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At Work

Is There a Fix for Burnout?

Before you give up on an underperforming employee, find out how you can turn things around

By Sharsvarnee Kundasawmy

September 21, 2021 •

Burnout. If you’ve dismissed it as simply being tired, think again. Burnout is a persistent feeling of exhaustion that’s accompanied by cynicism and a sense of detachment, says Michelle Inness, an expert on organizational behaviour. 

As bad as it is for the person suffering from it, burnout also has serious long-term implications for organizations, Inness says. As a manager, you can’t just hope that your employees are resilient enough to cope. Instead, you have to create a work environment where people are less likely to experience burnout, she says.

You’re concerned for your employees and want to help — but where do you start? Inness is an associate professor in the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Management, and assistant dean of equity, diversity and inclusion at the Alberta School of Business. She shared some tips on workplace burnout in a special episode of What The Job?

1: Oversee but don’t micromanage

A lack of control over work is stressful. On the flip side, employees who enjoy a sense of autonomy in their work can be more engaged. “We want to be able to make decisions about how we prioritize our tasks,” says Inness. Trust your employees to juggle their task requirements responsibly. 

2: Aim for a sustainable workload

Burnout is often associated with huge volumes of work. That said, being bored at work or feeling that your contribution is insufficient can also lead to prolonged stress. “Any extremes of an activity, whether it’s being overworked or underworked, can contribute to burnout,” Inness says. Managers can reduce stressors by paying attention to people’s workloads and redistributing tasks accordingly. 

3: Foster positive relationships

The relationships that we have at work can be great, but they can also sometimes be toxic, Inness says. Distrust, bullying, microaggressions and sabotage are all recipes for burnout, so it’s important to promptly address and resolve workplace conflicts. On the plus side, positive social interactions can be a way to combat burnout. 

4: Bridge the communication and trust gap

“Encourage open lines of communication between employees and managers,” Inness says. Conversations on the type or amount of work can help to improve productivity and efficiency. But in order to open up, employees need to trust their managers. Inness has some advice on how you can achieve that trust. Treat employees with dignity. Respect their value systems. Credit the right person and show appreciation for the work done. Avoid stereotyping and advocate for underrepresented voices. 

5: Inspire reflection and balance

“Be reflective about what it is that led to burnout in the first place,” says Inness. Give your employees time to identify the root causes of their ongoing stress and then work on solutions together. Furthermore, encourage them to take time to find a work-life balance. Make sure their work hours do not impinge on their ability to find time for exercise, adequate sleep, family time and hobbies. A full life helps mitigate burnout.

Go Deeper

Listen to full episodes of What the Job? for more career-related topics.

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