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Burnout Response: Using Incentive Programs to Prevent Unhappy Employees

employee benefits concept

It’s time to talk about burnout. Many companies are hesitant to bring up the concept of job burnout, concerned that the term will be used lightly by their team. Here’s the reality: employment burnout is a very real possibility, especially now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.

Extended periods of social distancing and the quick transition to remote work, combined with household responsibilities and lifestyle changes, contribute to many people’s psychological distress. The pandemic continues to blur the lines between professional and personal life. It’s making people feel worn out.

Despite being a major contributor to job burnout, the pandemic isn’t the only reason employees are feeling increasingly stressed and unhappy. The concept of burnout has been around for much longer.

Don’t mistake burnout for momentary distractions or lack of productivity, though. It’s a much more overwhelming feeling of stress. It’s like an endless cycle for employees who have reached their limit.

What Is Employment Burnout?

Employment burnout is a mental state where employees feel an overwhelming amount of stress and the lack of motivation to be productive. It may also refer to a long-term sense of weariness, both physical and mental, leading to a decline in work performance.

Burnout can also be the lack of enjoyment in one’s job or the so-called “Sunday scaries.”

Burnout symptoms typically include the following.

  • Demotivation to work and to be productive
  • Detachment from personal relationships
  • Pessimism regarding career or life in general
  • Long-term physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion

The severity of these symptoms, however, varies from one person to another. Winona State University identifies five stages of burnout that people might experience.

Stage 1: Honeymoon

Being in a new environment might be nerve-wracking for some people, but it’s also refreshing. In a work setting, ideally, a new employee has high energy and job satisfaction. The inevitable stresses of a job, regardless of the industry or the nature of work, will eventually catch up to the employee. Their coping strategy defines whether they remain in this high-performing state in the long run. The work environment also contributes to whether they eventually burn out.

Stage 1 symptoms may include general optimism, balanced energy and productivity levels, and job satisfaction. The individual still has the motivation to move forward.

Stage 2: Balancing Act

At this stage, the individual realizes that some days are better than others. There’s still the sense of optimism found in the first stage, but this is also when the onset of stress occurs. The person might occasionally experience fatigue and sleep disturbances. There could be moments of job dissatisfaction and work inefficiency. However, hese are things that they can bounce back from.

Physical symptoms may include fatigue, headaches, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and unusual heart rhythms. Other symptoms include anxiety, irritability, and the inability to focus. There might also be moments of low productivity and reduced sleep quality.

Stage 3: Chronic Symptoms

At the third stage of burnout, the individual will start to feel chronic stress. There’s less motivation to work and be productive while stress intensifies or becomes a frequent occurrence. Chronic stress leads to the intensification of the second stage’s burnout indicators. This is where chronic exhaustion surfaces. Physical illnesses might also start to surface as a result of chronic stress.

Stage 3 symptoms are more intense versions of symptoms mentioned in the second stage. There are increased occurrences of missed targets, late work submissions, and apathy toward work situations. The individual might also adopt a cynical attitude and undergo social withdrawal.

Stage 4: Crisis

The fourth stage of burnout is the most common perception of job burnout. The symptoms reach a critical point in various aspects. Physical symptoms of chronic stress could intensify while the individual moves toward a more pessimistic or self-doubting mindset. They start to develop an escapist mentality, and frustrations prevent them from getting their work done.

This critical burnout stage might push an individual to drop out of their social circle and avoid interactions with family and friends. It could lead them to develop escapist hobbies that prevent them from being productive. They also dwell on work and personal problems without resolve.

Stage 5: Enmeshment

At the fifth stage, burnout becomes so embedded in the individual’s life that it could manifest into a mental or physical illness. It might trigger anxiety, depression, and chronic physical fatigue. This stage is also called habitual burnout, as opposed to burnout situations where the individual could still bounce back from it through some lifestyle changes or work-related adjustments.

That being said, keep in mind that burnout itself isn’t a medical condition. The World Health Organization defines it as an occupational phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress. It’s a source of exhaustion, energy depletion, and work-related cynicism.

What Causes Job Burnout?

Job burnout concept

Burnout is the result of many factors that pile up, including personal circumstances, lifestyle factors, and job-related conditions. The most common work-related sources of chronic stress include an overly heavy workload, intense time pressure, unfair treatment, lack of clarity about job responsibilities, and the lack of support from peers or leaders. Burnout can be the result of workplace culture too.

It’s worth noting that some sectors have a higher risk of job burnout. Some of the most demanding careers include healthcare, emergency response, law, social work, retail, and business development.

Regardless of your industry, it’s important to understand where employment burnout starts, so you can detect the signs and start making some changes before it takes a toll on your team.

Unclear Job Requirements

One of the greatest causes of job burnout is the lack of clarity about work responsibilities. If job descriptions aren’t properly explained, or if work requirements are constantly changing, then employees don’t get to hone their skills. They might also start lacking confidence in what they do. They’ll always be switching processes or wondering whether they’re doing their job right.

Unreasonable Workloads

This factor is usually a combination of two things: too much work and too little time. Employees are at a greater risk of burnout when they’re under constant pressure to complete a huge amount of work within an unreasonable time period. They might feel like they don’t have time to breathe in between their tasks or responsibilities. This, then, leads to exhaustion and a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Insufficient Compensation

Unreasonable workloads are often tied to compensation concerns. Employees might think “I’m not getting paid enough to do this,” or “it’s not like I’ll get proper compensation for putting my best foot forward, anyway.” These thoughts, which are based on their observations or industry knowledge, could be a major source of demotivation and eventual burnout.

Lack of Down Time

Some days will always be busier than others. The first quarter of the year, for example, is always a high-stress period for auditors. Meanwhile, November and December are typically the busiest periods for retail shops. While long work hours are unavoidable, they shouldn’t be the norm. Employees need to recover after an intense work period.

Lack of Personal Control

A company’s onboarding and training process sets the foundation for each employee’s success. No matter how important it is for employees to stick to certain business processes, they should also have some room for creativity. Employees who feel like they are micromanaged or unable to apply personal methods to their work are more likely to feel exhaustion set in.

Lack of Communication

Communication plays a huge role in a company’s success and each employee’s job satisfaction. Poor communication between leaders and employees, or amongst employees, could contribute to a blasé attitude and lack of motivation. On the other hand, excessive collaboration could also be a great source of stress. There has to be the right balance of communication and collaboration.

Lack of Recognition

Sometimes, an employee just needs to be recognized for the hard work they put in. It could come in the form of awards, appraisals, bonuses, public praise, or a prize. These things help keep morale high. If employees feel like their hard work isn’t being acknowledged, then they’re more likely to feel demotivated. In this case, it’s important to let employees know that you value them

How Can Companies Address Burnout?

It also helps if you have some employee incentive programs that reward employees for their hard work. You might want to consider establishing an individual incentive program for your remote employees or introducing a corporate travel incentive program to fuel employee motivation.

Individual Incentive Programs

Individual incentives might be better for companies with remote employees. In this case, consider these ideas that your employees might feel excited about:

  • Digital Rewards: It’s understandable for people to want to limit their travel or outdoor interaction during the pandemic. In this case, digital gift cards are an effective way to reward them.
  • Educational Opportunities: Let your employees know that you’re interested in their personal growth and development. Consider offering educational opportunities to hone their skills.
  • Charitable Donations: If there’s a cause that’s close to your employee’s heart, why not show your support as well? Consider making a charitable donation to their chosen organization.
  • Profit Shares: This might not be an option if you’re still recovering from COVID-related economic losses, but once you get back on your feet, it’s a great way to thank your team after a challenging year.

Exhausted-worker Travel Incentive Programs

Incentive trips are another way to reward employees. The best part about travel incentives is that there are so many cities to explore. Here are some ideas that your team might be interested in.

  • Wellness Incentive Trips: Make sure your employees work hard and play harder. Reward them with a week-long spa vacation or a yoga retreat that gives them their much-needed mental break.
  • Event Incentive Trips: From Mardi Gras in New Orleans to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, let your employees see the world as they deserve.
  • Once-in-a-Lifetime Trips: Let your employees know how wonderful you think they are by arranging trips to Wonders of the World like the Machu Picchu in Peru or the Taj Mahal in India.
  • International Food Trips: Few things are more enjoyable than good food in great locations. This can be a weekend wine country tour in California or somewhere farther like Europe or Asia.

Of course, the COVID-19 situation currently puts limitations on some of these travel incentive programs. However, if organized by the right incentives team, the program can still be successful.

Everyone wants proper compensation for the work that they do, but, while you arrange appraisal systems for employees that deserve it, keep in mind that non-monetary incentives are just as important.

The individual and travel incentives mentioned above are great ways to let your employees know that you care about their work-life balance. Additionally, physical rewards establish an emotional link between the employee and your company, while experiential rewards like spa days and cooking classes indicate that you’re also interested in the employee’s growth as an individual outside the company.

These tokens and breaks from the everyday hustle might not be the ultimate solution to job burnout, but they do give the recognition and incentives that your hardworking team needs to keep moving forward.

Let’s Build an Employee Incentive Program Today

The best incentive programs are based on what your employees like to do. At MTI Events, we help you determine your employees’ interests and what you can offer to keep them motivated and engaged.

We can build individual incentive programs, travel incentive programs, or both. The best part is that you don’t have to set aside time to build, establish, and manage these programs. We’ll take care of them for you.

Let’s build an employee incentive program for your team!

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