Burnout, Staff Turnover Linked by Consultants

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

June 30 — Employers should focus on employees as individuals to reduce burnout, which in turn can reduce staff turnover, consultants and researchers say.

The slogan of “doing more with less” often means fewer personnel are available, Mollie Lombardi, co-founder and CEO of research-based analyst and advisory firm Aptitude Research Partners, headquartered in Boston, Mass., said June 29. This has been “the new normal” for a long time, and the strain is starting to tell on employees, she said.

Burnout is more serious than short-term fatigue, in that “you can't just tell someone to take a day off” and expect the person's burnout to abate.

Aptitude Research Partners recently polled 103 organizations and found 67 percent “have experienced productivity or quality issues due to employee fatigue and burnout,” Lombardi said.

This can have public safety implications if it affects critical occupations such as firefighting, Alex Kerin, strategic solutions consultant at HR software company Kronos, of Chelmsford, Mass., said.

Workload was the most significant driver of employee burnout, cited by 54 percent of the organizations, Lombardi said. Other major factors were manager relationships (47 percent), the experience and skills of other team members (46 percent) and the physical working environment (46 percent).

Reducing Burnout

Three key strategies Lombardi said can reduce employee burnout are “balancing consistency with flexibility, managers as models and utilizing technology wisely.” The consistency-flexibility balance was reflected in the poll with just over half (52 percent) citing “better matching of employee skills and experience to open shifts” and slightly lower numbers citing “better workload management,” “better incentive program to prevent unplanned absences” and “policies regarding appropriate rest time,” Lombardi said during a presentation.

Technology can help employers provide employees with predictable schedules while also offering important kinds of flexibility such as shift swapping. This improves employee engagement, which in turn has “real business impact,” Lombardi said.

But there's a problem in that, of the organizations Lombardi's company polled, “only 37 percent have an executive-level role focused on workplace culture and employee engagement,” she said.

“It's not good enough just to look at averages,” Kerin said, because one particular location within an organization may have the biggest problems with burnout and employee disengagement.

The key is organizational culture, which Lombardi defined as “a set of behaviors that are rewarded or discouraged by the people and processes within an organization.” Top-level people have to set the tone by such steps as ensuring employees can actually take vacation they are entitled to because there is someone else to cover their tasks, she said.

Otherwise, burnout can become “contagious throughout the organization,” she added. However, she said, burnout is an individual problem, so there can't be “one-size-fits-all” solutions to it.

Other suggestions came from Andrew P. Hill, associate professor at York St. John University in York, U.K.. He is the author of a study on burnout published July 31, 2015, in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review. In a June 30 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA, he said employers should:

  •  Create “environments that allow personal autonomy among staff”;
  •  “Promote cooperation not competition among staff”;
  •  “Reduce perfectionistic thinking in the organization”;
  •  “Set flexible, meaningful goals”;
  •  “Align individual strengths and interests with duties and responsibilities within the organization”;
  •  “Allow flexible working conditions”; and
  •  “Invest in the development of staff as individuals (not just as employees).”

Lombardi and Kerin were speaking during a webinar sponsored by Kronos.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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