How communicators can identify and counteract workplace burnout

Try these tips to keep employees engaged and energized: Celebrate successes, tie job activities to tangible results, and connect the next goal to the last triumph.

Burnout might be the corporate epidemic of our age.

Workplace burnout is now an official medical diagnosis. What can corporate communicators do to prevent and mitigate this productivity killer?

Playing your role starts with understanding more about burnout’s causes and symptoms.

What is burnout?

The symptoms of burnout are exhaustion, cynicism and lack of positive production. Sometimes it’s caused by overwork or corporate mistreatment, but it’s often a natural result of struggling to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

If you suspect that an employee is on the brink of burnout, examine his or her workload—including taking a hard look at stressful or unrealistic objectives, directives and quotas. Sometimes “stretch goals” and continuous striving for the next level of corporate growth leave employees feeling that their best is never enough.

Stretch goals

Stretch goals are crucial to many organizations’ approaches to driving performance. The thinking is that by creating goals that require a bit extra, employees will produce more oomph. When goals are met, all is well, but anything short of the objective feels like failure. There’s constant pressure to be better and do better.

Instead of celebrating successes and solid performances, there’s a harmful focus on missed stretch goals. This sets employees up for burnout.

The next goal

Communicators should help the organization and its employees understand what the next goal is. However, if we neglect to celebrate our success on the last goal—or fail to integrate that success into the messaging for the next goal—we make employees believe what they’re doing doesn’t matter.

Feeling that one’s work is pointless can drain an employee, so the onus is on communicators to help people know that they’re making substantive contributions toward success.

The communicator’s role

Communicators can help prevent and extinguish corporate burnout with these three simple tips:

1. Celebrate successes. Recognition is an integral component of employee engagement—and just being a healthy, happy human. Many people dwell on failures, shortcomings or losses. Communicators should counteract that proclivity for negativity by consistently pumping up colleagues with praise for a job well done. Celebrate successes, big and small, and make employees feel appreciated.

2. Connect job activities to tangible results. Many employees struggle to see how their job fits into the bigger picture of corporate success. The more you can connect their work to meaningful company results, the more engaged, productive and energized they’ll be.

3. Connect the next goal to the last success. The constant march of new goals can make everyone feel that progress is impossible. To combat this hopeless feeling, clearly communicate how the current goal was made possible by the previous success. Cast a compelling vision of what’s on the horizon, but take time to recognize the specific victories that led you where you are.

Robert Bogue, president of Thor Projects, is a consultant, speaker and author of “Extinguish Burnout: A Practical Guide to Prevention and Recovery.” Learn more about preventing burnout at ExtinguishBurnout.com.

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