Have you ever noticed an employee’s interest, performance and demeanor waning over time? Maybe they seem more short-tempered than usual. Or completing routine tasks takes longer than it used to. They start showing up late or seem to spend a lot of time doing who knows what.
If so, you may be witnessing signs of employee burnout. It wouldn’t be surprising, either, with more than half of full-time employees in the US experiencing it since the beginning of the pandemic — up from about 43% before it started, according to a study by Indeed.
Community health workers and other health professionals are significantly more prone to burnout than professionals in other industries. Which makes sense considering the nature of their job on a day-to-day basis, let alone a global pandemic.
But what exactly is burnout? The World Health Organization defines it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.“
Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do from the start to prevent burnout among your CHWs.
Employee Burnout Signs You Need To Look Out For
Burnout is not a recognized medical condition; instead, it is classified as an occupational phenomenon according to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Still, it has clear signs you may be able to catch on time if you’re paying attention to your employees, their attitudes and performance.
For example, if you notice that a previously friendly employee is now grumpy all the time, responding curtly, or having a hard time with interpersonal relationships, they may be approaching burnout. Having a cynical or negative outlook and feeling defeated are red flags you should monitor.
Similarly, a dip in performance is a telltale sign of employee burnout. Procrastinating to the point of missing or nearly missing deadlines and completing jobs with a lower quality than usual are typical symptoms of burnout.
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7 Tips for Preventing Employee Burnout In Your Agency
Prioritize Onboarding and Planning
Your onboarding process needs to show your employees what to do, your agency or program protocols, necessary compliance, expectations, and company culture. Ie, everything they’ll need to be successful at their job from day 1.
Your employee onboarding plan should include:
- A welcome pack with the new hire letter, financial forms, employee handbook, policies, job description, and the company knowledge base.
- Tech requirements, including the company email, any company logins, and how-tos for specific software like the tools you use for case files.
- Standard operating procedures (SOPs) like case documentation or monthly reporting.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out this online onboarding checklist — just as easy to create for in-person onboarding.
Create Psychological Safety
Many employees are afraid of voicing their concerns or discomfort. They may also hesitate to own mistakes and ask for help out of fear of repercussions. This can lead to resentment and poor performance in the long run, resulting in burnout and high chances of them leaving.
A psychologically safe space means that your employees can ask questions or request help when needed without the fear of looking silly or being regarded as incompetent.
Encourage feedback and the practice of learning from mistakes.
Bake in Flexibility When Possible
The past few years showed us that everyone works best under different circumstances. Some of us do better with flexible hours and working remotely, while others thrive with the structure of being in the office.
Regardless of your personal preference, feeling trapped in a fixed setup can lead any employee to face severe burnout.
To prevent this, encourage your employees to discover when and how they work best whenever possible. Whether this means allowing them to work from home a few times a week or taking client appointments at hours you’d consider odd. Especially as we continue to adapt to the changes resulting from COVID, when clients themselves may have different limitations like childcare needs or extra shifts at work.
Avoid Excessive Workloads
A limited budget and growing community needs may mean that you don’t have the ability to hire more community health workers. But a higher caseload for the same number of CHWs will spread their attention thin, limiting their ability to serve the population effectively. It’ll also increase exhaustion and can lead to feelings of frustration and dread every time they see a never-ending to-do list, which increases the chances of employee burnout.
If you can’t reduce the caseload at all, not everything can be urgent. Prevent overwhelm by distributing your caseloads between CHWs and balancing their other responsibilities based on priority. This will help them plan more effectively and still get the work that matters done.
Another way to reduce the workload is by simplifying and automating whenever possible. You can use templates for regular check-ins. Create FAQ documents for common client concerns. And find other small ways to take the admin burden off your employees.
Enforce Paid Time Off
One of the biggest causes of burnout is working nonstop for too long. Unfortunately, taking (or not taking) time off in the US has become a systemic issue.
We’re all aware of the fact that we need the work. Some employees may feel pressured to continue working despite having accumulated time off. And some employees may need extra shifts to make ends meet. Plus, you may not have the luxury of flexibility if you’re short-staffed.
But time off is essential for recovery. So consider discussing with your CHWs the best times to take a day or week off and plan ahead.
Provide Development Opportunities
Regular training helps your staff stay up to date in their field, increasing their engagement and chances of fulfillment. Thus encouraging them to stay with you.
What’s more, ongoing education helps trace a career path and work towards a goal. This is especially important for CHWs as career advancement in the field is often tricky.
At CHWTraining, we offer learning subscriptions that make it easy to keep your CHWs up to date with the latest trends in education and stave off employee burnout. Learn more about CHWTraining’s learning tracks here.
CHW Core Competencies
Find out all about what the CHW Core Competencies are, CHW roles, CHW careers, how to cross-train your staff, and how to get state certifications for the CHWs on your team
Preventing Employee Burnout Is Better Than Recovering From Burnout
Feeling stagnant in a role, unappreciated, and unable to change directions or make a positive impact may lead community health workers directly to burnout. As a manager or program director, you can identify the conditions that would make employees feel this way and address them before burnout sets in.
Effective planning, distributed workloads, and professional development opportunities are essential to keeping employees happy and engaged. If you’re ready to see what a learning subscription can do for your organization, book a consultation now.