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How to address burnout in your employees

Alison Hill
26 October 2016 3 minute readShare
Psychologist and author Alison Hill of Pragmatic Thinking

A burnt out workforce is hardly a productive one. If your employees are showing the symptoms of burnout, here's what you can do to turn things around.

In a relentlessly changing environment, where we are being asked to do more and more with less, even the greatest jobs can lead people into a state of burnout.

This state can be associated with strong progress – you can be burnt out and still be hitting targets, knocking over KPIs and even winning awards on a regular basis.

What drops off – the missing ingredient – is that individuals lose sight of the bigger purpose: why they started in the first place. It can be that the purpose has changed, or become lost among the tasks that just need to get done. 

The result? Exhaustion.

The prevalence of burnout is increasing as the lines between being at work and at home, between being available and not, become blurred. Now more than ever, we are seeing individuals racing from one busy moment to the next before collapsing into bed, then getting up and doing it all again.

The cost is people operating nowhere near their best, or even dropping out completely.

So how do you combat burnout in your business?

1. Hit the reset button with your team

A common default strategy is to keep working harder, waiting for an unlikely reprieve from the onslaught. Our fast-paced busyness starts to infect those moments that don’t require the same velocity. We worry about slowing down. Like an intense game of Jenga, we fear one wrong move will bring our whole world crashing down.

The key is to create space for you and your team to hit reset even among the busyness. In fact, the busier the period of work, the more important it is to carve out pockets of time to reset so the people in your business can perform at their best.

Stop and have a cuppa together, have walk and talk meetings outside, change the location of your team meetings, picnic in the park, celebrate the small victories along the way, and inject humour and laughter into the day as much as possible.

Find ways to feel refocused, even on the busiest of days and in the middle of the hardest projects.

2. Reconnect to your business values

Your team knowing the ‘why’ behind their work and having a clear intent behind their actions can help keep them focused and energised. And knowing this ‘why’ begins with clearly defining what’s important for your business.

When asked to outline what matters, many business owners slip into default settings and respond with broad terms like ‘customer service’, ‘product performance’ and ‘innovation’. These might be true values for you, but I want to call them boring and irrelevant – not because they don’t matter, but because they don’t provide any uniqueness that describes how these areas of your business matter to you.

What is it about customer service that is specifically important to you? Is it about building trust and creating a community? Is it making sure every interaction is efficient and seamless? Or is it always giving your customers something to smile about?

Dig deeper than those broader terms and identify why these aspects are important in your business.

3. Defend what’s sacred

Psychologist and author Alison Hill of Pragmatic ThinkingStrong values are pointless unless you defend them. Among the busyness you need to defend what is sacred in your culture. It is these rituals and behaviours that provide the anchor that individuals, teams and leaders can hold onto among the noise and uncertainty of constant change, shifting customer bases and rapid technology advances.

Clarify expected behaviours with your team, particularly around self-care, and agree to hold each other to account.

The key is to create a set of non-negotiable behaviours that align with values. It may be that there are no emails sent after 7pm, or that meetings are only held at your favourite cafe.

Remember – when you can hit the reset button among the busyness, articulate what matters and defend these values, you have your own battery charger to re-energise yourself and your staff in a busy world.

Alison Hill is a psychologist and co-founder of behaviour and motivation strategy company Pragmatic Thinking, as well as an international speaker and co-author of Dealing with the Tough Stuff and Stand Out: A real world guide to get clear, find purpose and become the boss of busy.


How to address burnout in your employees
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Alison Hill

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