Fuelled by the Great Resignation, businesses are struggling to fill job openings and keep their work on track. As a result, the remaining employees are shouldering much of the pressure by taking on additional duties on top of their own responsibilities.
Employee burnout erodes confidence and creates feelings of helplessness and, for many businesses, it comes with a cost, said Krystle McGilvery, ACMA, CGMA, founder of Mind Over Money, a London-based business and finance consultancy.
"You've got issues such as absenteeism and even presenteeism — where somebody is actually in the office but not doing their work and not being productive," she said. "That can be costly because you're paying for employees to be there, but they're not delivering results that are going to generate revenues and profits."
Burnout also takes a toll on human capital.
McGilvery and Funmi Adesida, FCMA, CGMA, principal partner at ADF Business Solutions, a financial services firm supporting SME companies in Lagos, Nigeria, explain how managers can recognise employee burnout and take measures to alleviate stress before it begins harming their businesses.
Watch for signs of fatigue. Employees and managers should work together to recognise and alleviate the symptoms of fatigue before they escalate, McGilvery said.
"Fatigue is more about feeling weary, which is a sign you need to rest," she said. "Burnout comes from prolonged fatigue."
For managers, the simple act of checking in with employees and looking for signs of exhaustion — such as irritability, lack of focus, and unusual mistakes — and giving them space to manage stress will help them avoid burnout, McGilvery said.
"When employees don't refill their cup, they begin running out of energy until they don't have the space to think rationally and make decisions in the way they need to because they are not mentally present," she said.
For employees, McGilvery recommends practising mindfulness, because recognising you are on the road to burnout is the first step in halting it.
"At night before you go to bed, reflect back on your workday and ask yourself if you took breaks, made too many mistakes, or treated colleagues rudely," she said. "That gives you an opportunity to recognise the signs of stress or fatigue and take action to avoid burning out."
Create a supportive environment. When employees are tired and under pressure, they may feel their company is not listening to their concerns, and this can lead to burnout, Adesida said.
"One of my pet peeves is when managers give employees a new task, but they don't provide the support, training, or tools to complete that task," she said. "Employees get worried and frustrated, then fear sets in because no one is helping them."
Compounding that may be personal problems, McGilvery said. And while it is not necessary to delve into employees' life stories, managers may be able to tell when members of their team are having personal problems by keeping an open-door policy and talking with them.
"Inviting employees to talk with you privately may keep you from missing opportunities to help them solve their problems," she said. "These discussions could range from a simple chat to catch up occasionally, to providing resources for professional counselling."
There are times when people try to hide their problems because they don't want to appear weak or jeopardise their jobs. Managers should make sure employees understand their wellbeing is a priority and that they have support and a team around them to help if they do start feeling burned out.
"Showing the employees that the company cares will keep them from hiding their stress and having the problem grow worse as a result," McGilvery said.
Create space for breaks. Adesida recalls a former workplace that offered a room where stressed-out employees could go to take a ten-minute power nap or a break, declutter their mind, and decompress. It was also a place for teams to gather and let off steam.
"In that job, I worked in finance, but I supported the marketing team, who loved to play loud music on Fridays at lunchtime and burn off stress," she said.
She added the group would spend an hour having a good time, laughing, joking, and dancing. Often the sales director brought in yogurt and sweet treats for them to enjoy.
"It was so much fun, and it would breathe new life into the workplace," she said. "Having an hour to enjoy ourselves served as a reward for our hard work."
Encourage employees to take holidays. When Adesida notices people keeping their heads down and always appearing busy, she suggests they take time off. But they often think they have so much to do they can't be away, she said.
"I tell them the work will either still be there when they return or delegated to somebody else in their department who will do it whilst they are away," she said.
To ensure employees take time away from the office, managers can ask them to place tentative holiday dates in their diary at the beginning of the year so management can plan for adequate staffing to cover their workload.
Management shouldn't wait until midway through the year when employees are forced to take holiday because they are tired, she said. "I believe it is important to manage that process and make sure employees follow through."
Invest in leadership training. Sometimes managers don't express their expectations clearly, and this can lead to frustration and possible burnout among their staff.
Working with human resources consultants and taking leadership classes can educate managers on human behaviour in the workplace and teach them creative ways to support their teams, Adesida said.
She described her own experience working with a human resources consultant, which brought clarity to her role as a manager and led her to discover valuable employee retention strategies.
"I learned that it is important to set well-defined goals you expect your team to achieve and have a clear way of measuring them," Adesida said.
For example, if an employee's goal is to complete a project by the 10th of the month, and they submit it on the 11th, then they must know they did not meet their goal.
"When you practise effective performance management and are clear on expectations, employees will be more adept at achieving their goals on time," she said.
Additional compensation and nonmonetary perks, such as opportunities for continuing education or extra days off, to reward employees for meeting their objectives make a big difference in the way companies can support staff and help them hit their targets.
"Let your team know the company appreciates their efforts and the work they've done, and most times, small acknowledgements will pay off in big ways," she said.
— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.