Most people have either experienced or heard of the term “burnout” at least once during their working life, but in recent years, a less-known form of work-related stress has been recognized by coaches and business psychologists alike: “brownout.” The term originates from the energy industry, where a drop of voltage in electrical power causes lights to either dim or flicker. In the working world, employees who suffer from this condition experience a similar drop in their energy levels, becoming disengaged and demotivated and suffering from a complete lack of interest in their job.
Why is brownout problematic for employers?
Even though brownout is not considered as serious as burnout, it is much more prevalent in the workplace. In a survey conducted by the U.S. coaching firm Corporate Balance Concepts, an estimated 5 percent of 1,000 executives suffered from burnout, while 40 percent suffered from brownout.
Unlike burnout, which is a sudden state of temporary exhaustion, brownout can have long-term lasting effects on a person’s professional and personal life. The main reason why brownout is so problematic is because workers afflicted by it are not in “obvious crisis,” meaning that it is not always noticeable to the naked eye that your employees are in this overwhelmed and disengaged state. As a consequence, many employers are shocked when their top performers abruptly resign and jump ship to a new employer.
However, brownout does not solely affect your employees. Leaders who are suffering from brownout can be incredibly toxic for the work environment, often negatively infiltrating the company culture by ignoring new ideas, not supporting new talent or by generally becoming withdrawn from their role.
How can companies prevent brownout and retain their top talent?
Challenge your talent.
According to recent research, more than 70 percent of high-retention risk employees (many of whom are top performers) say they have to leave their organization to advance their careers. This is often because the employees feel stifled and unchallenged in their role, or rather they believe they are not given the best opportunities to showcase their potential.
Obviously, giving your employees double the workload is not the answer, and can instead lead them to failure and brownout more than anything else. The best ways to positively challenge and stimulate your talent are by seeking their opinion on bigger projects, giving them responsibility over an important task or even assigning them something they have never done before, something that will really develop and reveal their potential. After all, if you do not give your talent a stage, they will cease to perform and seek somewhere else where they can realize their potential.
Develop your talent.
An important attribute of top talent is that they are always looking to grow. While many people strongly believe that on-the-job learning is the only learning an employee needs, growth can also come from more formal programs. Offer your employees online training courses and personalized development plans tailored to their needs or areas for improvement. Providing these opportunities enables your talent to receive both constructive criticism and praise for their achievements, allowing them to feel as though the company is investing in them and wanting them to develop.
If you are looking to grow and inspire your talent at the same time, you can also provide them with a first-hand look into what it really takes to be successful at the company; show them a series of videos or written insights from current and past high performers, as this could motivate your top talent and give them a professional goal to work towards.
Reward your talent.
Many high-performing employees are intrinsically motivated, meaning that they do not need rewards to motivate them to create great work. However, that does not mean that your top talent would not benefit from encouragement every now and then. Treating your top performers the same way you treat those who simply just “do enough” shows that no matter how well your employees perform, they will always be treated the same and not receive any praise for their additional efforts. Doing this hinders employee morale, making your talent feel deflated, unmotivated and disinterested in your company. Whether it’s a team lunch, a certificate of achievement or a handwritten note from the CEO/manager valuing their work, ensure that your high-performing talent feels appreciated for the work that they do, and as a result, you have more chance of retaining your top potential.
Whether it’s burnout, brownout or overall work stress, taking the time to develop a more sustainable strategy to prevent and support these cases could be the key to retaining and attracting high-performers to your workplace. By combining these three tips -- challenge, develop and reward -- into your company culture, you will actively combat the associated risks of brownout. After all, employee turnover is inevitable, but the reasoning behind why your top talent leaves does not have to be.