These are the four best things employers can do to help prevent burnout when the symptoms first show up.
1. Acknowledge the burnout
This will usually be done by the employee’s direct manager. Make sure the employee feels valued and understood.
2. Provide incentives 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, as well as the interesting work and achievements that await them after the current rough patch.
3. Ask for feedback
Ask for their thoughts 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 their effort and 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 10 projects?
4. Set expectations
Work with the employee to determine a sustainable level of effort on their part that 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, and then 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 requires a mix of them caring enough to work hard and overdoing it. Pulling them out of work completely 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 summary, most of what I’d recommend in dealing 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 and then move onto something that will excite them more.
This article originally appeared on Quora.
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