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Bye Bye Burnout: Four Ways to Keep Employees Engaged and Avoid Burnout

Bye Bye Burnout: Four Ways to Keep Employees Engaged and Avoid Burnout

It’s no surprise burnout is on the rise. In the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest, and political and financial instability, nearly 79% of US employees cited increased work-related stress in 2021. When left untreated or unmanaged, stress can manifest itself into burnout which causes disengaged employees, high turnover, hiring difficulties, and underserved clients.

Your organization cannot afford to ignore the rapidly growing problem of burnout in our culture. Thankfully, burnout is not an impossible problem. By paying attention to the warning signs early and implementing strategic and structural changes in your organization, you can prevent, detect and relieve burnout amongst your employees.

Key Takeaways

  • Several factors influence burnout, including work-related stressors, lifestyle causes, and personality traits.
  • Failing to address burnout can lead to decreased engagement, high turnover, difficulty hiring, and underserved clients.
  • Burnout is not an impossible problem to solve. Four ways to address employee engagement include:
    • Building Employee Engagement
    • Advocating for Employee Emotional Well-Being
    • Providing Tangible Health Benefits
    • Leaning Into a Well Communicated Effective Strategy
  • Reducing employee burnout requires a holistic approach to employee well-being, which is, in turn, a part of a larger, effective strategy.
  • You can differentiate your mission with a compelling culture and retain your staff by getting ahead of the curve and addressing the signs of burnout at the start.

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout is more than just the latest “trend” in workplace culture. It is a real and present threat to your organization’s overall engagement and health.

Before we get any further, it’s important to note the difference between “suffering from burnout” and “being burnt out.” If an employee is burnt out, then they are probably disengaged and checked out. But, if someone is less able to give their heart, mind, and soul to their job, due to a myriad of reasons, but is still somewhat engaged, then there is still potential for them to stay. The most important thing is to be preventative.

With this in mind, there are several factors that influence burnout, including:

Work-Related Stressors

Work-related stressors are those stressors that are unique to the work environment. These may vary by occupation and field, but generally, these stressors can include:

  • Little control over work
  • Lack of job clarity
  • Highly emotional work
  • Low supervisor support
  • Chaotic workplace
  • High workload and long hours
  • Under-resourced

The pandemic has exacerbated many of these factors, as workplace demands have increased due to staffing issues, lack of resources, and emotional stress. In many ministry contexts, employees will overlook work-related stressors as “just part of the job;” however, these factors have a high impact on burnout which ultimately leads to turnover and lower engagement.

Lifestyle Causes

In addition to workplace stressors, an individual's lifestyle can contribute to burnout. Some lifestyle causes include:

  • Lack of socialization
  • Lack of relaxation
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Few close relationships
  • Lack of networks to help
  • Lack of adequate sleep

Because employees are more than just workers, a holistic approach to understanding burnout helps us have a deeper understanding of our employees. Isolation and loneliness not only impact our employees’ personal lives, but the negative impacts overflow into the workplace.

Personality Traits

There are certain personalities that are more prone to burnout, including:

  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Hard on self
  • Pessimistic worldview
  • Controlling tendencies
  • High achiever/Type A personality

Some employees may be more prone to burnout due to their personalities, so it’s important to put preventative steps in place for these individuals from the beginning. They are more likely to burn out without the proper support.

Four Solutions to Employee Burnout

Thankfully, burnout is not an impossible problem! We’ve identified four solutions, rooted in employee engagement, that can prevent burnout from becoming a widespread epidemic within your organization. These four solutions are:

  1. Build Engagement
  2. Support Emotional Health
  3. Enable Tangible Health
  4. Connect to an Effective Strategy

Let’s look at each of these solutions in more depth.

Solution 1: Build Employee Engagement

Perhaps the single most important solution to addressing employee burnout is prioritizing building engagement. Burnout and engagement go hand in hand. When employees are engaged, they are less likely to be burnt out. Indeed, failing to address burnout can lead to decreased engagement, high turnover, difficulty hiring, and underserved clients.

Thankfully, there are several structural changes that can be made at an organizational level to prevent employees from burning out in the first place. These include:

  • Equipping and encouraging mid-level supervisors
  • Enhancing workplace flexibility by offering remote or hybrid work accommodations, or increasing PTO options.
  • Envisioning, offering, and implementing professional career pathing options.
  • Fostering collaborative decision-making, up, down, and across the organization.
  • Personalizing the connection between the job and missional outcomes.
  • Implementing market-level merit rewards.

