Three ways executives can prevent employee burnout and promote wellness

You’re 30 minutes into your department’s monthly meeting when the question hits you: “Where is everyone’s energy?” Across the conference room you see vacant stares, and the silence between each employee’s statements is deafening.

ARTICLE | 6m read
January 31, 2020

Your team looks tired, stressed, and not at full strength, especially since you count at least four employees who are absent from illness. In short, your employees are burnt out. Employee burnout has become common, but it’s a huge threat to your organization. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, about two-thirds of workers experience burnout, and these employees are more likely to take sick days and look for new jobs. And even if these employees do show up, they exhibit lower confidence and engagement at work. As a leader in your organization, it’s vital you take steps to prevent employee burnout and promote wellness. Here are three ways to make that happen.

1. Empower employees with control over their technology

According to occupational psychologist Cary Cooper, employees who feel they have no control or autonomy in their workplace are likely to get a stress-related illness—and the overload of new technology is a major factor. The average business worker uses 9.4 different applications for daily work. Every time they have to switch apps, they’re spending valuable mental energy on adjusting to a new context. Add this stress to the fact that many employees have no say in which apps and devices they use to do their work, and you have a fast track to burnout.

To address this, empower employees to choose the technology they use to get work done. For example, defining secure but flexible BYOD policies for your office allows your employees to control which devices they use for work. It’s also helpful to leverage technology that integrates with the familiar consumer apps your workers know and like to use. Finally, look at workspace technology that brings all essential business apps together in one interface. This minimizes context switching between applications to help employees focus.

2. Deploy technology that reduces distraction by automating routine tasks

By the time you reached this section, there’s a good chance something interrupted you. Whether it was an invitation to a meeting, an expense report in need of your signature, or a Slack message in a company-wide channel, you probably didn’t get to this paragraph without something else vying for your attention. These distractions happen every day, but they come with a mental price: employees who experience frequent interruptions report a 9 percent higher exhaustion rate, and make significantly more errors than employees who aren’t interrupted. These are classic symptoms of burnout.

While it’s impossible to eliminate all interruptions from your workplace, remember not all interruptions are equally important. By deploying the right technology, you can screen out nonessential interruptions using settings that eliminate notifications from Slack, email, or calendar updates during certain work times. New developments in machine-learning and AI also make it possible to automate low-value tasks like RSVPing to calendar invites or approving expense reports. These technologies help prevent the distractions that lead to burnout and hurt your employees’ engagement.

3. Schedule weekly whitespace time for all employees

Even when you’ve taken steps to give employees more control and protect them from distractions at work, an “always on” work culture can still cause widespread burnout. “Always on” workplaces expect employees to tightly schedule all their work time, want them to answer messages promptly at any time of day, and ensure their workload is always close to max capacity. According to Quartz, 67 percent of employees believe being “always on” has a significant negative impact on their health and wellness, which explains why “always on” workplaces tend to have awful employee retention and engagement.

The solution is finding the right balance between focused work time and open whitespace hours. By scheduling weekly whitespace hours in your employees’ calendars, you can designate time in the workweek for creative thinking, passion projects, and exercise. It’s also beneficial to facilitate communal spaces (like a game room or yoga studio) for your employees to spend this whitespace time together if they wish—this helps staff build stronger working relationships as they unplug together.

Your employees take burnout seriously. Do you?

Quartz research says 81 percent of workers believe decreasing burnout should be a top priority for employers, suggesting your employees know burnout is a significant threat that demands your attention. Are you ready to act? By giving your staff more control over their workplace technology, prioritizing tools that reduce distraction, and reserving unplugged whitespace time for your team, you can promote a culture of wellness at your organization that will keep burnout at bay.

Mindfulness Tip

Fostering well-being and mindfulness can decrease employee burnout at large. Organic sounds, like crashing waves, can offer a moment of recovery on a busy day. Press play to reset.

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