Tis the season when companies of all shapes and sizes shift their focus to holiday get-togethers and year-end gift giving. For small business owners, it can also be a hectic time when you and your team are pushing to meet sales projections, establish 2018 goals and objectives, and handle day-to-day responsibilities, all while tackling your personal holiday to-do lists.

It is not surprising for you and your employees to feel overburdened, but job-related stress is a serious issue that cannot be ignored. Unaddressed stress in the workplace can quickly lead to employee burnout. A recent study conducted by Morar Consulting found that 95 percent of HR professionals at organizations with 100 people or more said employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. According to employees, the top contributors to burnout include unfair compensation, unreasonable workload, constant pressure to adapt to new technology, and too much overtime or after-hours work.

Strategies for De-Stressing

The issues can be even more debilitating for small businesses with lean operations, where staff often juggles multiple responsibilities. However, if left unchecked, the impact of employee burnout can be nothing short of catastrophic for your organization, sapping productivity, fueling absenteeism, undermining engagement, and causing top performers to take their expertise elsewhere.

Protecting your employees from burnout is of vital importance to your business. Here are seven smart strategies for avoiding the overload and intense stress that can impact even the most committed members of your team.

1 – Learn the signs.

Recognizing the signs of burnout is key to preventing it. How can you tell if an employee is burning out? Typical signs include exhaustion, frustration or impatience, lack of motivation, and a drop in performance. Other signs to look for are cynicism or difficulty getting along with colleagues or a decrease in the level of communication. If you notice any of these behavioral changes, it may be time to evaluate the situation.

2 – Clarify roles and responsibilities.

When you or your staff aren’t clear about their responsibilities, your staff may take on unnecessary work or be blamed in error when problems arise. This creates frustration within the team and can also lead to burnout. The solution here is simple: make sure that each member of your team has a specific job description, understands their role, and is aware of their expected contribution to the business.

3 – Be realistic when assigning work.

While this may sound simple, it is often difficult to avoid overloading your team. Delegating responsibility can be an effective professional development strategy, but it can backfire if the weight becomes overwhelming. When work needs to get done and you are short staffed, you may not always be in a position to hand it off to others. However, lightening the load is essential in order to protect your staff from burnout. Be realistic about how much each team member can handle, spread out duties as evenly as possible, and reduce overlap. Assign your best employees an amount of work that is challenging, but make sure their to-do lists don’t start causing their performance to suffer.

4 – Respect your employees’ time.

Stressed out employees often cite email management and excessive meetings as two of the biggest burdens on their time. Setting policies that help employees manage time can free them up to focus on high-priority tasks. Consider limiting unnecessary emails and being judicious about the length and frequency of meetings and who must attend them.

Setting reasonable work hours and sticking to them is also critical to preventing burnout. Your employees are likely to differ on how many hours they can work and be productive. Some may thrive on putting in 120 hours a week, but it’s important to make sure your team understands they are not expected to multitask or answer emails 24/7. While this doesn’t mean instituting an old-school 9-to-5 schedule, it’s important to be on the lookout for employees who are working too many hours, frequently missing work, or not taking paid time off or vacation days.

5 – Create a supportive company culture.

As a business owner, you set the standard when it comes to your company’s culture. Make being supportive a core company value, and model supportive behavior to your leadership team and employees. Make sure you and your managers commit to spending time listening to and addressing employee concerns. Ideally, you want to engage with a team member before burnout begins. When signs begin to manifest, meet with your employee to identify the issues and create a plan together to resolve them. Schedule follow-up meetings to assess their progress.

6 – Provide the proper resources.

If your employees are in the right roles but don’t have sufficient resources, you may be setting them up to fail. Frustration at working with ineffective tools, equipment that is slow to respond, or insufficient budget to execute planned strategies is one of the signs of impending burnout. The failure of management to recognize the need to upgrade can exacerbate feelings of helplessness. Make sure your employees perform at their best by providing the right resources. Ask them what would help make their work more effective. Whether it’s a new tool or some extra training, solving the problem can help alleviate work-related stressors.

7 – Recognize success.

Employees who are engaged are less likely to experience burnout. One of the best ways to increase engagement is to provide individual feedback and recognition. According to an employee engagement survey by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 71 percent of respondents said appreciation by a direct supervisor had the most impact on employee engagement in their organization.

Make it a practice to give frequent, comprehensive feedback to help your employees understand their impact on your business and help them identify future goals. Keep track of top performers, and applaud them for a job well done. Recognizing team members in front of their peers can go a long way toward keeping burnout at bay.

As the use of technology expands in the workplace, it’s critical for business owners to remember that employees are humans, not machines. Even the hardest worker has their limits. Targeting the sources of burnout and being mindful not to add to your team’s workload unnecessarily are essential strategies for safeguarding your people and your company’s success.

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Summit Financial Resources specializes in working capital financing for small to medium-sized businesses that need increased cash flow. We provide working capital financing through invoice factoring, asset-based lending, inventory lending, and equipment financing.