It’s an ironic story: the very same technology that is allowing employees to work with greater flexibility outside the office is also making them slaves to their jobs. It would not be an exaggeration to say employees feeling the burnout is now an epidemic. The physical and psychological effects of burnout cost companies $125 billion to $190 billion in healthcare costs alone. And that doesn’t even include losses associated with low productivity and employee turnover. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that in most cases, employee burnout is the result of company culture—not employee nerves. Which begs the question: what can today’s companies—and leaders—do about it?
It may not be possible to eliminate long days and last-minute requests from our employees’ work lives, but it’s definitely possible to change the culture in which they operate. Below are a few ideas to help reduce employees feeling the burnout in your company.
Make Balance a Company Value
We all know the statistics. People are far less efficient when they multi-task and actually become less efficient when working more than 50 hours per week. To help, companies need to make balance a central part of work culture. Further, leaders need to take a top-down approach to modeling that balance so employees know it’s truly OK to find it, as well.
Define Boundaries for Employees Feeling the Burnout
Boundaries don’t develop in silence. They work best when they’re communicated and adhered to across the board. Communicate boundaries regarding off-hours accessibility, and ensure they are adhered to on both ends. A recent study showed 82 percent of employees answer work emails on vacation. Another 87 percent said it’s OK to contact fellow employees during non-work hours. But is it? Ask yourself, as a leader, and set standards for your company moving forward. No one wants to be the one tapping “send to voicemail” when everyone else is answering the phone. Make it clear that it’s OK to make that decision.
I have a friend who worked for a large electricity company in California in the field of employee communication. Once her boss asked a team of six people to draft a single (very short!) email together. The effort took days. Everyone had ideas, preferred word choice, and issues they wanted to bring up. But the most striking issue is that any variation would have been fine—if drafted by one of the employees—in just a few moments time. This is what happens with excessive collaboration. Research shows executives receive an average of 200 emails per day. The need to be involved in everything—agree on everything—get approval from everyone—is exhausting. In today’s fast paced environment, we need to empower people to manage what they were hired to manage and involve as few people in the process as necessary. It’s not about working in silos—it’s about working smarter and working smarter can prevent employees from feeling the burnout.
Don’t Overload Your Best People
It’s very tempting to give all the work to the most efficient workers. But doing so will make them want to leave—not work harder. Instead, focus on spreading out responsibilities. IF you don’t trust others as much as you trust your most efficient workers, invest in them! Show them the way! It’s your job as a leader to bring out the best in your employees, not just burden the ones who are already strong.
Build Rest into the Work Day
I have a friend whose company does regular fitness challenges and offers a giant space for breaks, packed with healthy foods and drinks. It gives people a place to take a break, let off some steam, and re-juice before getting back to their work day. This rest time—especially when encouraged!—is invaluable in ensuring happy and efficient employees.
Consider Burnout a Retention Problem
While many companies are interested in pouring big bucks into recruitment, they also need to understand that feeling the burnout plays a huge part in employee retention. Rather than tossing money into new recruitment software, consider spending money on things that could help your employees feel more rested and happier while part of your team.
Yes, feeling the burnout is an epidemic in today’s workforce. People are becoming unmotivated. Exhausted. Hot tempered. And some are even losing weight or struggling with addictions because of it. You have the power to change that. Just because employees can access work 24/7, that doesn’t mean they have to. Being a leader in digital transformation means making decisions that are best for your company—even when it means stepping away from the work screen.
The original version of this article was first published on Future of Work.