The festive season is a joyous time of year. But coming at the end of 12 long months (particularly the 12 months we’ve all just had thanks to the pandemic), senior managers and HR departments need to remain especially vigilant. For it can also be a challenging time for hard-working employees who may have one eye on taking a well-earned rest – and another eye, anxiously, on everything that still needs to be completed before they do it.

Even if your company itself isn’t closing down over the Christmas and New Year period, many of your clients and suppliers may well be, which can cause a knock-on effect of super-tight deadlines, disjointed staff availability and any number of other seasonal business complications. It’s a potentially stressful mix that can quickly result in employee burnout if you’re not careful.

What is employee ‘burnout’?

Employee burnout describes a situation when employees have exhausted their physical, mental or emotional reserves in the performing of their job role. It can be caused by many factors including stressful projects or clients, a lack of managerial support and resources (real or perceived), tight impending deadlines, or even just plain old exhaustion. It’s also commonly seen in the type of employees who tend to set unrealistically high expectations on themselves.

How do you beat employee burnout?

Every workplace and team is different. That said, here are a few important things we’d recommend you keep an eye on to help ensure this year’s festive cheer doesn’t lead to festive ‘tears’. (In truth most of these can be applied to any time of the year.)

1. Know the warning signs

Surveying the office and virtual offices and seeing a hard-working team can be hugely satisfying for a senior manager or business owner. But is end-of-year burnout or exhaustion lurking just beneath the surface? Warning signs include uncharacteristic quality lapses, increased irritability with colleagues (or, even worse, with clients), missed deadlines, changes in time management, a deterioration in grooming standards and possibly a rise in the number of sick days being taken. The other big thing to watch for is employees who’ve accumulated large amounts of annual leave over the course of the year/s, but never seem to use it.

2. Burning too many candles

Candles are great when you’re singing Christmas carols in the local park, or possibly this year watching a pre-recorded and steamed local Christmas carols event! But if your employees are burning the candle at both ends, with constantly early starts and late finishes, it’s a good idea to find simple ways to release the pressure valve a little. Maybe suggest they start a little later some days. Give them a fun ‘social’ project to help provide a distraction? Or even reward them with a surprise paid day off, or a professional development day, at short notice?

3. It’s okay to switch off

Even if you’ve managed to get everyone out of the office at a reasonable hour, what about the many employees who continue to work from home, or work remotely? Not all staff are good at switching off and may end up working well into the night to get pre-Christmas projects completed. The key here is to lead by example, both in what you say, but also what you do. Make it clear that it’s not simply okay to switch off from work – mentally, physically and digitally (stop checking emails at midnight and on weekends!) – it’s actively encouraged.

4. Protecting staff from themselves

Sometimes even the best employees need a gentle reminder it’s in their own interests to recharge their batteries a little, especially when the pressure is on. Determined not to stop until every project has been completed perfectly – an almost impossible task – it can reach a stage where they’re personally taking on so much responsibility it’s almost inevitable burnout will take hold. Remind them that, while their workplace commitment is admirable, running themselves into the ground is no good for their career or your business in the longer term.

5. Open doors

In today’s modern, highly mobile workforces, it can be difficult to gauge just how busy your team members actually are. For this reason, it’s a great idea to have an open-door policy where employees know they’re always welcome to raise potential workload issues about current or looming projects – well before they become fully-blown problems. Listen to their concerns. Explore the alternatives. Then work together to implement a workable solution. Or, at the very least, help them see that the light at the end the approaching tunnel isn’t a train!

Ultimately, frequent and honest workplace communication is the key to solving many of the issues that can lead to employee burnout, so be sure to keep talking and listening.

Avoiding employee burnout at Christmas

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