People often see stress as something that affects individuals, but employee burnout can harm companies as a whole. Stressed-out employees make more mistakes, work more slowly and react more aggressively. They take more time off to recover from the stress of work. These things lead to decreased productivity and a failure to meet goals.
"Your business can suffer dramatically from a resulting lack of customer service, uncompleted projects, orders not being placed or a noticeable decline in sales," Michelle Reynolds wrote in a Chron article.
While people experience stress from many parts of their lives, employers can take steps to help limit burnout in the workplace.
Watch the hours
Recent changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictate that U.S. employees earning a salary of less than $47,476 must track hours and be paid for overtime. Although a U.S. District Court has placed an injunction on these regulations for the moment, it's wise to start enforcing this rule and discouraging employees from doing work off the clock. If your employees are not governed under the FLSA, then encourage work-life balance in other ways.
"As a manager, it's a reasonable to say, 'I hope you're doing things to take care of yourself,'" said Brit Poulson, a leadership development coordinator who consults with Fortune 500 companies.
This alone highlights to your employees that you care, and it may get them to think about how to nurture themselves.
At the office, make sure your employees take regular breaks that give them a chance to de-stress. The American Management Association recommended that employees leave their desks, stretch, take walks or go somewhere quiet to relax for a few minutes.
Keep workloads realistic
Reasonable hours mean nothing if there's too much work to be done. "What burns people out the fastest is not what they're doing, but what they're not getting done," said Poulson.
He gave the example of a company that restricted hours without adjusting workload.
"The employees were working 40 hours a week, but they were stressing over the work that wasn't getting done," he said. "That's what made them want to leave."
One way to combat this is to simply say no to projects that would increase your team's workload, Poulson said.
"Declare what you're not doing," he advised. "It's surprising the sense of relief when a leader says, 'Project X is a great idea, but we're not doing it. We don't have the resources.'"
This also reassures employees that someone is in charge and willing to make the hard decisions.
Create a supportive culture
While there's nothing wrong with a pool table or monthly birthday celebration, the most effective business cultures build a camaraderie toward a shared mission, Poulson said.
"Create a culture where you're winning, where you're doing something good or helping people," said Poulson. "There's less burnout where there's meaning."
Sometimes, you have to make sure the employees understand the long-term winning strategy. Poulson gave the example of a company that was undergoing a serious restructure resulting in layoffs, cuts in resources and a slowdown of results. It was important, he said, for the leadership to acknowledge the hits, but to let their employees know how the changes positioned the company to succeed in the long run.
Poulson said employees need to be reminded that no idea is a bad one. Even when an idea is not pursued, it can trigger something else, he said.
From how employees decorate their desks to how they complete assignments, allow some creative freedom, as long as standards are met. Encourage employee input, and, if possible, provide time and resources for meaningful, work-related side projects. Poulson noted that many companies now set aside time each week when employees can work on their own projects, as long as those efforts further the company's goals.
Employers can't remove all the stress of their employees' lives, but by following a few basic principles, companies can make the workplace a source of purpose, focus and camaraderie that can help prevent employee burnout.