You can see the signs: More than a few people on your team have seemed disconnected from their work lately. Their performance is lackluster, and they don't seem excited about their projects. Some of them are just downright bored, and can't wait to run out the door at the end of the day. They're burning out, and you're starting to fear that you won't be able to hold onto them.
This problem doesn't exist just in your company. According to research by business communication software company Bolste, only 25 percent of employees report being "extremely happy, motivated and stimulated" by their current jobs — and another quarter of them are unhappy, unmotivated or indifferent.
As you might expect, unhappy employees don't just stick around and remain unhappy. Many of them plan to move on: Nearly half of Bolste's survey respondents indicated that they would be actively looking for jobs, and about 20 percent said they would "most likely" or "definitely" change jobs in 2016. Similar research from Staples Advantage found that burnout will motivate nearly 40 percent of employees to look for a new job.
What's going on? Why is the majority of today's workforce less than completely satisfied in their current environment? We spoke with business leaders and collaboration experts about employees' biggest frustrations, and what organizations can do to fix them. [See Related Story: Don't Burn Out! 9 Stress-Busting Tips]
One of the most common employee grievances across the board is dealing with too many emails. Some emails are necessary, but often these communications are nothing more than an administrative burden, leading to a pileup in people's inboxes. In fact, two-thirds of the Bolste survey respondents said that 21 percent or more of the work emails they receive are irrelevant to them.
"Employees are busier than ever, and what is unfortunate, is some of these 'grunt work' tasks are an important part of businesses, especially those that involve coordination and communication between teams, clients and additional outside parties," said Barnaby Lashbrooke, CEO and founder of virtual assistant service Time etc. "This creates a cycle of additional work that takes up a ton of time, yet doesn't necessarily feel very important."
Lashbrooke suggested that employers use communication apps like Slack or Bolste to cut down on email exchanges. With chat-based programs, you can quickly and easily check in with employees to see what they have on their plate and help to eliminate anything that isn’t absolutely necessary, he said.
The dreaded "status update meeting" is the bane of many employees' workdays. These meetings force people to take time out of their schedules to discuss progress on a project or initiative in person or via conference call, even though the same information could be disseminated in the form of a group email.
It's not just the meetings themselves that eat away at workers' precious time. A report by project management software company Clarizen found that 56 percent of employees spend nearly as much time preparing for status meetings as they do attending them. Once they do get there, most of them aren't even fully paying attention, with nearly three-quarters of survey respondents admitting to multitasking during meetings.
Despite employees' complaints, Angela (Chen) Bunner, senior director of product at Clarizen, said many companies find it hard to break with the tradition of holding these meetings, because they simply don't have a better alternative for keeping the team up to date. She advised looking into a communication or collaboration solution that can eliminate the need for unnecessary progress update meetings.
"The most painful part [for employees] is taking time from doing work to report on work," Bunner said. "A growing number of companies are finding it far more effective to adopt collaborative work management systems that help people get their jobs done while automatically generating the reports and status updates. Shared collaboration in context of each task, document or project, that's accessible 24/7 no matter where team members are, can go a long way to ease their frustration."
Lashbrooke noted that, to help your employees catch up on their workload, another solution is to designate one or two specific days each week that are free of meetings and calls.
"Ultimately, it all comes back to promoting activities that support company growth and professional development, and paring down anything that creates additional busywork," Lashbrooke said.
Lack of breaks
Do your employees take lunch breaks, or even just get away from their desk for a few minutes? If they don't, they're not alone: The Staples Advantage survey found that nearly half of employees eat lunch at their desks, and approximately the same percentage feel like they cannot get up for a break at all. Constant connectivity through mobile devices doesn't help, either, and only serves to reduce employees' respite from work during off-hours.
"Today's technological advances and competitive landscape in the workforce have dictated that breaks are becoming rare," said Kerry Anne Carter, vice president of sales at Staples Advantage. "With employees working longer days and on weekends, the biggest request for employers is to provide more flexibility. It's important to encourage a workplace culture where people feel free to take a break when they need to, and discourage a culture where people feel under pressure to remain at their desks to demonstrate that they're constantly working."
If your company doesn't already have a formal telecommuting policy, Carter advised implementing one to allow employees to incorporate personal time into traditional work hours. For when your workers are physically in the office, an inviting and well-stocked break room will send the message that it's OK to step away from work for a bit, Carter said.
No voice in the company
Of all the challenges employees face in the modern workplace, this one is perhaps the most important. Feeling empowered at work is a huge part of job satisfaction, and may even help to mitigate some of the above-listed frustrations. And yet, some companies still fall behind when it comes to making their employees feel appreciated and heard.
The habits of meetings, emails and a 24-hour work cycle may take some time to break. But if you want to make your employees happier right now, all you have to do is start listening to them and taking their concerns seriously.
"Employees need to feel valued from their very first day," Bolste's CEO Leif Hartwig said. "[To] increase employee contentment ... listen to their ideas and feedback. In an enriching work environment, employees should feel empowered to voice their concerns and to suggest better ways of getting the job done."