• Renea Skelton, PhD

Employee Burnout: Drowning the Violet...

The genesis of a violet is amazing. They prove to be resilient from the harshest climates and many require the natural rhythm of the earth’s elements to sustain their life. Many gardeners find purpose in growing violets as a hobby. You can find many methodically preparing the soil, carefully planting seeds, and occasionally watering and providing sunlight in a hope to cultivate a beautiful flower. While the actions may be slightly different, the steps that gardeners take to nurture violets are quite similar for leaders…. growing violets versus growing leaders. In the end, the results are somewhat in the gardener’s control.

The digital world is saturated with tips and tricks on how to nurture and develop leaders and seems to only slightly touch the topic of employee burnout. What happens when a leader drowns the violet? A 2018 study from Jobvite publicized that 82 percent of employees are continuously looking for opportunities elsewhere and 40 percent expect to have four to six jobs in their entire work life. An even more interesting statistic is that 74 percent of organizations do not address this issue until the employee quits. Why are our leaders reactive versus proactive?

In the business culture, a question looms: will I get further if I take from people or give to them? This question rides the thin line of selfishness and selflessness reasoning. The violet needs nurturing so it can thrive. Too much water can drown the violet causing a struggle for life or a complete halt. The overabundance of water in a leadership perspective can range from poor management to unmanageable workloads. Consequently, employee burnout can trigger a fast-downward spiral in individual and organizational performance. Studies have shown that high-performing employees can quickly shift from optimism to hopelessness as they drown in unmanageable workloads imposed by their organizational leaders. But, there are other factors that you do not typically hear that affect this drowning mindset. No clear connection of the role to organizational strategy, a negative workplace culture, and the lack of automation. What does this exactly mean? Employees are confused about where they fit in and the roles they are to embrace, their personal values are not aligned with organizational values, the workplace culture is saturated with gossip and not built with intention, and the job has become too manual which prevents the focus on bigger strategic problems which can also diminish empowerment.

But the question still exists: why does it seem that our leaders are reactive versus proactive? I have found that many organizational leaders are simply unaware. Through my studies, I uncovered that many leaders either are just too busy to notice with their primary focus being the bottom dollar or their mid-level management is protecting them from the truth. When an employee’s workload is out of control, employees look to their managers to be their advocates for what they can and can't accomplish and seek opportunities for others to assist. But there is also great news! There are simple steps to help mitigate employee burnout and it is reversible!

1. “Scratch and sniff.” Go talk to your people without an agenda to “fix” them. Walk around to their offices, shut the door, and have a candid conversation to gauge the culture of your organization. It is crucial that you do not assume you know what is going on, your employees will tell you…you just have to ask and you have to show that you care. Do not provide solutions on the spot or justify why your employee may feel a certain way (emotions may run high during this). Thank the employee for their feedback and let them know that you will look into their comments. Ask them how they would help solve their dilemma.

2. Recognize what you, as a leader, bring to the organization. Do you value your people? If so, how do you know? Do you ask? Do you send out an annual survey in a quick attempt to capture a surface-level response? What do you do with the responses? Have a generic training session addressing the concerns?

3. Value your employees over your agenda. Use your employee’s skill-sets. I have witnessed, and resided in, many organizations who mismanage their employee’s talents. In a business culture where competition is high, ego remains on the forefront of many decisions. Embrace the talents offered by your employee versus viewing it as competition. Set aside your ego and be proud that you have amazing team members who contribute to the strategic goals of your organization. Not only be proud, but tell them. People want to be valued and will wait for this confirmation…burnout will cause them to cease waiting. Think about if you valued people over profits how it would look for you. By becoming curious on how your growth is considerate to the growth of others allows for the opportunity for others to grow along with you. Are the people in your life just a means to an end?

By becoming vulnerable and authentically answering the above questions, we can then begin to realize that if how we grow reduces those around us, then it is we who are getting smaller. Our violets do not have to be drowning, nor do our main physical components have to die for them to grow and develop. We were born to grow, multiply, and expand beyond our borders of what we think is possible. See your employees for who they are now and who they are becoming. People are dynamic and reside in a constant state of character transformation. Invest in your people. Some people will grow quickly while others are slower to respond. The main outcome that you want to witness: progress. Employee burnout does not have to exist within the workplace – it is a choice. The gardener should continue to grow the violet, but the violet also needs to take a proactive approach and identify an impending burnout…it may be closer than you think.

Have you experienced or encountered employee burnout within your organization? Share your experience and any strategies or conversations that helped curtail this. As always, please feel free to share this article with anyone and everyone that can benefit!

- Renea Skelton, PhD