the employee leaves for greener pastures and a company that presumably, appreciates them more.
Identifying the source of dissatisfaction and addressing it can be a crucial aspect of helping employees feel as though they're part of something greater and that the work they do is meaningful, which can help push aside other sources of stress.
Stress Cannot Be Solved
Stress will always exist. The best you can do as a business owner is identify ways to train employees to handle stress better, reduce conflict and sources of stress they may be responsible for, and provide them with the feedback and benefits necessary to manage other non-work-related stressors throughout their lives.
Remember, a company is part of a greater whole as part of the employee's life. To some, the job may not even be in the top five most important aspects of their lives. If the stress mounts up, performance can drop, morale can fall, and burnout can lead to catastrophe. Alternatively, employees may quit to find a less stressful position or take the time to recover. Whatever the case may be, companies that can navigate the issue and promote stress reduction to their employees have a much lower risk of burnout and all it entails.
Do you have any questions or concerns about preventing your employees from experiencing stress or burnout? Please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every comment, question, or concern we receive and would be more than happy to assist you and your company however we can.