Psychologists Leiter, Schaufeli and Maslach (2001) identified an unmanageable workload as one of the primary contributors to employee burnout. It leads to health problems and impaired performance – and can become chronic. Employees are most at risk when they have too much work and a negative or cynical mindset towards it. So how can we prevent this debilitating response and manage our team’s workloads better?
Set a realistic workload
Bakker, Demerouti and Sanz-Vergel (2014) identified two main causes of burnout: situational and personal factors. While personal factors include personality type, self-esteem and socioeconomic status, situational factors are ones like workload and pressure, which can – and should – be picked up on by HR and management immediately.
Be aware of managers’ expectations – are they realistic? Do you have an overall picture of what targets are being set across your organisation? Regular productivity analysis and employee surveys can help you keep on top of workload as well as outputs. Make sure your managers are setting short term goals too – say, every fortnight. These will help employees see the progress they’re making regularly.
Keep resources up-to-date
The saying “a poor workman always blames his tools” ignores the fact that there really are some shoddy tools out there. Working with out-of-date software, slow computers and even uncomfortable chairs can drag down your employees and make their workload less manageable.
It’s worth remembering Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory. Do you have his hygiene factors – the things that prevent your workplace from becoming a negative environment – in place? For example, unhelpful IT systems may be one drip too many in the stress bucket. Carry out workplace audits to ensure employees have the resources they need.
Be mindful of employee engagement
Leiter et al identified employee engagement as the positive antithesis of burnout: engaged colleagues are less likely to experience the alienation that leads to this condition and employees are less likely to leave.
Encouraging accomplishment is a key aspect of both developing employee engagement and discouraging burnout. Your staff can gain a sense of accomplishment from managing their own workload. Encourage your team to set their own agendas and use their individual talents and as much as possible. They’ll gain a sense of accomplishment from choosing how they reach their targets, while at the same time taking ownership of their own workload.
While these are some preventative steps you can take, burnout is a serious issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If an employee expresses concern about it, make sure to figure out the root causes together (this could be fairness, control, community or values for example) and plan individual steps on how to overcome these. Take a look at our guide on how else you can help your team avoid burnout here too.