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With the busy season on the horizon, it’s time to look forward to increases in new hires, new projects and more profit. Before getting caught up in the excitement of the busy season, contractors must make sure they’re prepared to handle these rapid changes. If contractors are ill-equipped, it could lead to disorganized, stressed out teams—which can increase the risk of employee burnout.

About one million employees miss work every day because of stress. Unsurprisingly, this takes a terrible toll on companies’ productivity and bottom lines; it’s estimated employee stress causes U.S. employers to lose between $150 billion to $300 billion annually.

Burnout goes beyond regular, run-of-the-mill stress. It is a combination of exhaustion, inefficiency and cynicism from which some employees never recover.

In busy periods, it is crucial that managers support and monitor their teams to make sure stress never becomes burnout. Here are some ways HR managers can help employees avoid burnout during this busy season.

Treat Burnout as a Company Problem, Not an Individual One

Burnout is often thought of as an individual problem, but high burnout rates have little to do with individual employees and everything to do with company culture and operations. Some of the most-common characteristics of companies that have high burnout rates include the following.

  • Excessive collaboration. Workflows that involve too many decision-makers can make it difficult for teams or employees to get things done.
  • A lack of work-life balance. Employees need time to recharge and take a mental break from work. If a company culture includes an environment in which employees need to work at home and work weekends to meet deadlines, it may be contributing to burnout.
  • Minimal team building opportunities. Does your workplace offer opportunities to build interpersonal relationships at work? A lack of interpersonal relationships can make employees feel disconnected from one another.
  • Weak time management. Micromanagement can make it difficult for employees to practice good time management skills on their own.
  • A tendency to overload the most capable employees with too much work. Focusing workload on the best employees can create an uneven workload for teams and employees.
  • Blurred communication lines. Communication channels to upper management should be clear. Without clarity, it can be tough for employees to express when they are overwhelmed or believe the work is more than they can handle. 
  • Vague requirements. Ensure requirements for a specific job or project are clear. A lack of clarity can cause confusion for employees because they won’t know how to allocate their time.
  • No recognition. Be sure to give regular acknowledgement or praise. Otherwise, it can be difficult for employees and teams to know when they perform well.

Most of the time, individual employees are expected to figure out on their own how to reduce stress and burnout, but individual employees do not have the ability to address larger organizational issues. Addressing these issues requires concerted, company-wide action—and should be the responsibility of the company, instead of the responsibility of an individual contributor.

Try Different Ways of Working

Before the busy period starts, experiment with different ways of working. Can operations and approval processes be streamlined and improved? Are there ways of giving employees more autonomy in their work? Consider the following.

Examine the Organizational Structure

Look at the company’s organizational chart with fresh eyes. Where does work languish while waiting for approvals? Are there people who report to more than one person, leading to confusion about decision-making? Are there too many middle managers, making it difficult for critical decisions to be pushed up or down the organization? Are there employees who spend too much time in meetings?

This type of review should not be used to identify individual employees whose performance needs to be improved. Rather, it is to look at the systems for how work gets pushed up and down the hierarchy to determine if there are any bottlenecks or points of particular stress.

Reexamining the organizational structure will help determine if the company suffers from excessive collaboration, poor decision-making structures or weak time management.

Experiment with Different Work Methodologies

Agile is a methodology that was first adopted in information technology industries but has been spreading to many other industries (for example, John Deere uses Agile). Beyond implementation of early planning and continuous improvement, many of Agile’s principles and values are conducive to reducing burnout.

  • Lean development, which focuses on continuously eliminating waste and pruning unimportant tasks.
  • One boss for each decision, which means it is always clear who is responsible for making decisions.
  • A few clear priorities, which means each employee has clearly delineated tasks, rather than an expectation to do 10 things at once.

If Agile does not seem to be the right way for your company, maybe another methodology will fit your needs. If you have high rates of burnout at your company, it’s worth investigating other ways of working.

Get Extra Help for Busy Periods

If different ways of working and organizational change aren’t possible, consider some temporary measures to alleviate large workloads on specific employees.

Continue to bolster your team during busy periods by considering the following:

  • Hire extra staff about a month before the busy season starts. You want to allow time for new employees to be oriented before the busy season hits, not during it. Otherwise, training new staff will be another task employees don’t have time for.
  • Think creatively about who can help. Are there retired staff who might be willing to come back in for a month or two? Are there others who are familiar with the company’s operations and would require little training to get up to speed? 
  • Partner with local colleges and universities. Co-ops or summer students can be a good source of affordable, temporary labor—and hiring students also builds the talent bench.

When it comes to burnout and stress, many companies treat symptoms rather than root causes. They encourage employees to take regular breaks, promote health and wellness initiatives, and even compensate employees with extra time off after the busy period. While these steps can be helpful in reducing employee stress, they will never eliminate burnout, especially if burnout is treated as an individual issue rather than a company one. Before the next busy season, make organizational changes to reduce burnout and improve morale.


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