Employee burnout is every project manager’s worst nightmare. Burnout leads to productivity drop, lessened enthusiasm in the team and can lead to lost business. As project managers we not only need to ensure that we do not get burned out but our team members are protected against it too.
While there are many factors that contribute, anything that makes people not enjoy their work might eventually lead to burnout. Some of the factors are identified under three buckets in this post, and focusing on them should help you safeguard your team against this workplace epidemic.
Maslach and Goldberg, two UC Berkeley researchers in their article in Applied & Preventive Psychology describe employee burnout as including symptoms of exhaustion, frustration, and anger, as well as feelings of ineffectiveness and failure.
Let us look at 3 categories of Employee Burnout Busters you can focus on to have productive and happy team members in your team.
Employee Burnout Buster #1: Things to AVOID
1. Avoid assigning work that team member is not qualified to do
Skill mismatch is a quite common scenario. It can happen due to changed scope in a project, or incorrect evaluation for the job wherein an employee claiming or perceived to be an expert turns out to be incompetent. The worst outcome of this practice is that such people can create more work for skilled members on the team who need to work extra to make sure team’s output matches expectations.
One person’s burnout can turn to be an epidemic.
2. Avoid you yourself getting involved too deep in work
You as a leader need to have an overall view of what is going on in the project. With multiple hats that you wear to deal with customer, management, other departments, pre-sales and what-nots, you would do good to avoid getting involved into any one work too deep that you miss to notice someone on your team having hard time at work.
Keeping an eye for symptoms – flared tempers, casual negative remarks, absence from work, frequently coming late to work – and acting on them quickly will save you from having to deal with situations later.
3. Avoid keeping your team members always ‘on call’
Respecting the need for privacy of members, and avoiding situations where team members are asked to stay long hours, asked to work on weekends, and if not, asked to be on call, is crucial. There are certain type of work (support, network administration, for instance) where people need to be ‘on call’ – in such cases it is prudent to have redundancy built into the system – have multiple people with same skills and shuffle who is on call.
By setting this expectation your team members will tend to accept this to be part of the job, and understand that you have their best interests in mind to ensure they are not burdened.
Employee Burnout Buster #2: Things to DO
1. Find out the interests/strengths of team members and assign such work to them
This is a bit hard – people’s interests vary and work components may be not be good fit for every team member’s needs. Hence, recruiting people with complementary skills that are necessary for the job is useful. Looking at this problem from another angle, recruiting people with multiple interests will help you rotate people across different job skills within the project, so everyone learns something new and relish newer challenges.
For example, if you are interviewing people for a front-end development position in your software project, recruit someone who is also interested in (or open to work on) back-end work as well.
2. Give team opportunities to relax, rejuvenate and reflect
Team activities such as sports, outings, interest/hobby clubs are ways for people to do something that they like in the company of each other and increase bonding. Many organizations have policies around this and help arrange for such events. If not, you as a project manager can conduct these events.
In one of my previous organizations the budget provided for employee engagement was meager – so all team members decided to pool in certain amount per month and have an event. Since it was the decision by team members, this arrangement also ensured maximum participation, which made every event a success. 🙂
3. Do the right amount of work delegation
Delegating some parts of your work will not only create more time for you to focus on important things, but also help team members to do things necessary for their own growth. They’re going to love you for this.
Delegating can be part of mentoring as well. This helps you identify the person you would like to groom to take your position eventually, so you can move up the corporate ladder easily.
Employee Burnout Buster #3: Things to ENSURE
1. Make sure you do not have bad apples in the team
One bad apple in the team can spoil entire team’s productivity. Bad apples come in different flavors, so to speak. Someone coming from a prestigious college might exhibit superiority complex, for instance. Someone good at her work may not be willing to help other members, or might show them down.
Having a one-to-one discussion, giving them challenging work are couple of ways to deal with the situation.
2. Make sure you have a team mix with complementary skills
This helps people learn from each other and enjoy their company. This also builds redundancy in the team so you have someone to cover if one of your team members falls sick, for instance. If your budget allows it is always better to have additional people on the team, at least junior members who have decent track record.
This redundancy helps in crunch times as well.
3. Make sure your team members plan for and take their vacations
Every team has one or two workaholics. These people love working and hardly take any leave, they tend to work even after office hours and over weekends sometimes. They do not understand that this is not good for them for the long run. The state of mind where one decides to spend maximum time at work tends to reduce their productivity.
Everyone needs to take break, spend time with their family, enjoy a good book on beach, or go on a trek – whatever they enjoy, outside of work. This rejuvenation helps them perform much better when they are back to work.
Here’s a bonus point for you-
Prof. Dan Ariely of Duke University ran an experiment on Behavioral Economics. He had a set of people take a simple picture-based test and submit the answer sheet to an invigilator in the room. Each time they finished an exercise they were paid a small fee, but the fee decreased by 10 cents for subsequent try. Participants could take as many tests as they wanted to earn. When each test is done the invigilator looked at the paper taken from each participant and said ‘Aha’ in appreciation, and put it aside. The group was given the test till the individual decided to stop.
Another group was subjected to the exact same exercise but the invigilator this time did not acknowledge when participant submitted the paper. In fact she totally ignored it. Participant put the answer sheet there and took another sheet if they wanted to continue taking test.
A third group was again subjected to the same experiment, and in this case their answer sheet was shredded as soon as they submitted it.
Which group do you think went on taking exercise the longest (and earned more money)?
The group whose efforts were appreciated by the invigilator with a simple ‘Aha’!
Now, you can imagine that the group whose work was shredded earned the least amount. And you’d be right.
What about the group that was ignored as they submitted the sheet?
They earned almost same amount as the group whose work was shredded!!
What does this teach us, the project managers?
It is very easy to motivate people. A little bit of appreciation goes a long way. And as a contract, no appreciation for work can have as devastating effect as the work being shredded!
So, giving a bit of appreciation to team members’ work will go a long way in keeping them motivated. Ignore them at your own peril!!
It is not easy to ensure your team members are immune to burnout (yourself included). There are way too many variables in work scenario that affect how people feel and behave at work, and many of them like Economy, are not under Project Manager’s control. Having said this, identifying factors that you can change in your team will not only help you build a strong team with productive members but build a strong culture in the organization.
There are of course many other reasons and remedies for dealing with employee burnout. What are some of the challenges you have faced and how have you address them? Do share them in Comments below for the benefit of all readers.
Topic request: This topic was requested by Sharat H. Thank you, Sharat!
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