13 Signs That Your Workers Are Burning Out

With the economy down, employees’ stress levels are up—no surprise there. But it’s a legitimate cause for concern for most employers, so today we bring you some strategies to help keep your employees from burning out.

According to a new poll by Free & Clear, 86 percent of employers are concerned about the level of stress among their employees, and 88 percent of employers believe the tough economy has had a negative effect on workers’ stress levels.

“U.S. companies are seeing the impact of the economy reflected in the health and well being of their employees,” said Tim McAfee, chief medical officer for a Free & Clear, a company that specializes in Web-based learning and phone-based coaching to help employers improve the overall health and productivity of their workforces. “Our poll shows that employers are worried about the effects of stress and want to do something about it.”

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The OSHA Compliance Advisor, a twice-monthly newsletter published by BLR®, recommends that you start with an assessment of your employees’ needs and concerns and a program of strategies to address them. If you use an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), its experts may be able to help direct your efforts, including offering leadership and training.

How Serious Is It?

The first step in tackling any problem is to understand it. Henry Neils, who heads an organization known as the International Assessment Network, has identified 13 signs of work-related burnout:

  1. Chronic fatigue (exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically  run-down)

  2. Anger at those making demands

  3. Self-criticism for putting up with the demands

  4. Cynicism, negativity, and irritability

  5. A sense of being besieged

  6. Exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential matters

  7. Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal ills

  8. Weight loss or gain

  9. Sleeplessness and depression

  10. Shortness of breath

  11. Suspiciousness

  12. Feelings of helplessness

  13. Increased degree of risk-taking

If you recognize yourself or others in your organization in this list, it’s probably time to take action, according to the OSHA Compliance Advisor. Burnout is often the result of stress, but there can be other causes, too. Among them are a lack of recognition or control on the part of employees, unrealistic expectations, and a poor match of employee and supervisor.

Although there are numerous “prescriptions” for fighting stress and burnout in the workplace, one useful tip list was compiled by the Health Care Health & Safety Association of Ontario, as follows.

  1. Identify the sources of stress by holding discussions with employees, surveying workers, and collecting and analyzing data on absenteeism, illness, turnover, performance problems, etc.

  2. Propose and prioritize intervention strategies (see examples below) on the basis of the data collected. In a large organization, a team or committee (including workers) may be created for this purpose.

  3. Communicate the intervention plan to employees and get their input.

  4. Develop the intervention and implement it.

  5. Gather feedback on the progress of your plan and make changes accordingly.

  6. At 6 months to a year after implementation, evaluate what you’ve done. Repeat the worker survey and compare data to what you originally collected.

  7. Refine the intervention on the basis of what you’ve learned.

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Intervention Ideas

The types of strategies organizations have successfully used to battle job stress vary a great deal. Consider ideas like these:

  • Make sure job candidates clearly understand the demands and challenges they will face; strive for a good fit between the person and the position.

  • Design jobs that provide workers with meaning, stimulation, and opportunities to use and improve their skills. Job rotation is one way to build diverse workplace skills.

  • Improve the physical environment through better air quality, fewer physical and chemical hazards, better lighting, and less repetitive work.

  • Establish work schedules that include job-sharing, flextime, and rotating shifts.

  • Be clear about organizational and technological changes and pace their implementation.

  • Develop meaningful employee-recognition strategies.

  • Consider implementing a wellness program that could include classes in stress-busting topics such as time management, assertiveness training, and relaxation.

Tomorrow we’ll look at more tips for managing stress in your workplace, and at a tool that takes the work out of training your employees in healthful—and cost-saving—stress management techniques.