How to manage burnout among your top performers

What you can do to keep these integral employees productive and engaged.

Managing employee burnout

Top performers generally have a few things in common: they work hard, strive for excellence, push for what they believe in, and don’t settle for mediocrity. That’s what everyone wants in an employee, right?

However, the constant excellence comes with one big problem: burnout.

If you’re not careful, your top performers can become overwhelmed, overworked, feel under-appreciated or under-supported, and suffer in their day-to-day activities. Here are practical steps to help keep your top performers productive and engaged. It starts with managing their stress levels and vacation time.

Why “unlimited vacation/PTO time” isn’t the answer

Netflix was one of the first companies to offer an unlimited vacation policy. Get your work done, take off as much time as you want, and they won’t keep track of your vacation days. As long as it’s approved by management, have at it.

While that is still its policy, other companies who have tried this benefit eventually scrapped the program. Why?

Many employers with unlimited vacation policies collected data that showed employees actually took fewer vacation days when compared to being given a set amount of days off. Less!

“Putting a numerical limit on holiday time has a counterintuitive effect. If you are given 25 days holiday that are yours to take, then you are subconsciously motivated to take them. It’s some kind of psychological quirk of ownership – when something belongs to you, then you immediately value it far more highly.” [We tried unlimited holiday for three years. Here’s everything that went wrong]

Unlimited PTO also presents problems with work scheduling. A better approach may be to offer generous personal time off benefits, particularly for top performers who have proven their worth, and not necessarily a benefit for years of service. But make sure you encourage these team members to utilize these PTO days and let them know they are not heroes by taking less. In fact, when top performers are not taking vacation time, that is a signal you’re headed in the burnout direction.

Analyze the number of emails your employees send on nights and weekends

We analyzed over 650 million internal emails to over five million employees globally. We collected this aggregated, anonymous data from over 300 enterprise customers. We used this information to analyze pre-Covid-19 email statistics and compared them with the current pandemic situation.

During the month of March, the number of emails sent to employees nearly doubled from a weekly average of 5.8M in February to 11.3M per week in March, and 10M weekly emails sent in April. More surprising was the volume of weekend emails, which skyrocketed up 1,121% in March from 74,472 to 909,382.

There are many correlations you can make with this data. One of the most obvious conclusions is that COVID-19 led to business uncertainty, which led to an increase in communication via email. The increase in communication is expected. I mean, if fewer emails were sent during COVID-19, I think that would be alarming.

The question is, did the number of emails sent return to the benchmark of pre-COVID email usage? Is your company still sending more emails to each other? What about weekend usage? Is that higher than normal? If it is, then there is a potential indication that your teams haven’t been able to take a break and continue to work nights and weekends.

If you have the data to back that up, you can take corrective action. If you use Microsoft Outlook or Office 365, you can use PoliteMail to get this data.

Ensure they have the support they need

Top performers tend to be more self-reliant and fault-tolerant than most employees. They make do. Often, they might have less-than-optimal tools and equipment, or they may be carrying the load to avoid delegating work because they don’t trust other team members with the responsibility. All those conditions lead to burnout and dissatisfaction, and it’s easy for managers to miss because top performers tend not to complain.

Perform routine wellness checks and ask these questions

During my monthly one-on-one’s, I like to ask the following questions:

  1. How are you feeling? How do you feel your productivity has been (versus last quarter)?
  2. Is there anything we could do, with equipment or staff, to help make you even more productive?
  3. What’s your plan for keeping your productivity and energy levels high?

By addressing these topics regularly and head-on, managers are able to better address their top performers’ working habits. Team members are given permission to express what they need and feel better valued and supported. By asking them, “What corrective action are you taking?” managers put the responsibility back on them to ask for the support and projects they want, and to take the time off they need to recharge.

Top performers don’t need or want to be micromanaged. They are self-motivated and can operate in many different types of environments. However, left to their own devices, they may become overloaded, dissatisfied and burned out. Without a recharge, they could disengage and seek new employment.

By focusing more attention, or at least routine attention, on your high performing staff and non-complainers, you will boost overall department and company productivity.

Michael DesRochers is the CEO of PoliteMail, an email intelligence platform for Outlook. This article is in partnership with PoliteMail.


One Response to “How to manage burnout among your top performers”

    Ranjit Gorde says:

    One of the burnout reasons is, when the organization or the management has lost the vision. Every top performer is going “beyond-the call-of-duty” is because they are working for that vision.

    The remedy is to:
    1. Have a Vision – Most companies do not have a vision. Most have a Mission and goals. Unless there is a Vision, there is lack of “destination.”
    2. Communicate the Vision – Once the vision/destination is defined, it needs to be communicated to all stakeholders, so they know.
    3. Mission – Mission is the vehicle to reach the destination. If education is the Vision, then setting up a school is the mission.
    4. Goals – When you have the Vision/Destination and the Mission/Vehicle, then you need to define the Goals. Then the journey has to be broken down into the Goals/stations en route to the Destination.
    5. Celebration – The management and the organization must celebrate every time the employee/organization reaches a station/goal. This can be done in so many different ways. i. Acknowledgment of the individual/s, ii. Reward, iii. Motivate, iv. Assessment of the tools required to achieve the next state/Goal. etc. It helps to reinvigorate the employees, and also to advance towards the Vision. It gives an opportunity to revisit the Vision, course correction, and to stay focused.
    6. Repeat – Do it every time a goal is reached. Daily Headlines

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