How to Prevent Burnout and Improve Productivity

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By Richard F. Gerson, Ph.D., CPT, CMC

Employee turnover rates around the world are extremely high, even exceeding 200% in some companies. Although employees leave for a variety of reasons, burnout is certainly a key factor.

What causes burnout? Many employees burn out because their jobs are fast-paced and stressful. Others are driven away because their jobs involve ongoing repetitive tasks. Burnout is the feeling that precedes a full-blown stress attack. When a person is burned out, he’s had enough of whatever he’s doing. He’s slightly depressed, lethargic, unmotivated, possibly confused—or at least not thinking clearly—and may even experience some physical symptoms. Basically, the employee just can’t take it anymore and wants to run away and hide.

If your company is experiencing high turnover or a visible reduction in employee performance, burnout could be a factor. Realize that burnout has both physical and psychological symptoms and causes. Some physical changes that may help the situation are to change the layout of the workplace, the seating arrangements, the chairs themselves, the lighting, the temperature, the noise levels and anything else in the work environment that may negatively impact performance.

Psychological changes are more complicated. It’s important to look at each employee as an individual to understand what is causing the employee to burn out.

Managers can take steps to beat burnout by using the “C.H.A.R.G.E.” system:

  • Challenge employees as much as you can. People need to be challenged in order to be motivated. A challenge provides the brass ring for which to strive. You can challenge your employees with sales or service goals, incentives, competitions, contests or anything else that they find motivating.
  • Help instill Hardiness, the psychological ability to bounce back from negative situations. Employees who possess hardiness shrug off a bad situation and move on to provide great service or make a big sale on the next call.
  • Appreciate your team. This fulfills a basic human need. Continuously show your people how much you appreciate their efforts. Say thank you, congratulate them on a job well done and let them know you recognize all their work on the company’s and the customers’ behalf. Employees who are appreciated, recognized and respected will perform better under pressure and every day.
  • Relax. Twenty-first century workers have fast-paced jobs, handling large numbers of customers and tasks every day. Everyone needs a break—and that doesn’t mean just his or her scheduled coffee break. Allow employees to leave their desks, stretch a bit, walk around and talk to other people. Ideally, create a quiet room in the office where employees can go, sit down, close their eyes, forget the pressures of the day and just relax. This will go a long way toward preventing burnout and improving performance, because burnout/stress and relaxation cannot coexist.
  • Goal set with employees. Have them write down measurable goals that are somewhat difficult to achieve. This goes along with the first suggestion of challenging the staff to perform well. People who set and achieve goals regularly handle stress more effectively and are generally more satisfied with their personal and work lives.
  • Empathize with employees. Working in today’s fast-paced world is a tough job. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them and to show them they care. Just having someone who listens and understands motivates employees to achieve more.

Here are three additional strategies to prevent burnout:

  1. Rotate jobs (or seat locations, if your people work in a call center). Performance usually improves when you move people to another physical location. Also, the change in job location may bring a change in responsibilities, which provides people with new challenges and goals.
  2. Teach people to visualize. Employees can take a mini “mental vacation” when things get hectic or overwhelming. After this short break they’ll return relaxed and revitalized.
  3. Provide nutritious snacks and plenty of water (if food is allowed in your offices). It’s just common sense that better physical health results in improved performance.

Any manager who embraces these anti-burnout strategies will be rewarded with a happier, more productive workforce.

About the Author(s)

Richard F. Gerson, Ph.D., CPT, CMC, is executive-in-residence at Human Resource International (HRI), a not-for-profit, academic-based research institute whose mission is to research, develop and disseminate information and insights on the trends and strategic issues impacting the management of people in organizations. For more information contact Jay Jamrog at [email protected]