Avoid the Burnout: How to Keep Employees Productive


If you’re a boss, it’s easy to get lost in the “success” cycle and overlook the human side of the equation. You’re probably under a lot of pressure yourself, but as an employer, you need to keep the human side of your staff in mind.

Employees who are unhappy and suffer from burnout are not only less productive, they can drag the whole operation down. Never forget, notes entrepreneur Scott Vollero, that it’s your job to give employees the environment they need to excel. What can you do?

How Do You Know?

Unless someone jumps up, screams and runs out of the building, it may be difficult to tell when an employee is on the edge. Many of the signs, particularly in the beginning phases, are subtle. Here are some of the precursors to watch for:

  • The employee’s personality changes. Perhaps the employee is not as friendly, doesn’t smile or no longer interacts with co-workers.
  • The employee can’t seem to finish projects. A lowered productivity level is a sign that something is wrong.
  • The employee’s work is full of errors and omissions. Turning in work that is not on caliber with past accomplishments means that, for whatever reason, the employee has stopped trying.
  • The employee makes cynical comments about work. It’s usually nothing overt, but a general cynical and critical attitude toward work is a clear indicator of burnout.
  • The employee takes excessive sick leave. There could be a legitimate reason for an employee to take more sick days than usual. The reason could also be that the employee is too stressed to face coming into work.

One unhappy employee impacts the entire organization. Lower productivity means more work for others, burnt out employees may disrupt co-worker’s tasks and those same dissatisfied employees may instigate conflicts in the workplace.

Create and Prevent: That’s the Ticket

Your job is to create an environment that prevents employee burnout. If you don’t, your best talent could walk out the door. Follow these five tips to build a less stressful, more productive workplace.

  1. Be realistic. Delegate challenging, but not overwhelming workloads. Match each team member with the position they have a passion for and are best at. Don’t require superhuman work hours each week and allow for paid time off. Provide employees with the tools and resources to do their jobs. Define roles so that each has a specific job to do.
  2. Encourage freedom. You brought a creative team together, now encourage them to use their talents and skills to come up with innovative ideas. Encourage breaks and lunch hours. If possible, offer flexible work schedules so that parents and caregivers can work around family duties. Your staff is made up of adults. Treat them like adults.
  3. Rewards and treats. Employees need to feel that they are valued as human beings and not just working machines. Rewards don’t have to be money, although, giving bonuses and raises is a great way to increase employee job satisfaction. There are other ways, when more money is not in the cards. Did you and the team recently complete a difficult project? Have an office party. Hand out gift certificates. Do something to show how much you appreciate them. Avoid “best employee of the month” and similar contests. They are counterproductive.
  4. Be a buddy. Keep your door open. Don’t wait for employees to come to you. Schedule monthly one-on-one meetings. Get to know each one. Form a relationship that encourages team members to come to you for anything, whether it’s about work or something in their personal lives.
  5. Give them a voice. Burnout is often the result of feeling powerless. Give each employee an area in which to make decisions. When possible, discuss business activities with the group and ask for feedback. Make them feel like a valued part of the team.