Prevent Employee Burnout With Flexibility, Learning Culture

Two burning out batteries on a yellow background.

An occupational hazard getting attention from the World Health Organization (WHO) could target an organization’s highest performers: Employee burnout.

A phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress, according to the WHO, burnout is not considered a medical condition. It is something that managers need to make serious efforts to prevent or mitigate, though.

According to Forbes, there are three components of employee burnout:

  1. Exhaustion
  2. Disengagement
  3. Reduced efficacy

Managers can address each of these in several ways.

Flexibility can invigorate

LinkedIn’s “Global Talent Trends 2019” report found that workplace flexibility is prized by job seekers, with 72% of talent professionals and hiring managers saying it’s extremely important to be able to work when and where they want. Even if employees don’t often use flexible scheduling and remote work options, knowing they have these options reduces stress and can stave off employee burnout.

In addition, organizations can offer generous paid time off while encouraging workers to use it. A culture that rewards 12-hour workdays and where people feel uncomfortable taking time off is unhealthy for workers—and for the business.

Learning promotes engagement

Disengaged employees feel “mental distance” or negative feelings toward their jobs, according to WHO. One remedy that benefits the employee and the company is learning.

LinkedIn Learning’s “2019 Workplace Learning Report” underscored the value of on-the-job training in increasing engagement. Employees who spent at least an hour a week learning reported lower stress on the job and greater engagement—two key factors that can prevent burnout. And employees characterized as “heavy learners” were 48% more likely to say they found purpose in their work and 47% less likely to be stressed than employees spending little or no work time on learning.

Managers and executives can create a learning culture, which pays off in improved performance and productivity. Encouraging on-the-job learning also reduces turnover and helps employers attract top applicants—while disengaged or burnt-out employees are 63% more likely to take sick days and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room, a Gallup poll revealed.

Build employees’ confidence

Feeling ineffective or undervalued contributes to employee burnout. Empower managers to take the lead in mitigating these feelings.

Encouraging on-the-job learning so workers can upskill, stay current with changing career expectations and technologies or prepare to move into a new role can build their perception of efficacy and value. If a promotion or lateral move is not on the horizon, managers can offer employees “stretch” assignments and new challenges to allow them to grow in their current roles.

Collaboration with peers and opportunities for social learning offer yet another avenue for building employees’ confidence, as they can share their expertise, coach colleagues through problem-solving and gain recognition for their knowledge and accomplishments.

Even something as simple as providing regular, detailed feedback can reduce the risk of burnout. Regular check-ins with employees also help managers recognize early signs, such as lack of enthusiasm, slowed progress, comments indicating frustration or discouragement or changes in work habits. Managers can then deploy the most effective antidotes: mitigation or early intervention.