3 strategies to reduce burnout on your team

More than two-thirds of employees say they are burned out, a 20% increase from May, according to a new report from employment platform Monster. The extreme stress and exhaustion of the COVID-19 pandemic is putting employees at risk of physical and mental illness.

“When we work from home, we don't create boundaries in our lives,” says Curtis Christopherson, CEO of Innovative Fitness, a personal training and wellness club that works with businesses to provide virtual health and fitness sessions. “Because we’re home and isolated now, we’re working a lot more and spending time in front of technology. The thing that’s suffered is health and wellness.”

Read more: Mental health is reaching a breaking point during COVID: How employers can spot suicide warning signs

Burnout has been an official mental health concern since 2019 when it was added to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, a diagnostic tool for medical providers. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress, and left untreated, can lead to long-term health consequences, like depression, heart disease and diabetes. Employers spend between $125-190 billion on healthcare costs associated with burnout, according to research by Harvard Business School.

Because of the pandemic, employees are even more at risk for burnout because of the increased stressors of work and home responsibilities, Christopherson says. Employees are operating in “fight-or-flight mode,” which can affect workplace productivity.

“To protect ourselves from fear, we either conserve energy or we fight back, and that level of energy can really impact our well-being,” he says. “Employees feel overwhelmed — they don’t have the attention span and efficacy in their jobs and are not performing at their best.”

Read more: Worker burnout is soaring. Here’s how to reach your employees before it’s too late

Employers can intervene and prevent burnout by recognizing the warning signs and establishing a healthy remote work environment, Christopherson says. He shared three critical considerations managers should take when dealing with burnout.

Understand the physical and mental toll on your employees
Humans are very habitual and that creates a level of stability and security in our lives. When that gets disrupted, we end up floundering. Then add a state of fear and anxiety, a fear of uncertainty, a fear of the future, and it really impacts our immune system. Physiologically, our heart rates are elevated. We don't sleep as well. What's unique about burnout is that when we come to a place of exhaustion, sleeping is actually harder, not easier. Our body does not know how to relax or how to recharge.

If you're working together, be aware of physical signs, like attention span, irritability and sickness. Also look at [the employee’s] overall level of engagement. When people reach a level of exhaustion, they tend not to engage in their environment as much. So that means if there's team builders or activities, they don’t participate. They may also take a lot of breaks during the day, but they’re still not getting ahead because they’re not taking the time to actually rest.
Ensure stability and connectivity with your team
One of the things that is key is a sense of belonging. People have been isolated; they've been alone. They have fear, and there's uncertainty. Human beings thrive when we feel there's a sense of connection to our peers. Studies show that when families, whether it's spouses or kids, have a connection at the workplace that their spouse is involved in, it increases overall performance and support at home.

The more we can calm the nervous system and provide security, the better off people are going to perform. Ensure your team has clearly outlined roles and responsibilities. If the lines are blurred, that’s when people will overwork or underperform. Ensuring that there's very clear outlined goals and expectations will help workers feel secure in their job environment.
Promote wellness opportunities
When people are physically active and motivated in their physical wellness, it's going to impact sleep, and sleep impacts mood. Workplace wellness is important as a team building initiative too. Whether it’s a step challenge, or yoga and team meditation exercises, there are many ways to implement a wellness program at work.

We live in a world of technology, and there are some great tools that allow us to track our wellness, like FitBit or Woop. Those apps provide a level of connectivity tracking, whether it's steps or calories burned. They can also act as a community engagement platform, where you can do an activity challenge with your coworkers. It creates opportunities for community and holds people accountable.
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