In a recent survey of 614 HR leaders, conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace, 87 percent of respondents cited improving employee retention as a critical priority in the face of burnout.

“Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions,” says Charlie DeWitt, vice president of business development at Kronos. “While many organizations take steps to manage employee fatigue, there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout. Not only can employee burnout sap productivity and fuel absenteeism, but as this survey shows, it will undermine engagement and cause an organization’s top performers to leave the business altogether.”

So how do you make sure that your organization doesn’t suffer from retention woes at the cost of employee burnout and otherwise in 2018?

It All Begins with Onboarding

Employee retention and burnout reduction begins with onboarding. These figures, presented by eSignLive, aim to illustrate how to improve onboarding and keep new hires for the long haul:

  • 86 percent of HR professionals and senior executives believe new hires decide to stay or not within the first 6 months.
  • The average company loses 1 out of every 6 new hires each month for the first three months
  • Of employees who leave in the first six months, 23 percent say that clear guidelines or job responsibilities would have helped them stay, 21 percent needed more effective training, and 17 percent felt a helpful co-worker or friendly smile would have made a difference.

Interestingly, concerning the figures related to the employees who leave in the first six months, the Kronos/Future Workplace survey found similar numbers in numbers fueling burnout:

“HR leaders also identified key burnout factors falling under talent management, employee development, and leadership that should be in their control, including poor management (30 percent), employees seeing no clear connection of their role to corporate strategy (29 percent), and a negative workplace culture (26 percent).”

It may be a question of chicken or egg, but it’s not too far out to believe that perhaps poor onboarding affects employer turnover at the same rate, but beyond the 6 months that eSignLive cited. Whether or not this is true, it’s not too late to remedy the symptoms of poor onboarding practices — and other causes of occupational stress and burnout.

Burnout Reduction for Current Employees

Not having clear guidelines and job responsibilities, good training, or a good atmosphere to work in all contribute to workplace and employee stress. Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management reports that employee stress costs American business about $300 billion per year, while mental health issues cause another $150 billion in annual business losses.

It’s the responsibility of both the employee and the manager to monitor and take part in stress and burnout reduction. Managers, for example, should communicate with employees often, providing performance appraisals, recognizing a job well-done, and by facilitating essential staff meetings. Managers can also help provide flexibility in the workplace, as mindlessness, greater likelihood of unethical decision-making, apathy, carelessness, and lack of pride can result from inflexibility.

It’s also important for employees to recognize the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of burnout. Managers can hold annual or biannual meetings to educate employees on how to recognizes these signs — in their post on how exercising in nature can help prevent occupational burnout, Ohio University lists symptoms of each:

Physical Symptoms

  • Feeling overly tired and drained after a day’s of work
  • Compromised immune system
  • Tension headaches or muscle pain
  • Trouble sleeping

Emotional Symptoms

  • Self-doubt
  • Feeling defeated or alone in the world
  • Lack of motivation or sense of accomplishment
  • Negative and cynical thoughts

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities and passions
  • Isolating yourself
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Using substances to cope with stress
  • Avoiding coming to work

Ohio University also makes the important point to illustrate that stress and burnout are not the same thing. This is because a certain amount of stress can be healthy, especially when wrangled as a motivational tool. “Stress can lead to burnout when an individual puts forth a disproportionate amount of effort without taking in what is necessary to regain balance from that stress.”

Maintaining a Culture of Curiosity

When it comes to getting employees to direct their efforts, including their stress, toward healthy and productive ends, it helps to stoke the fires of their curiosity. In an article comparing and contrasting the merits of curiosity and experience, Dallal Samaan of Four Winds Interactive writes that hiring curious employees contributes to lower employee churn rates.

“Curious employees have shown to be committed to their ideas,” writes Samaan. “They also show a level of loyalty to their employees when their curiosity is embraced. Not only do they keep innovating when embraced in a company culture that encourages new ideas and innovation, they also tend to stay longer.”

If you focus on hiring naturally curious people, it will feel like less of a burden to maintain your employee’s personal investments in their work-related projects. Not only that, but your company will naturally develop an environment that self-sustains said curiosity and drive.

When it comes to cultivating curiosity in your company, Kelsey Meyer, writing for Forbes, suggest two main strategies: First provide consistent learning opportunities, whether that be book clubs, classes, or other ways for employees to devour knowledge and experience intellectual fulfillment. Second, challenge employee decision making by asking open-ended questions about their processes from decision-making to execution. Make sure that these conversations are approached from an informal stand-point, and make sure that you’re communicating with each employee in an individual and tailored way.

By stoking the flames of curiosity from the onboarding process through an employee’s tenure, you can actively fight burnout as it grows through 2018. While it tends to hit bigger businesses harder, small businesses and startups need to take heed as well — because without your employees, what is your business really?

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Andy Heikkila is a business owner, writer, and musician hailing from the lush Pacific NW. He enjoys running, drinking, and hanging out with his friends when he’s not working. Feel free to drop him a message on Twitter @AndyO_TheHammer.

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