Preventing Employee Burnout


A Guide to Preventing Remote Work Burnout for Managers and Employees 

Part of keeping your staff turnover to a minimum includes making sure that your employees aren’t overworked. Of course you want your team to be productive and contributing to your business daily, but even the fastest racehorse needs to stop for water. Burnout increases health spending at your company and forces good employees to quit, which are two things no company can afford in uncertain economic times. 

What “burnout” is and what it isn’t

According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” 

While it is not a medical condition, it can affect physical and mental health by unnecessarily increasing stress levels. Employees who have burnout may be more critical, irritable, and harder to work with than they have in the past. In more extreme cases, people with burnout may start to abuse alcohol and drugs. 

Burnout is not the exhaustion you feel after working hard for a short period of time, such as the exhaustion we all feel after a trade show or finishing a big project. Burnout happens after you have been consistently overworked for a long period of time, typically at least a few months. Causes include a lack of control over job functions, unclear expectations of your role, and being in a toxic workplace. Thankfully, remote working has reduced the “toxic workplace” phenomenon considerably, but there is still quite a bit that managers and employees themselves can do to reduce burnout while working remotely. 

Tips for Employees 

It’s tough to self-diagnose yourself as being burned out. Like a frog in boiling water, you usually don’t know you’ve reached your saturation point until you get there. Ultimately, it is the workplace that needs to change rather than the employee, which is why our section for managers is much more extensive. However, there are a few things you can do to construct a firewall against burnout. 

1. Put your health first

Structure physical activity and breaks as part of your workday. While it sounds paradoxical, the busier you are, the more necessary they are. Working out in the morning is ideal to avoid the possibility of skipping it in favour of a rush project later. Planned breaks throughout the day help you to both work to a deadline and take a moment for yourself in the middle of a busy day.

2. Try not to work outside of work hours

While most remote workers do this to some extent, don’t make it a regular practice.

3. Say “no” to projects you don’t have time for

If you realistically cannot manage a task on top of everything else you have to do, tell your manager. They are there to find the right resources to ensure your company’s success, and it’s your responsibility to speak up if you think you don’t have the time to do something. Obviously, you want to do this with tact and a good explanation, but saying “no” is a very important part of avoiding burnout.

4. Do not make your work part of your personal identity

Making your work part of your identity is not a healthy practice to maintain work-life balance. If you get too wrapped up in your work, you will take things more personally and this will cause more stress. You should work hard enough to be proud of what you do, but not so hard that your work defines who you are.

5. Recognize that we’re in a middle of a pandemic

Hopefully, this will be a stale point in 2021, but simply existing in the middle of a global pandemic is tough for most people. Even if it doesn’t affect your life very much, the stress of an uncertain economy and other factors are enough to cause you stress. Try to minimize the amount of stress you have in your personal and work life to make room for the very real and very human reactions we’re all having right now.

Tips for Employers

Understand that the entire day isn’t about work

This is a tough one for most managers to grasp, but part of a workday is actually getting into the right headspace so that you can do good work. A poll of just over 1800 office workers in the UK revealed that the average employee is only productive for two hours and 23 minutes per day. Granted, this was back in the old days pre-pandemic where those workers were typically in an office, which has been shown to be a far less productivity-encouraging environment than remote work. However, add in the pandemic and its associated stress, and you can probably take that two hour and 23 minute figure as being accurate. 

That’s not to say that employees who work over that amount are at risk from burnout - far from it. A high-performing employee will probably actually work about 5 hours a day without risk of burnout, depending on the stressfulness and difficulty of the work.

Don’t think your industry is “different” or your employees can’t be overworked

You may work at a company that is busier because of the pandemic. You may work in a sector where overwork is cherished and rewarded (hello, tech sector!). But in the end, overwork leads to diminished quality of work and, eventually, employee burnout. America has always taken pride in being a hardworking nation, and unfortunately that pride can turn into toxic expectations of employees and even of ourselves.

Spread out difficult tasks in departments

There are usually one or two members of a department who are the go-to people for problems. These people tend to be indispensable employees, but unfortunately at high risk of burnout due to the fact that they are engaging in difficult problem-solving all day long. Helping them out is simple - have them spend time at least once per quarter training other staff members on how to do exactly what they do.

If, for example, a junior staff member brings a complex situation to one of these go-to people, that person can coach them through solving the problem themselves rather than taking it on. This keeps them from being the dumping ground for every slightly difficult thing that passes through the department, and lifts all boats by giving other employees the same skills. 

Give them the tools & training to succeed

Employees hate being micromanaged, especially if they are working remotely. You can’t exactly tell them how to structure their day. However, if you give them the tools to help with time management and enroll them in time management courses, you will probably see their productivity increase. Time management is extremely difficult, especially for employees who are used to working in an office. While most of them have probably made the adjustment, there isn’t one worker, manager or even C-level executive who would not benefit from a time management course.

Be generous with mental health days and build them into sick leave

Since everyone is going through degrees of having a hard time right now, you have to allow your employees some space to destress. Build at least a few mental health days into your sick leave program. The most tactful way to do this is to not require your employees to give you a reason for taking a sick day - some employees won’t take “mental health days” because they will not want to appear weak. They will, however, take them if you don’t require that they identify them as mental health days. If your employees take the maximum amount of sick leave, don’t penalize them for it. We all need that time right now - even you. 

Prodoscore: See immediately who is at risk of burnout

It’s fairly easy to see who is at risk of burnout in an office most of the time, unless employees are very quiet about it for fear of getting fired. It’s not so easy to see who is at risk of burnout in a remote environment. Our productivity intelligence tool can help managers see easily and quickly who is at risk of burnout just by looking at their daily productivity score, or Prodoscore.

If, for example, an employee consistently has a Prodoscore of 90 or higher, they may be overworked and need help. The tool is non-invasive and transparent, capturing daily activity across each of your business’s cloud solutions seamlessly.

If you would like to quickly identify your employees who are most at risk of burnout, get in touch with us today for a demo.