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6 tips to manage workplace burnout

Woman working at a desk


According to a pertinent article in Psychology Today, burnout is one of those road hazards in life that one really should be keeping a close eye out for, but sadly—often because of our "I can do everything" personalities—we rarely see it coming. Because high-achievers (often synonymous with those who have an entrepreneurial spirit) are often so passionate about what they do, they tend to ignore the fact that they're working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy workloads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel—all of which make them ripe for burnout.

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to
  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

The difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree, which means that the earlier you recognize the signs, the better able you will be to avoid burnout (IF you do something to address the symptoms when you recognize them.

Signs of burnout
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
  • Loss of productivity and poor performance
  • Interpersonal relationships with peers, colleagues and family members
  • Increased irritability
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Increased illness
  • Depression
  • Anger

If you're not experiencing any of these problems, that's great! However, you should keep these warning signs in mind, remembering that burnout is an insidious creature that creeps up on you as you're living your busy life. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, this should be a wake-up call that you may be on a dangerous path.

Take some time to honestly assess the amount of stress in your life and find ways to reduce it before it's too late. Burnout isn't like the flu; it doesn't go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life. And as hard as that may seem, it's the smartest thing to do because making a few little changes now will keep you in the race with a lot of gas to get you across the finish line. Focus on a set of small achievable goals to turn you back in the right direction.

Battling burnout and preventative measures

So now you are aware of how to identify burnout, both within yourself as your employees. This is half the battle. The other half is what to do when you start seeing the signs, to prevent and reverse the effects of burnout before it sets in. Here’s 6 tips, but don’t be afraid to get creative with a few of your own!

1. Off-work activities

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. You saw what happened in The Shining, team building activities with your staff will not only help build internal relationships and create a more productive and functional workplace by giving employees a greater feeling of belonging, it builds a palpable sense of community and satisfaction within your workplace that customers and clients pick up on and buy into. Associating with employees outside of a formal work setting is also a great way to get to know each other on a more personal level, and increase one’s support network. Yes, it will feel weird at first, but once you get over the hump, it really does make the workplace feel more like a family

2. Morning huddles

It may sound silly, but a quick meeting each morning with the crew is a great way to start the day. These are always best led into with a quick chat about current events (non-work related, to put everyone at ease), a quick round of updates from each staff member, and a note of what is on the menu for the day. This makes each staff member felt heard and valued. This will also serve to keep you updated on what they are doing, so you don’t have to chase after them to find out. If you have too many staff to make this feasible, you can break it down into smaller groups. Remember, even though these are casual meetings, it is still most efficient to have a plan/agenda going into it!

3. Outdoor meetings

Also known as “walking meetings”. Why confine your team to a stuffy boardroom, workshop or broom closet? When you have your staff meetings, have them in a park, at the beach, or even just outside the public library. The sun and fresh air have rejuvenating effects that can’t be matched by neon lights and recycled oxygen. Nothing stimulates the brain cells like a change in venue! Allowing yourself to step away from a potentially fast paced environment for a moment can also be an effective tool in combatting your own workplace stress.

4. Internal competition

This has been employed by sales based organizations for decades, but can be applied to any position. Promoting a little internal competition for various fun awards and small prizes can not only drive production, sales and output, it will give your staff small goals to work towards. Sometimes an employee and even you, can lose motivation, as many jobs don’t have small projects, rather, they have duties that are the same or similar, day in day out. As we get too comfortable, focus, production, and drive often suffer. This goes for you as well! A work day for a small business owner is never ending (even when we leave the site, our mind is still working). If we can break down organizational goals into small bite-sized projects, we can all get the satisfaction of a job well-done!

5. Staff brainstorming

This may seem like a no-brainer (pun intended), but getting staff ideas and buy-in, on a frequent basis, not only makes your staff feel more valued and helps them to take ownership over their role and the success of the business (as well as build their pride in their work), it may actually save you from having to do all of the planning and strategizing yourself! While a small business owner wears about a million and one hats and must keep an eye on the forest, our staff is often walking amongst the trees, and you would be surprised by how many staff generated suggestions improve the business on a grand scale.

In only three months American Airlines was able to engage nearly 3,500 employees to come up with more than 1600 ideas that were adopted, resulting in more than $20 million in cost savings and revenue generating improvements. Employees were rewarded with $4.7 million in merchandize prizes. More importantly the employees wholeheartedly supported the changes because they had suggested and designed them. You won’t have number on these levels, but the power of collective thought is undeniable. Let your staff help lighten the burden on you!

6. Flexible work hours

Work-life balance and schedule flexibility are paramount to today’s employees. If you are able to offer the ability to allow them to choose their hours (within reason), or allow them the flexibility to work from home, your employees will be happy campers! Many workplaces and industries do not allow for this flexibility, but if you can, then why not? If the job gets done, does it really matter if it is in office next to yours? Probably not. To keep a cohesive office place, most flexible employers who ensure that workers come in at least once or twice per week, but offering this flexibility may even allow you more flexibility in negotiating an employee’s wage. Also, allow yourself the ability to come in a little later some days or to complete personal errands during work days. Having set times where you have to be doing something adds stress. If you can’t make your own hours, why by your own boss?

These are just a few of the possibilities surrounding addressing workplace fatigue and small business burnout. Some may be possible for your workplace, some may not, but by being creative and challenging the norm, you might not only be able to battle burnout, you may be able to increase productivity and job satisfaction! 

Do you still have questions about workplace stress? Call CFIB's Business Counsellors with your query!