6 ways to prevent burnout in the workplace
Are you worried about burnout affecting the people in your workforce? It's on the rise and we all need to be mindful of how we can prevent burnout.
On the back of our 'The new face of burnout' webinar, we asked Will Allen-Mersh, Partner at mental wellbeing startup Spill, to share his 6 actionable techniques which you can use to prevent burnout in the workplace.
And as well as this blog post, Will has popped even more burnout related content on Spill’s website for you in this burnout prevention guide.
Reduce unreachable demands to ease pressure
When we start to feel that the “game” is unwinnable, we get closer to burnout. Unreachable demands should be replaced with demands that are in reach.
1. Create a culture where it's okay to flag when you're overstretched
- Get senior management to lead by example
- Have daily/weekly stand-ups where everyone says what they won’t be able to do as well as what they will, and ask the question: “Does anyone feel overstretched at the moment?”
- Encourage rubber-ducking, where people explain challenges they're struggling with to another person (often from another department) in simple terms for an outside opinion
- Praise asking for help as part of your employee recognition efforts
2. Encourage people to be clearer about their boundaries
- 'Say yes to the person, but no to the task' is a great overall philosophy
- Praise under-promising and over-delivering
3. Protect your team's execution time by defending their diaries
- Block out large chunks of their time if necessary and lead by doing the same yourself
- Encourage people to turn off email and instant messenger notifications when they need to get work done – what isn’t important can wait and they can always be reached by phone for anything super-urgent
- Keep unnecessary meetings to a minimum and encourage people to hold written discussions by instant messenger
4. Hire enough people with the right skills to feasibly do the work
- There's no avoiding the basics!
- When the workload is too much and no one can see the other side, hiring more people will help everyone and the productivity of the business
Remove randomness to make work clearer
When there’s too much randomness, the work we do can feel like it’s getting on top of us with no rhyme or reason. Setting clear goalposts and structure focusses on what’s important and the reasons we’re doing the work in the first place.
1. Make everyone is on the same page about the company's mission and progress
Post your company’s progress, plans and problems (PPPs) each week on your intranet, through email or on your instant messenger
2. Make people feel involved in steering the ship
Hold a monthly 'biggest company problems' meeting and get an anonymous agenda from your employees – you can use Google Forms for this
Allow the submission of anonymous, rolling ideas which can be discussed company-wide
Have team and company-wide retrospectives, regularly
3. Link individual objectives clearly to company objectives
Hold the objectives and key results (OKRs) of your company, departments and individuals in a single place
4. Make feedback loops shorter
Display the wins of your company, teams and individuals company-wide – this could be through email, instant messenger or on a recognition feed
Create a place where anyone can post a request for feedback (to whole team/company) on any piece of work
Increase emotional payoff to make work exciting
When we’re not invested in our work emotional, we don’t get a big enough payoff from the tasks we do. We need a clear emotional payoff to keep ourselves excited about our work and feeling less like we’re just their to collect a paycheque.
1. Involve employees in OKR-setting
- Each quarter, people pitch what they want to work on and why
- Managers and employees work together to find a balance between work that suits the individual and work that fits with the company's aims
2. Help people reframe tasks as choice
- Remind people of all the things they're choosing not to do
- Ask for the reasoning behind projects to be justified
3. Let people learn from one another
- Encourage pairing on difficult tasks
- Set up an internal or external mentor scheme
- Allow job shadowing and job swapping in quieter periods
4. Put people closer to the company's purpose
- Get everyone to spend time seeing the impact the company has – whether that's listening in on user calls, trying the product or visiting stakeholders
- Make all feedback transparent and updated live
Show how their work makes a difference
When we feel that the game is rigged, we find it hard to show up each day and put in the effort. You wouldn’t keep putting money in a slot machine which you felt was rigged after all. We need to build transparent and supportive cultures which allow us to see where our work makes the difference.
1. Encourage cross-team connection
- Put a buddy system in place
- Have personal/career mentors outside of teams
2. Make vulnerability and openness the norm
- Have separate one-on-ones that are focused on emotions, not performance
- Try making 'user manuals', so people can better understand each other's quirks
3. Make sure people take time off before they reach breaking point
- Have a formalised 'personal day' (mental health sick day) policy
- Make sure 95% of holiday days are taken and have a minimum per quarter too
4. Reduce perfectionism
- Communicate things which don’t go so well – make it ok to talk about them and celebrate the effort put in
- Encourage senior management to be open about mistakes and vulnerabilities
Provide a clear message to avoid confusion
Getting mixed messages can be incredibly frustrating. It adds to the feelings of randomness and our perceptions that the game is rigged. At the very least, each team should have a unified narrative so everyone understands what good looks like. Unifying a company-wide narrative might be more difficult but will have a much more profound effect.
1. Create spaces to air questions and get clarifications
- Monthly ask me anything (AMA) meetings
- Hold structured debates in front of the company on big decisions
2. Ensure managers are all on the same page
- Manager training sessions
- Moderated one-to-ones with employees
3. Record key conversations and meetings (with consent!)
- Post on your intranet, through email or on instant messenger so anyone can listen
- Do the same for big external meetings with investors or stakeholders
4. Encourage communication up and down the hierarchy
- Hold drop-in coffees with senior management
- Get Senior management to post regular updates where they’ll be most visible
Clearly define goals to find purpose
When we don’t have clearly defined goals, we struggle to know what we’re aiming for. We then start to question the work we are doing and if it’s really worth it. Help employees to understand their goals and find a purpose in their work which benefits both them and the company.
1. Do personality and strength tests for the whole company
- Take the Big 5 personality test (free)
- Take Martin Seligman's Personal Strengths Inventory (free)
2. Include 'personality trait fit' on job descriptions
- Employees and managers to discuss it vs. their personality and skills in one-to-ones
3. Put a three-meeting structure in place for managers to understand employees better
- 1st meeting: Life story – ask about childhood and formative experiences to understand why certain decisions were made
- 2nd meeting: Dreams – ask them to list at least three, as we naturally tend to adapt the first one to be in line with our job
- 3rd meeting: 18-month plan – come up with clear ideas to help the person progress on the skills necessary for their dreams
4. Help them find a role that has a closer fit with their goals
- Encourage horizontal moves within the company
- Let people trial a new role with job shadowing and job swaps first
- If the role can't be provided internally, help them discover external roles and encourage them to work towards gaining those skills – this doesn’t mean they’ll leave you!
Those are the six areas to prevent burnout as per Will from Spills advice in our ‘The new face of burnout’ webinar. Remember, as well as this blog post, Will has created a burnout prevention guide on Spill’s website.