Designing Jobs to Prevent Burnout

Infini Kimbrough
Posted by in Management & Business

Employee burnout is impacting the American workforce now more than ever before. According to the American Psychological Association, in 2021, 71% of workers said they felt tensed or stressed during the workday. Of the 1,501 U.S. workers surveyed, the vast majority said that actions from their employer would decrease their symptoms of burnout. The common antidotes that workers requested to help with burnout were: flexible hours, paid time off, breaks during the work day, mental health resources, and better pay.

What are the signs of burnout?

The major signs of employee burnout are: low productivity, perpetual absences and tardiness, extended vacations, sudden resignations, illness and changes in behavior. But these are the obvious signs. Less noticeable signs of burnout could be an employee who is always coming in early and staying late to finish up work or one who never uses any of their vacation time. A good employer knows and responds to the signs of burnout, but the best employers design their jobs to prevent burnout from ever occurring. The goal is to create jobs that prevent burnout, not jobs that provide resources to manage it. The following are proactive ways to create a job that prevents burnout.

Provide a Manageable Workload. Mayo Clinic’s Well-being Index lists “job scope creep” as the leading cause of employee burnout. When an employee’s workload far exceeds the scope of the original job description, it can lead to burnout. In order to create jobs that prevent work overload, employers must be intentional about providing a workload that is manageable. This includes not expecting employees to pick-up the slack for their counterparts or setting reasonable deadlines for work assignments.

Allow Employees to Have Some Autonomy. Work autonomy allows employees to create balance between their personal lives and their work commitments. Creating jobs that are autonomous can be achieved in various ways including: allowing workers to choose their schedule, dismissing themselves from the office after their work is complete, or the opportunity to choose work assignments that may interest them. Nearly half of those surveyed in APA’s Work and Well-being Survey of 2021, stated that lack of involvement in work decisions contributed to their stress. Additionally, workplace flexibility such as a hybrid schedule or remote location allows employees to make better use of their time and get more done during the workday. Jobs that are time consuming with little flexibility tend to cause burnout for those who have families or other commitments outside of work. Autonomy liberates workers and maximizes their productivity because it allows them to fulfill the needs of every area of their lives, instead of sacrificing one to satisfy the other.

Encourage Employees to Take Breaks and Vacation Time. A major way to prevent burnout is to ensure that your staff takes breaks during the workday and uses their vacation time. Lunch breaks should be a requirement and employees should not be allowed to work during their lunch break. Further, don’t just wait for your workers to take breaks or request time off, encourage them to. Be mindful and attentive to the signs of exhaustion such as disengagement or decreased productivity and suggest that your employees take at least one 15-minute break during their workday.  If the workload is so heavy that you can’t afford for your employees to take breaks or time off for vacation, then it may be time to hire more people or cut back on responsibilities.

Don’t Allow Employees to Work Past Designated Hours. Coming in early and staying late is not an effective strategy to get work done. In fact, according to Mayo Clinic, it actually decreases productivity because employees don’t have enough down time. If employers want to prevent burnout, then they should encourage their employees to only work during the hours they are committed to. Overworking leads to the inability to do the job properly because when workers are stressed and exhausted, they are disengaged. Knowing when to put the work down is a positive trait that healthy workers possess.

The role of leadership is to provide guidance, therefore it is the responsibility of the employer to model what a healthy worker looks like. If you are a manager who comes in early and works late, then your employees may feel pressured to do the same. If you never take your lunch or never take your vacation time, then why would your staff members think it’s okay to take theirs? As Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Work Week, says, “Kids don't do what you say. They do what they see.” The same applies to your employees. If you want to create jobs that prevent burnout, then you must model the strategies and behaviors that will help to avoid it.


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