Are any of your employees having attitude problems or act like they don’t want to be at work? Maybe they’re suffering from job burnout. If so, don’t just write it off, you need to address the issue.              

“Employee burnout is more than a temporary situation after a difficult week,” says Dorothy Lecher, human resources director with Prema-Lean Pork. “It is a physical, emotional and mental state of exhaustion caused by a demanding environment and/or the inability to meet those demands.”

Burnout can show up in many ways, such as poor job performance, lack of motivation and poor customer service. If it goes untreated, it can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, depression and more. (See sidebar for signs of burnout.)

According to Lecher, “middle managers are the least likely to seek assistance because they don’t want to admit they can’t handle the stress. Yet, they are the most likely ones to become burned out.”

What causes employee burnout? It can be attributed to many workplace factors, Lecher explains. These include lack of control caused by an employee’s unrealistic expectations or inability to set and maintain boundaries. It could be a poor match between the employee and the workplace, perhaps personal values conflict with the job, or the person lacks necessary skills for the job.

Not only is the cause of burnout tough to crack, but Lecher says so is recognizing your employees’ stress factors. Some of these may include:

  • Management’s expectation of greater workload and longer hours.
  • Loss of individual autonomy, predictable income, over-scheduling, loss of trust and respect for his/her work contribution.
  • Pressure to take on more risks as the business system demands increased compliance, attempts to decrease costs and increase quality.
  • Inability to balance personal and professional life.
  • Reduced company or peer socialization and collegiality.
  • Lack of positive and timely feedback from management or company owners.
  • Difficulty saying “No” at work, home or other activities.
  • Unrealistic customer or employee expectations.

“Burnout is preventable, but you need to understand what leads to burnout so you can help your employees in the recovery process,” notes Lecher.

Speaking from experience, Don Tyler, management consultant, says an effective method is to have a series of conversations over a period of time with the affected employee. “The key is to ask questions that will offer clues to what the real problems are,” he says. “It’s more about listening to a person’s answers than asking the right questions.”

You can do this by asking general questions: What’s new? How’s the job going? What would make the job a better experience?

Be observant. Did someone get promoted and this employee didn’t? Ask the employee how he or she feels about that move?

“You have to deal with emotions, and the only way to do that is to get people to talk about the issue,” says Tyler. “You don’t have to be a professional counselor, but asking questions gives the employee an opportunity to express any frustrations they have about their job or other issues.

The key is to get them to share their concerns, rather than getting into an unemotional, logic-based, problem-solving discussion.

One other key – pick the right time to talk with an employee. “Don’t pre-set a time unless you absolutely have to,” says Tyler. “A pre-set time can put the person on the defensive.” Instead, pick a time and place that’s comfortable, such as when you’re driving to another barn or when an employee is working alone.

What can you and your employees do about burnout? In some cases, an employee may ask himself, “Is it necessary to leave my current position or company in order to overcome the burnout syndrome?” There are no absolute answers.      

“It’s alright for an employee to approach the company and ask for assistance in overcoming burnout,” says Lecher. 

Of course, there are risks involved. The manager or company could hold the episode against the employee. “However, unless burnout is addressed and treated, the effects will continue to erode the employee’s job productivity, work quality and job attitude,” she adds.

Managers and owners need to set an example for employees to follow. How’s your attitude? What’s your approach to time off?Do you encourage or insist that employees take a vacation and get away?    

Another way to tackle this problem is to implement a burnout-avoidance program. The components may include monitoring employees who look like burnout candidates. For example, an employee that’s trying to conquer and master too many things in an unrealistic time frame.

“Any way you look at it, burnout is costly to your business, but it is preventable,” says Lecher. “It takes a personal commitment by the employees, management and the company to take proactive steps to prevent or address burnout.”  

Reviewing the Signs
Even though it’s not a precisely defined medical condition, burnout has recognizable symptoms. It is a result of prolonged stress, says Dorothy Lecher, human resources director, Prema-Lean Farms.

Here are some of the symptoms that your employees may experience:

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irritability, negativity.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, headaches.
  • Sadness and depression.
  • Increased cynicism.
  • A decline in creativity and problem-solving abilities.
  • Quick to anger.
  • Defensive, edgy and quick to blame others.
  • Detachment from management, other staff and clients.
  • Feel lethargic, unable to find satisfaction in job
  • Question the value of the tasks he/she performs.
  • Dread going to go work, not just on an occasional morning, but on most mornings.

Staying Positive
As a manager or owner, there are ways to help your employees reduce stress levels and avoid job burnout. Here, Dorothy Lecher, human resources director, Prema-Lean Pork, offers some suggestions on what you can do:

  • Allow employees to talk freely with each other.
  • Work to reduce personal conflicts that may surface between employees, as well as between you and any employees.
  • Give employees adequate control over how they do their work.
  • Ensure that staffing and expense budgets are adequate.
  • Be sure to talk openly with employees.
  • Support employees’ efforts. This might include specific activities or responsibilities on the farm, getting involved in the community, advancing their education or professional training.
  • Provide competitive personal-leave and vacation benefit packages.
  • Address compensation and/or advancement issues openly and honestly.
  • See that you’re maintaining competitive types and levels of employee benefits.
  • Recognize and reward employees for their accomplishments and contributions.