27 SEP, 2016

Employee Burnout: Simple Ways Managers Can Help An Overwhelmed Employee

overwhelmed employee touching his forehead

Receiving email messages at all hours. A feeling that the work will never get done—there’s too much, it’s complex, and it’s always urgent. Unclear expectations. This lack of control, combined with a sense of overload, creates unhealthy stress for overwhelmed employees.

Although two-thirds of leaders who were surveyed recognized the need to address burnout, almost half said they were “not ready” to deal with it. Considering that too much stress negatively affects engagement and productivity over time, ignoring the issue isn’t the best option.

While leaders may be avoiding the issue, according to Harvard Business Review, “it’s on you, the manager, to help your people cut through the chaos, reduce stress, and make sure your team can accomplish its most important work.”

We have a few simple suggestions that managers can put in place to keep them from making employees feel overwhelmed:

Keep a schedule for communicating.

There are various ideas about when it is and isn’t okay to send an email. Some people say email only during work hours, unless it’s an absolute emergency. Others feel it’s fine to send a text or email anytime. The only way to address these differences is to set expectations around communicating, and possibly identify a schedule for your team. For example, someone at HubSpot shared this exchange where he set email expectations with a supervisor:

“I’ll keep sending along drafts as I finish them regardless of the hour, and completely understand that you’ll get to them whenever in your work day. No expectation on immediate response!”

And the supervisor’s reply:

“No worries at all on when your drafts reach my inbox. As you mentioned, I’ll get to it as soon as I can in my normal work day. That said, if you ever DO need something more urgently, just let me know in the subject line!”

Bottom line: set the expectations and boundaries with your team so that everyone understands what requires immediate attention and what doesn’t when it comes to emails, voicemails, text messages, and any other form of communication you use.

Ask employees about their workload.

It can be difficult for an employee to speak up, ask for help, or admit they feel overwhelmed. If you don’t regularly check in with workers about their workload, you may not know they’re burned out until it’s too late and they quit. As a preventative measure, when you’re making assignments, ask yourself:

  1. Is this employee the best person to take on this new project?
  2. What other projects have I assigned to this employee?
  3. Who can I assign to partner and collaborate on this project?

Find out what employees need from you.

Stumped about what you’re doing that’s causing employees to feel overwhelmed? Ask them—chances are they will tell you! Then, make an effort to modify your behavior based on their feedback and check in to confirm that the changes helped. Allowing employees to provide input is an invaluable form of validation that helps them feel more in control.

Some employees may be hesitant to make a request or admit that they’re struggling. In those cases, pay attention to non-verbal cues, admit your own mistakes, and make sure you continue to ask. Sooner or later, even the reluctant employee may offer some insights about what they need.

Manage meetings.

A lot of great work happens during meetings. Visions are born, and community is created. But there’s also a lot of work that doesn’t get done and time wasted due to meetings not having a purpose. Set standards for when you need to meet and when you don’t. Then make those standards part of your scheduling process to ensure you and your team can make the best use of your time.

At the end of the day, managers need to communicate openly and honestly with their teams about workloads and stress. A sincere desire to help will make a better work environment for everyone.


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