Job Burnout: How can Managers Help Employees Escape It?

By definition, a manager is the person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of an organization. But as many managers can attest, this is only the beginning of their job description. In addition to managing projects, hitting financial goals and ensuring customer satisfaction, managers are also responsible for supervising employees and ensuring they are generally happy at work. Considering that nearly two-thirds of North Americans report high-levels of stress at work, this is not an easy task.

Employee job burnout is often one of managers’ biggest challenges. It has an acute impact on companies—causing disengaged employees—and ultimately results in higher turnover. Managers commonly find themselves unsure of how to tackle the problem because it can stem from numerous factors, including boredom, exhaustion, etc. Which problem does one tackle first?

While job burnout may seem inevitable, research conducted at the Washington State University Carson College of Business identifies steps managers can take to help reduce burnout rates and subsequent job turnover among employees. While there is no simple solution, the following tactics can help ease job-related stress and improve relationships among managers, employees and customers:

Build “deep acting” skills

Simply put, “deep acting” pertains to the way employees display friendly gestures and genuine emotions to positively influence others. By helping employees learn to put themselves in other people’s shoes, they can remove their internal, unpleasant emotions from the situation, and instead offer solutions to the problem. Whether that is appeasing a customer or helping a co-worker, embracing this skill creates a mutually beneficial relationship among the employee, the company and its customers. An angry customer, for instance, is more likely to be satisfied with the outcome if the employee is apologetic and sincere, ultimately diminishing the stress embedded in the confrontation.

Empower employees

To raise team morale and instill a sense of community, employees must feel they are part of the greater network. The research suggests employees who are empowered at work are also more likely to succeed in a stressful environment or situation. Managers can do this by adequately training employees and giving them the authority to quickly resolve problems. Employees empowered with more autonomy are less likely to experience job stress and more likely to take pride in their job and treat customers personably.

Implement “positive display rules”

How employees display their emotions directly correlates to how co-workers and customers will react. To encourage deep acting, managers can implement “positive display rules,” such as smiling, being polite and actively engaging and listening in conversations. Typically, positive display rules are met with an in-kind response. A negative display rule, on the other hand, pushes employees to suppress negative emotions such as anger or frustration. Negative display rules often make people cynical and can lead to “surface acting,” displaying false or unauthentic emotions, whereas positive display rules can actually encourage employees to use deep acting. Thus, managers should be mindful of the way they talk to their employees about display rules. It is all about tapping into positive psychology.

Hire the right people

While education and on-the-job training are both critical to equipping employees with the skills they need in the workforce, there are some factors that depend on an individual’s disposition. Strategic recruiting and hiring practices can help identify people who are best suited for specific jobs. Understanding the technical skills required for a job, as well as the necessary soft skills, can help ensure managers are hiring people that fit the current team and company culture. But managers should also strive to provide a realistic job description to encourage the most qualified people to apply. This includes offering practical information on the expected role and explicitly stating what type of personality traits will be most successful. This can help potential candidates make an informed decision and eliminate those who are not the right fit.

In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, it is more important than ever for managers to understand how they can prevent burnout and reduce turnover. To retain the best talent, managers must make sure they hire the right people for the job at hand and provide them with the skills to simultaneously reduce job stress and produce top quality work.

Dr. Jenny Kim is a professor and the Craig Schafer Fellow in the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University. Her research interest includes service quality, employees’ service orientation, job burnout/job engagement and emotional labor. She is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at international conferences. She is currently the co-editor of Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Education.


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