December 13, 2017

Four ways to prevent employee burnout

In my last post, I cited a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review which examined what it called “the overcommitted organization” – a look at the benefits of multi-teaming, but also the challenges that arise, and what organizations can do to solve them.

Multi-teaming has become ubiquitous, in part because the benefits are so recognizable. However, the article highlighted an important point. While recognizing the benefits of multi-teaming and cross-functional collaboration, few organizations acknowledge the impact of over-leveraging their teams, and how both the organization and individual employees are affected. There’s a clear cost: burnout.

Overloading employees with projects, leveraging them to multiple teams, and expectations of constant multi-tasking are all potential causes of burnout. And as noted in a separate HBR article, burnout is an organizational issue, not a talent issue, and therefore must be addressed by leadership at an organization level.

At Ceridian’s recent leadership conference, we discussed the importance of improving our approach to multi-teaming and preventing employee burnout. Here are four ways organizations can improve their practices.

Don’t overload your top performers

Start with a fundamental question: who are you leveraging? This goes back to a fundamental philosophy we have at Ceridian, which is understanding what people are good at and enjoy doing, and then leveraging those strengths, versus relying consistently on the same set of employees to get the job done.

In some situations, it could also be a case of relying too heavily on “extra-milers,” a term from University of Iowa’s Ning Li. Extra-milers are those employees who most often go above and beyond their roles, and Ning’s research highlighted the strong influence extra-milers have on team performance and effectiveness. Continuous reliance on these extra-milers, however, can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction.

Create guidelines and promote balance

As noted in Quartz, the legacy nine-to-five workday no longer exists. The line between our personal and professional lives is blurring, and our rapid technological advancements are creating the expectation of always being “on.” Employers must recognize this and have processes and policies in place to avoid attrition.

For example, at Ceridian, we support work-life blending – that is, employees being able to address life matters while at work, and vice versa.

It’s critical for leadership to walk to the talk. As a leader, saying you prioritize balance and preventing burnout won’t mean much if your actions don’t match up. If your staff members don’t see you maintaining a healthy work life, they are going to assume they shouldn’t either.

Additionally, create a workplace that employees enjoy coming to. At Ceridian, in addition to our employee wellness programs, we offer yoga classes during the workday, for example, and opportunities for employees to do activities with their co-workers with our Fun@Work program. Providing ways for employees to recharge and de-stress does wonders for their productivity and engagement.

Provide regular feedback and recognize success

Today’s employee thrives on continuous feedback, and feels motivated by opportunities to develop their performance and skills. Don’t just wait for formal reviews to communicate with your employees. Let them know when they’ve done a great job, and how they can improve.

At Ceridian, we empower our employees with a culture of performance development, an on-going process of improving one’s skills, capabilities and knowledge. Part of this is setting goals, and giving employees the opportunity to set and review goals with their managers on an ongoing basis. Not only does this create clarity, but it also helps employees feel more deeply connected to their work, and understand how their work contributes to the overall success of the organization.

Building on this, recognizing success and good performance in employees is vital to maintaining positive morale and creating a supportive and strong culture. Acknowledge employee contributions, whether it’s with an email, a brief chat or award.

Manage time and plan for recharging

A key factor contributing to employee burnout is competing project priorities – that is, crunch periods and conflicting deadlines when employees are working on multiple projects at once. Prevent overextending your team by helping to managing their time.

When possible, identify crunch periods early and plan for them. Consider how you can leverage technology to help manage employees’ time, for example, using shared documents in the cloud or sending short update emails in lieu of holding meetings in which every single team member must be in attendance.

Tony Schwartz, chief executive of The Energy Project, wrote in the New York Times that “we feel better and perform better when four core energy needs are met” – one of those core needs is “sufficient rest, including the opportunity for intermittent renewal during the work day.” Work is not always a marathon – talk with your employees to find buffer time to recharge, particularly after a busy period.


Identifying and addressing potential causes of burnout should be on every leadership team’s minds. Investing in a healthy workforce will become increasingly important as the world of work evolves, and organizations and employees alike will feel the benefits.

Lisa Sterling

As Chief People and Culture Officer, Lisa is responsible for executing Ceridian's global people strategy combined with leading the vision on the Dayforce Talent Management offering.

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