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People Management

How to Help an Employee Overcome Burnout

March 17, 2022
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5 mins

Burnout is serious and can’t be fixed overnight. Use these seven steps to help employees overcome burnout and rediscover their drive and sense of purpose.

Linda Le Phan
Burnout is serious and can’t be fixed overnight. Use these seven steps to help employees overcome burnout and rediscover their drive and sense of purpose.

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Once an employee has reached a later stage of burnout, work-related stress fills their every day. If it hasn’t already, their mental and physical exhaustion could push them to a breakdown at any point. It’s an unsustainable state for anyone to be in. 

So how do you help employees overcome burnout?

How to reverse employee burnout

Burnout is serious, and there’s no quick way to revert it. It’s even more challenging to overcome if you don’t have habits and practices in place to identify it when it’s happening to your team. 

But with empathy and commitment, there are ways you can reverse employee burnout and reduce the chances of it becoming a recurring problem. 

The key is to know why it’s happening and make changes to your work environment that support your employees’ best interests. Here are seven steps that’ll help you reverse and prevent employee burnout once and for all. 

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1. Identify the source(s) 

Employees rarely reach burnout in peaceful times. There’s typically one or more sources of ongoing stress that become harder and harder for them to manage over time. 

Figuring out your employees’ main sources of stress at work is the first step to helping them overcome burnout. As you’re looking for those sources, be sure to ask questions — to yourself and to your team — and don’t make assumptions. 

There may be obvious stress factors in the environment that are easy for you to spot, like being short-staffed, spending too much overtime, and missing unrealistic deadlines. However, your employees can also suffer from feeling underappreciated and other less obvious sources of stress. 

2. Hold transparent conversations

Talking is a critical part of fixing burnout. It’s a natural de-stressor and a catalyst for connection and understanding. Therefore, you must take the time to talk directly to employees to understand their situations more clearly and help sort through the problems that are unique to them. 

Remember, though, that it’s easier for employees to talk to someone they trust about something that’s upsetting them. Our managers build that trust and rapport through daily Kona check-ins, consistently listening and supporting during one-on-ones, and regularly showing appreciation. 

Know that each employee processes and communicates their feelings in different ways, so don’t expect everyone to open up in the same way or at the same time. To that end, give your employees various opportunities to talk and a safe, judgment-free environment for sharing. This can include:

  • Anonymous surveys.
  • Virtual coffee chats.
  • Team-building events. 
  • Daily check-ins with Kona.
  • Weekly one-on-one meetings with their manager.
  • Check-ins with the leadership team.
  • Engagement in a mentorship program. 

3. Set healthy boundaries

There’s a common assumption that something toxic must happen within a company for employees to reach burnout. But sometimes, burnout also happens when employees’ needs and personal boundaries start to misalign with the rhythms of the workplace. 

As an employer, setting healthy boundaries ensures that your employees don’t have to choose between succeeding at work or in their personal life. Some ways you can enforce healthy work boundaries include:

  • Advocating for more work-life balance and reminding employees that they can leave work at work.
  • Reconsidering what’s a fair workload for one person and encouraging delegation. 
  • Showing its okay to take breaks and say no to things that are not a priority or are out of their scope of responsibilities.

4. Make a game plan 

The conditions that led employees to burnout will continue unless you take proactive steps to change them. That’s why it’s essential to make a game plan after you’ve listened to your employees and done your internal reflection. 

You’ll find that many companies fighting burnout today by establishing programs for wellness support, such as: 

  • mental health days.
  • employee assistance program.
  • counseling service recommendations.
  • wellness stipend.

For example, SAP, Eventbrite, and Modern Health have provided mental health days to their employees. Microsoft, EY, and Webflow offer a wellness stipend that employees can use to support their overall wellness. 

5. Make time for team bonding 

As humans, we get through tough times by leaning on each other. Work friendships, in particular, have been proven to help ward off burnout because colleagues can authentically relate to each others’ work-related challenges. 

Use this knowledge to your advantage by giving your employees a chance to build and reinforce their workplace friendships. 

There are endless options for team bonding events, and they can also happen as a whole company, in departments, and also in small groups and pairs. It’s up to you to decide what activities make the most sense for your team’s needs and preferences. However, if your focus is on overcoming burnout, choose an activity that:

  • Isn’t complex and doesn’t put employees in uncomfortable situations without adequate support.
  • Sparks joy and laughter.
  • Can remind employees where interest in their current role stemmed from. 
  • Offers new ways of thinking and potentially a new source of motivation for them.

6. Create a culture of empathy

Helping individual employees overcome burnout is a necessary step to help them return to healthy and productive versions of themselves. But the next step every organization should also do is create a culture where burnout doesn’t have a chance to develop. 

Making shifts to your culture is neither fast nor straightforward. Fortunately, building a culture of empathy is a two-step process. Start with gaining leadership alignment on what you’re willing to do to overcome and prevent burnout. Then, follow that with a consistent effort across the entire organization.

Here are a few practical ways to infuse empathy into your workplace culture:

  • Normalize the use of sick days and PTO for mental health.
  • Set reasonable deadlines and practice flexibility and understanding if employees have a fair reason for not being able to meet them.
  • Voice appreciation for employees’ effort and resilience; not just pure achievement.
  • Have company leaders model — and recognize — the behavior you want to see more of in the company, such as empathy, clear communication, and self-awareness.

7. Encourage PTO usage

When was the last time your employee took time off?

If you're not already tracking that, you should. Your employees deserve to take their time off, so if they're not taking it, question if it's due to their heavy and demanding work load.

Offer to cover projects that are on their plate so they can take PTO time without the fear of falling behind.

Burnout happens when work-related stress reaches an unbearable point. 

Using these seven steps to help employees overcome burnout will give your team the power to take back control and recover while also creating a healthy culture where burnout is no longer something you have to worry about. 

Meet the Author

Linda Le Phan

Linda is a Boston-based content writer with 10 years of experience crafting content for human-centric B2B brands. She covers topics like remote work, productivity, recruitment, mental health, and more. Her goal is to promote transparency, empathy, and honest introspection within companies and their leaders.

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