BY ANDI GRAY
Dilemma: A key player in our operations area is getting burned out. We can’t afford to lose her. How do we find the balance between getting work done on time and keeping burnout at a minimum?
Thoughts of the Day: Burnout comes from stress, so step back and figure out where the stress is coming from. Teach your staff about delegation. Focus on the most essential things. Give employees control and mean it. Create healthy outlets to work off tension.
A few challenges can be good, as they help keep the work interesting. But too many challenges create problems that seem too big and can all lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, tense, and, ultimately, burned out.
Too much tension is destructive. It eats away at happiness, health, and general well-being. Your job as boss is to constantly monitor individual and group stress levels, making sure everyone is in the productive (rather than the destructive) range. When people are strained, start emphatically and earnestly asking questions:
• Are things outside work contributing to stress at work?
• What about the work environment isn’t working?
• Are there enough of the right people to do the work?
• Have things changed so that the old ways don’t work so well anymore?
• Are people being encouraged to succeed?
• Are expectations realistic?
• Are people capable and fully trained?
• Is everyone clear about goals and confident they can meet them?
Take an honest look at the environment. Realistically address problems. Let your staff have their say and make recommendations for reorganizing and reprioritizing how things get done. Get everyone together to talk about what’s not working and brainstorm possible solutions in a non-confrontational setting. Everyone will have a different perspective, and examining things from all angles will help everyone see and work toward the same big picture. They may be so swamped that they haven’t even realized that others are struggling, too.
Is there just too much work? Bring in temps to fill in gaps. Decide what to delegate to untrained support staff and what to eliminate altogether—either temporarily or permanently. Help employees decide what to delegate by making a list of everything they do. Figure out which tasks would be the easiest to hand off. Teach employees how to train someone to take over; don’t just assume they know how to let go.
If things are swirling and priorities are unclear, sometimes the best way forward is just to start “somewhere.” Ask people to decide which problems they need to tackle first. Giving them control is a way to increase their sense of well-being.
Keep in mind that employees might approach a problem differently from how you’d do it. That’s fine. Encourage staff to make decisions and take ownership. Monitor how things are going and acknowledge progress, building on successes until things smooth out.
Encourage laughter. It’s a great de-stresser. Teach people not to take things too seriously when the pressure is on. Mistakes are inevitable: Learn from them and move forward. The more you dwell, the less progress can be made.
As much as we’d like to think that work and home are separate, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to completely set aside problems at home when walking in the door at work. If that’s the case for a good employee, consider how to lighten the load at work until things turn around at home. Try job sharing, shifting from full time to part time, or sabbaticals that guarantee work upon return.
Remember that your fleet is made up of machines: Your staff is not. But both will break down if you skip maintenance or drive them into the ground. Give employees permission to say that they’ve had enough, and mean it. Make sure they know it’s okay to work on something different, go for a walk around the block, or take a day off—or a full vacation. One of the best things you can do as a boss is point out that the time for taking a break is now. Some employees might be intimidated by asking for time off given the 24/7 nature of the industry; encourage them that it’s healthy with your support.
Consider paying for gym memberships as an employee benefit. Reward people who work extra hours with comp time off when things slow down—and make sure they take the time. Monitor vacation usage to be sure everyone is getting time away. Some companies have embraced meditation, afternoon breaks, and on-site child care. The list of things that can help to reduce stress is limitless: Just ask your people what they need. [CD1217]
Andi Gray is the founder of the business consulting firm Strategy Leaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.