When Hustling Is Harmful: How to Save Your Employees From Burnout

Sure, you want your employees to work hard, but what happens when they buy into the mentality of grinding until they drop? Rather than laud your team's workaholics, promote balance to get better -- not more -- work.

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When Hustling Is Harmful: How to Save Your Employees From Burnout
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Guest Writer
Chief Editor of Under30CEO
6 min read
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Sending a Slack at 2 a.m. gets a social thumbs-up from the pro-hustle crowd. Logging a mere 45-hour workweek? That’s slacker territory.

Such is the mentality of modern professionals who feast on the notion that more is, well, more. Their hustle-centric mottos have so gripped today’s workforce that they inspired a piece in The New York Times. Journalist Erin Griffith, arguing against a culture that venerates workaholism over well-being, notes that this frenetic pace can only have one ending: total burnout.

And indeed, burnout has plagued more than three-quarters of American workers, according to research from Deloitte. No amount of passion for a project exempts professionals from the need to log off every once in a while (and ideally, with some regularity).

What happened to working smarter?

Not long ago, the business world paradigm seemed to push toward smarter toil. Employees were encouraged to find more effective and efficient ways to do what needed doing, not just do more of it. This philosophy has been replaced with a glorification of perpetual working motion. To be sure, we still embrace the smart-work theory, but it’s not to get done with work more quickly. Instead, we want to accumulate accomplishments more rapidly, even if it means eschewing a personal life, optimal health or a modicum of downtime.

Where does this “performative workaholism” come from? It appears to be driven by Millennials, who believe they must sacrifice all to prove their worth in the eyes of their peers, who are always watching on social media. However, the philosophy of work-without-end has woven its tentacles into Generations X and Z as well, not to mention unretired Boomers.

Related: How to Recognize and Beat Burnout

Unsurprisingly, all work and no play is killing productivity and creativity. As recent research published in the International Journal of Innovative Trends in Engineering shows, workaholism leads to lowered job satisfaction, counterproductive work habits, family discord and a higher likelihood of experiencing mental health conditions. Yet many employees will continue to work themselves ragged, given the chance.

Their only hope of finding relief from such an impossible grind is from employers ready to flip off the switch to this never-ending treadmill.

Helping employees return to a balanced life.

Sure, some team members will always embrace the concept of TGIM. However, many would be happy not to lose relationships and wellness for the sake of career advancement.

Deloitte discovered that 70 percent of professionals feel their employers aren’t doing enough when it comes to personnel burnout. If you think your employees might feel that way, try implementing these measures:

1. Get personal with workers.

Marco Scognamiglio, global CEO of marketing and advertising agency RAPP, poses an intriguing question to leaders in an Adweek article: “Do you understand your cohorts?” The inquiry is quite rhetorical. After all, plenty do not. He explains that the only way to preempt unproductive, unwanted behaviors is by meeting people where they are and then moving forward. “We must try to understand each person’s motivations, aspirations and expectations and manage accordingly,” he says.

In other words, get to know your people and design management methods and trainings that help them reach their goals without a constant influx of stress. By adapting your managerial style to fit your employees’ needs, you can become a wiser coach and mentor. For instance, personality tests can identify workers’ strengths, as well as provide openings to discuss flexible arrangements that promote work-life balance. Employee surveys can also pinpoint areas of potential burnout and showcase opportunities to increase engagement. Beyond that, Scognamiglio recommends planning some stress-reducing activities, such as sending workers to a TED Talk or an extracurricular class based on their interests.

Related: Do You Even Realize How Your Burnout Culture Is Hampering Your Growth?

2. Cheerlead for professional autonomy.

When workers feel like they have control, they’re less likely to call in sick or experience health issues, according to research published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. As a supervisor, you must parcel out projects and tasks. Yet you can often give employees the chance to decide how and when their work is accomplished. This type of professional autonomy tends to take the edge off otherwise stressful, deadline-driven or high-impact work because it hands some authority back to the employee.

Not sure how your workers will respond to such freedom? You might be surprised to discover that an increase in autonomy and a scaling back of toil for toil’s sake can result in a burst of intrapreneurship.” Give workers a way to test the entrepreneurial waters and take ownership over projects, both of which can boost their self-confidence. At the same time, encourage them to seek innovative means to fulfill their functions without literally losing sleep at night.

3. Allow -- nay, encourage -- your employees to take breaks.

Despite many companies touting unlimited vacation leave, plenty of employees admit they would never consider taking advantage of the perk. They worry that being “out of sight” will naturally lead to being “out of mind.” Thus, they forgo what could be a huge benefit to their well-being, all because they feel the attractive carrot of career success is being dangled by a noose.

Instead of merely telling your employees about the availability of paid time off, monitor how often they use it. You might be shocked at your findings. A Project: Time Off study shows that the majority of U.S. employees don’t use up all of their allotted annual vacation time. Consider using an automated system that updates you and your team about how much PTO is left to take. Making it easy, practical and accepted for team members to take a Friday off or actually go on a weeklong trip to the Caribbean will do wonders for them -- and your overall output -- in the long run.

You may always have “that worker” who insists on coming in early, leaving late and sending emails on Saturday night. So be it. Accept that you will have some workaholics, but resist the urge to put them on pedestals. Otherwise, you may wind up with a troop of sleep-deprived hustlers bent on logging more hours rather than producing exceptional results.

Related: 7 Proven Ways to Beat Burnout

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