Employees approaching burnout? Here’s how to support them

By Michelle van Schouwen

As small business owners, we prize efficiency. We’re glad when we’re busy, and we tend to power through even the most stressful and exhausting times. It’s easy to forget that employees experience the same overwork that we do, and that they suffer stress and exhaustion, too. But the best employers do notice and make an effort to help employees cope.

Employees typically feel the stress of overwork or busy times differently than business owners do, and understandably so. To a great extent, business owners have the power to say yes or no to projects, deadlines or challenges issued by prospects and customers. Once an employer has said yes and delegated some of the actual work to employees, the employees end up with responsibility without that same level of authority, which is a tough combination. What’s more, an employer may be motivated by the potential rewards of getting a big project done, while an employee may view it as just one more endless mountain on a similarly endless uphill journey.

How can an employer support employees who risk burnout from all that stress?

-Prioritize the work that needs to be done. Help your employees separate what’s immediate or important from what can wait.

-Eliminate legacy tasks that occupy time and probably made sense when they were instituted but serve little purpose now.

-Initiate “lean” processes. Always seek the most efficient way to get work done. Eliminate extra steps that don’t add quality as well as red tape you do not need.

-Train employees to use the most efficient and non-intrusive forms of communication whenever possible. Emailing instead of calling can save hours every week, for example.

-Help employees create time blocks to accomplish important work and minimize distractions.

-Offer praise when it is deserved, and be gentle in your critiques whenever possible. Happier people tend to work more efficiently.

-Provide a material “thank you.” Buy lunch for the office, give a spot bonus or let everyone go home early on a Friday after you’ve finished a big project.

-Check in with your employees and find out what is causing their stress. Can you help?

-Even great employees can burn out. Sometimes, this happens when you, too, are experiencing burnout. Be sensitive to the fact the buck stops with you – you have to be the bigger person and offer support, even when you can barely listen.

-Sometimes, an employee just isn’t a fit for a particular job, and simply can’t deal with the stress that comes with it consistently. In that case, make whatever changes are necessary.

Having empathy, providing leadership and modeling your own best practices for stress management will go a long way to helping staff avoid burnout – and maybe circumventing it yourself.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. vSA is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, vSAConsult, its executive-level strategic planning capability, and for its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B.

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