Building engagement is a long-range game - simply implementing one or two of these changes is not going to convince an employee who already is burnt out from staying. More likely, these changes are preventative and future-oriented.

High employee engagement builds a culture of trust and transparency between staff and leadership. As part of a holistic approach to addressing burnout, building engagement builds trust and transparency - two crucial components in a healthy workforce.

Solution 2: Advocate for Employee Emotional Well-Being

The second solution to addressing burnout is advocating for your employee’s emotional well-being. Empathetic leaders show their care and concern for employees by understanding the unique pressures they may experience. This solution may look different depending on your field - high-pressure, emotionally taxing environments like rescue missions, social services and the like will require different solutions than the solutions offered in Christian businesses, for example.

There are several ways you can advocate for your employees' emotional well-being, including:

  • Ensuring staff can safely, and if necessary, anonymously discuss their concerns without fear or risk of retribution.
  • Encouraging daily breaks or space to step away from the pressures of the work.
  • Requiring or highly encouraging employees to fully use their earned PTO (and offering generous PTO options)
  • Bringing in outside support and subject matter experts to provide guidance and tools
  • Offering counseling benefits as part of a robust benefits package
  • Communicating often through regular, frequent supervisor one-on-ones.

Within the ministry context, this solution also includes addressing the spiritual element of burnout. It is the Enemy’s desire for Christians to get tired, fatigued, and give up. At the same time, we have the Holy Spirit, who will not allow it. Christian leaders must be able to discern the spiritual battles at play and provide appropriate solutions if burnout is indeed spiritual.

We are called to join the Messiah in His mission - not be the Messiah. Sometimes the battle is bigger than ourselves. Commit yourself to prayer and Biblical teaching, and encourage and support your staff in these same ways. The battle against the Enemy is real and present; traditional “business tactics” will need to be adjusted and amended to win this battle.

Solution 3: Provide Tangible Health Benefits

Additionally, many employees cite practical and tangible needs as a reason for their burnout. There are several inexpensive benefits you can offer your staff to increase retention and overall morale, including:

  • Increasing “fun” team-building activities and promoting work relationships
  • Shift flexibility
  • Skill development through mentoring
  • Stipends for things like transportation, food, daycare, or health and wellness
  • Online learning programs
  • Small gifts, tickets, or free meals while working
  • Enhanced PTO

These benefits are easy to implement and can help increase overall employee morale.

Solution 4: Lean into a well-communicated, effective strategy

Ultimately, reducing employee burnout requires a holistic approach to employee wellbeing, which is, in turn, a part of a larger, effective strategy. Engaged employees stay because they feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Higher pay, more benefits, and more time off are all important aspects of a healthy workplace, but they won’t help someone see a future.

Rather, leaders can help employees see the larger strategy that is in place by

  • Talking about results
  • Reinforcing the connection to the work
  • Featuring employee’s stories of the mission
  • Listening to and acting on employee ideas, and
  • Solving chronic problems to boost morale.

Without these actions, employees will continue to get burnt out. Leaders must be willing to help cast a larger vision and strategy and then put that strategy into action.

A Special Note for Christian Leaders

Unfortunately, as leaders, we are not exempt from burnout. In fact, "nearly 60% of leaders reported they felt used up at the end of the workday,” in 2021. Especially in the ministry setting, we are driven by the power of transformation and the power of change. We do meaningful and life-giving work. We provide water where there was no water, homes for those without homes, hope to those who are hopeless - the list goes on and on. The work is powerful, but the mission can very easily be abused and used as an excuse.

As Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 9, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Jesus doesn’t expect us to do the miracles; he only expects us to do the work. Even with few workers, the harvest will still be plentiful. So, as leaders, we must not forget to keep the workers and ourselves refreshed. We can each do our measured parts - but we don’t have to do it all. Life-giving work is only life-giving when there is still life after work. Be reminded of the mission, but be careful to not dismiss your own symptoms of burnout.

Next Steps

It’s evident - your organization cannot afford to let your employees burn out and get away! You can differentiate your mission with a compelling culture and retain your staff by getting ahead of the curve and addressing the signs of burnout at the start. An effective way to gauge the health of your organization is by measuring your employee engagement and well-being levels with the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey.