4 Ways Your Company Culture Can Beat Employee Burnout

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

The sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief as it appears we’re rounding the corner on the pandemic. Business doors are reopening, people are returning to pre-2020 work routines, and company leaders are making optimistic plans.

But some ennui is lurking amid the renewed energy. Many employees are having trouble getting back up to speed after months of make-shift solutions and strategies. And businesses that are finally ready to staff up can’t fill key positions.

What’s going on? The answer is multifold, but it boils down to this: it’s been a rough year, and people can’t or aren’t willing to go back to the way things used to be. As nice as “getting back to normal” sounds, we aren’t looking at the world in the same way anymore.

Using newfound perspective, people are reevaluating what they want out of their jobs. It’s time for business leaders to take a hard look at what employees are seeking and how to inspire them to do their best at work.

Many solutions can be found in a strong corporate culture.

Burnout and Greener Pastures

Despite most people’s eagerness to ratchet up their activity level this year, many find themselves unable to give 100 percent because they feel burned out.

The numbers are worrisome: 61 percent of U.S. workers are experiencing burnout in their jobs, according to a 2021 survey from The Hartford. And the Global Leadership Forecast from Development Dimensions International (DDI) found that 86 percent of high-potential employees are at risk for burnout.

People who are capable of doing great work but are experiencing burnout are more likely to:

  • Lose their drive to perform
  • Make more mistakes
  • Forget things
  • Have trouble making decisions
  • Become more difficult to work with
  • Be absent from work more often

Many factors cause burnout, but interestingly, it usually isn’t how much an individual works. The key differentiator is how the person feels about their workload. As Gallop’s Director of Research and Strategy Ben Wigert observes:

“When people feel inspired, motivated, and supported in their work, they do more work — and that work is significantly less stressful on their overall health and wellbeing.”

Other employees who may not be burned out are feeling less satisfied in their careers. Many are seeking to work someplace new where they feel more connected and empowered to grow. And with so many businesses looking to hire, it’s a seller’s market.

The growth of remote work has expanded the frontier of job opportunities even further. Companies are competing from afar for talent.

How significant is the job switching trend? In a March 2021 survey by Prudential Financial cited by the Wall Street Journal, one-quarter of the respondents said they plan to look for a new employer soon. And the article reports that currently, more U.S. workers are quitting their jobs than at any time in at least two decades.

Some workers are jumping ship to pursue more lucrative careers. But a significant number of people are eying greener pastures because they no longer feel fulfilled in their current positions.

What’s the solution?

A company that provides an enriching work experience will compel employees to stay and entice job hunters. And the best way for business leaders to create a positive, inspirational atmosphere is through their corporate culture.

A company’s culture dictates how people are managed, approach their work, and interact with others. Employers should construct their organizational culture with aspects that support and engage workers. By doing so, they will hedge against burnout and turnover and motivate people to excel.

4 Ways Culture Can Motivate and Support Employees

When company culture is well designed, it helps employees maximize their potential while preserving their wellbeing.

Four important ways company culture can energize and encourage employees:

  1. Emphasize purpose
  2. Encourage growth
  3. Reduce stress
  4. Recognize achievement
1. Emphasize Purpose

Wrike surveyed thousands of workers to compile information for their From Positivity to Productivity report. In their findings, the happiest employees say that “doing meaningful work” is the most critical factor in their job satisfaction, ranking even higher than how much they’re paid.

Workers derive meaning from their jobs in several ways. In the macro view, most people want to work for an organization with values that align with their own. In theory, if a company’s mission and messaging are inspiring, workers should be proud of and want to be associated with it. Consider these corporate slogans:

  • We Never Forget Who We Are Working For—Lockheed Martin Corp.
  • You’re Building the Future. We’re Here to Help—United Rentals
  • We Protect and Beautify the World—PPG Industries

Who wouldn’t want to be affiliated with aims like these? But companies need to embody such values to be meaningful—otherwise, they’re just words.

Employees want to see the mission and values in action and be part of it. To make that happen, leadership must define the conduct that brings these inspirational ideas to life. Then they need to coach their staff to display those behaviors consistently. By doing so, they will develop a culture that makes people bond with the organization and find more meaning in their work.

The other meaningful way to make team members feel strongly affiliated with their employer is to clearly outline how they fit into the big picture.

From the moment they are hired, throughout the onboarding process, and after they assume their position, management should use their company’s culture to consistently reinforce an employee’s value and role.

2. Encourage Growth

Numerous studies show that workers prize opportunities for development on the job. Initiatives that provide employees with a chance to grow enhance people’s capabilities and strengthen their engagement with the company. For workers and employers, it’s a win/win proposition.

According to research by LinkedIn, employees who spend time learning at work say they’re:

  • 47 percent less likely to be stressed
  • 39 percent more likely to feel productive and successful
  • 23 percent more ready to take on additional responsibilities
  • 21 percent more likely to feel confident and happy

Business leaders should consider all types of development opportunities as an investment in their company’s future. As Gallop’s Director of Research and Strategy Ben Wigert says, “Considering the returns, a development program may be the least-risky, highest-return investment a leader can make.”

There are many types of developmental programs designed to boost hard and soft skills.

Companies with the budget bandwidth may consider offering formal training classes to upskill or cross-train their staff. Less expensive but critical to personal and organizational success are ongoing coaching and mentoring programs. These initiatives help employees learn how to work more effectively, achieve at higher levels, and derive more job satisfaction.

Highly effective development programs are adapted into a company’s culture with the needs and business strategy of the organization in mind.

3. Reduces Stress

Given the amount of time most employees spend on the job, work environments have an enormous impact on their psychological wellbeing. Now, in addition to preexisting work conditions, people are still feeling the stressful effects of the pandemic as they reengage in professional activities.

Mental Health America reports that in 2021 65 percent of employees find it difficult to perform at their best because of their work environment, compared to 46 percent in 2018. And nine in ten employees report that workplace stress affects their mental health. Now more than ever, people are unwilling to remain in organizations with poor work atmospheres.

Once again, a strategically developed organizational culture can eliminate many pain points that people often feel at work. Behaviors that make it easier for people to perform their job and interact with others should be central to that culture.

Areas to reinforce stress-reducing behaviors include:

  • Respect
  • Communication
  • Consistency
  • Blame
Treating Everyone Respectfully

As intuitive as it may sound, this kind of conduct must be modeled and reinforced from the executive level on down to bring out the best in a workforce. When kindness, compassion, and patience overlay every interaction, people feel more confident and relaxed, and attitudes and output improve.

Communicating Fluidly

Tensions grow when people feel others are withholding information or will criticize them for speaking up.

People should be encouraged to share information freely so everyone can function at a high level and feel confident that they are in the loop. And employees should feel comfortable vocalizing ideas and opinions and speaking honestly in a way that moves things forward.

For these things to happen, leadership must demonstrate and coach transparency throughout the workplace.

Being Consistent and Clear

A big source of stress is the unknown—and people just weathered over a year of not knowing what would happen next. One of the most vital behaviors that leaders can bake into their company culture is to set expectations effectively.

Managers should make assignments, structure, deadlines, and goals crystal clear so that people understand what they need to do to deliver results. And staff should feel empowered to ask for more clarity as needed.

Eliminating Blame

Blame-filled work environments are highly stress-inducing and stifling. When people are afraid of repercussions, they cover their mistakes instead of focusing on solutions. They’re also reluctant to try new ideas or approaches.

Leaders should set the tone by teaching staff to look for how errors were made (often issues with a process) rather than who committed them. Mistakes should be viewed as learning opportunities that help make employees and the organization stronger. 

4. Recognize Achievement

It’s hard to feel great about your job if no one ever tells you you’re doing a great job. The Achievers Workforce Institute 2021 Engagement and Retention Report found that 74 percent of employees want more recognition for their work.

Employers shouldn’t activate an “everyone gets a trophy” policy to make staff happy. That kind of approach dilutes recognition and renders it almost meaningless. But employees blossom when leaders show meaningful appreciation for their accomplishments.

CultureWise Founder and CEO David Friedman explains that there are four critical components in effective recognition.

When leaders are acknowledging staff, they should:

  1. Be specific. Inform people precisely what they did that was appreciated, instead of just saying something vague like “nice work.”
  2. Be timely. The closer the acknowledgment is to the event being recognized, the more meaningful it will be.
  3. Describe the impact. Beyond noting what the staff member did, the leader should make them aware of the positive impact their actions had on others and the company.
  4. Use the appropriate forum. Some people thrive on being recognized in public; for others, this is a terrible experience. Understand the best approach to take with each individual.

Employees who receive meaningful appreciation feel valued in their role. They are more enthusiastic about their jobs and will work harder—and they’re likely to follow leadership’s example by acknowledging their peers. Overall, the work environment becomes a more inviting and rewarding place to be.

 As Achievers Chief Workforce Scientist Natalie Baumgartner is quoted in a recent SHRM article: “Training managers on effective recognition and holding them accountable for recognizing their teams regularly is critical to keeping employees engaged.”

Make Your Company a Better Place to Work through Culture

A strong organizational culture empowers employees to be at their best. Planned and structured correctly, it is a source of motivation and an antidote to burnout. A vibrant, supportive culture will deepen employees’ attachment to their work and attract the best talent in a highly competitive market.

CultureWise is a turnkey operating system for improving and sustaining a high-performing company culture. David Friedman developed this unique program to help business owners construct a culture that differentiates their companies in the marketplace and drives employee loyalty. Explore the website to learn more about this groundbreaking system.

Friedman based CultureWise on the eight-step framework to create a high-performing culture that he developed as the CEO of his first company. He explains his process in detail in Culture by Design. A free, two-chapter download of the book’s latest edition is currently available.

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