The best things to help prevent burnout when the symptoms first show up are:
1. Acknowledge the burnout. This will usually be by the employee’s direct manager. Make sure the employee feels valued and understood.
2. Incent for the long term. Let the employee know their future at the company is longer than the current project and situation, and they are valued for the long term, not just the current project. Paint a picture of how things can change for the better moving forward, and the interesting work and achievements that await them after the current rough patch.
3. Ask for their feedback on ways to improve their current situation, so they feel involved and empowered. Reassure them that the project won’t fail because they roll back effort, that at worst it will be delayed. Mean it. As managers we need to keep the long view in mind. What does a single project’s delay matter for a good employee who will do ten projects?
4. Work with the employee to determine a sustainable level of effort on their part, which will allow them to regenerate, but also not to feel like they’re being pulled from the project. Work with them to encourage them to self-monitor, but also monitor them yourself, and gently enforce the reduced hours.
Time off and sabbaticals both seem like they would help, but they don’t necessarily. People are burned out because they’re working too hard. That’s a mix of them caring enough to work hard, and overdoing it. Pulling them out can have a negative rebound effect.
At Microsoft, people earned sabbaticals. In general, I believe it was found that the sabbaticals were, despite their coolness, not good retention tools for those who earned them. Just as the work should be sustainable to let the employees recover, any time off should also be sustainable and not exceptional, in my opinion.
In summary, most of what I’d recommend to deal with employee burnout is a sort of compassionate management, helping the employee to regain perspective, making them feel heard and valued, reassuring them that things will get better, and making sure they successfully reduce their efforts to a sustainable level. I don’t think financial or time-off incentives—other than a day or two—are effective. If the project has a natural ending, let them finish it off, and then move onto something that will excite them more, if desired.
This question originally appeared on Quora: As an employer, how do I deal with employee burnout?
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