3 Ways to Re-Energize Employees in the Age of Burnout

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In corporate America, evolutionary change at revolutionary speed is becoming the norm, and workers are clearly feeling the brunt of these tectonic shifts. Political strife, international trade disputes, and angst over a particular industry’s or company’s health are weighing heavily on workers’ minds. Couple these concerns with a nonstop workload, demanding deliverables, and tight budget restrictions, and it’s no wonder employees are feeling burnt out and out of gas. Further, many employees also feel like they’re treading water career-wise, doing the same work they’ve been doing for years with little opportunity for growth, challenge, or professional development.

Let’s start with one basic assumption: Your job as a manager is not to motivate your staff. Motivation is internal; people are responsible for motivating themselves. Instead, you’re responsible for creating an environment in which people can motivate themselves. This is an important distinction.

Few companies have had opportunities to promote people internally; many have withheld equity adjustments and kept annual merit increases slim because the bottom line has been squeezed so tightly. More importantly, there exists an underlying tension due to the perception that corporate America is about to burst, whether because of the stock market falling, interest rates rising, trade tariffs being instituted, or prices shooting through the roof.

Now is the time for leaders and managers to look at the latter half of the “recruitment and retention” equation. Recognizing, appreciating, and motivating your staff are key in our current circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have to bring your pom-poms to work and play cheerleader. Rather, there are a few relatively simple ways to create an environment in which people can motivate and reinvent themselves in light of your organization’s changing needs.

1.Turn Your Employees Into Corporate Futurists

Many companies adhere to the philosophy of minimal communication rather than open-book management. Instead, you should turn on the communication spigot by turning your team members into corporate futurists. Send them to the library to research your organization, your industry, and your competitors. Have them scour the internet for current trends and patterns in your business, especially those that can impact their careers for the better. Have them learn more about your organization and your competitors.

If your company is publicly traded, see what is being said about your stock on Yahoo! Finance. If your company is a nonprofit, research GuideStar and Charity Navigator to learn how your organization compares to other nonprofits in your space. Have your employees check Glassdoor to see how prior employee ratings reflect their current reality.

Most important, point your employees to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.  This particular resource can help them determine the job growth trajectories for their positions or disciplines over the next decade.

Knowledge is power, and the internet and library are free.

2. Introduce Rotational Staff Meeting Leadership

One thing employees often look for in ideal employers is leadership development opportunities. You can easily give your own employees this opportunity by allowing each  to run a weekly staff meeting. Put the employee in charge of meeting structure, delegation of responsibilities to others, and follow-up. This is a simple way to give your future leaders the management development they crave.

Plus, it is much easier to complain than it is to fix a problem. When your employees are responsible for attempting to fix problems in the business, they will be less likely to blame others. They’ll become more sensitive to the challenges involved in crafting solutions — and they’ll become better at actually crafting those solutions, too.

3. Explore External Training Workshops

Assume that many of your best employees will be resume-builders: They’ll stay long enough to prove their worth so long as they’re on the fast track. Once they feel blocked from upward mobility, however, they’ll start to look elsewhere rather than forego their personal agendas.

People will feel like they’re making a positive contribution to your organization if they consistently feel they are learning and trying new things. Even if you can’t promote employees because of budget or headcount restrictions, you can still give them opportunities to challenge themselves.

There are tons of training organizations offering thousands of situation-specific seminars via both eLearning and more traditional routes. Two or three seminars per employee per year may add very little to your overhead, but it can have powerful results. Employees can take these seminars as chances to reflect on their careers, and they can bring the new concepts they learn back to their daily work.

4. Hold Quarterly One-on-One Progress Meetings

Scheduling a 30-minute meeting with each of your direct reports once a quarter will help you build stronger relationships and learn what each of your employees values. General motivation techniques like those listed above are great, but you won’t know what makes a particular individual tick until you spend time listening. People are, after all, motivated by very different things, and true motivation happens at a personal level.

In today’s business environment of scarce resources, limited payroll increases, and flatter organizations, you still have to provide your staff with the two key elements of any effective retention program: open communication and opportunities for career growth.

No, you can’t necessarily lessen the workload or slow the pace of change, but you can challenge  your team members to build their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Each employee’s achievements and accomplishments, specific and quantifiable, will strengthen your team’s output exponentially. Remember that the greatest gift the workplace offers is paying it forward and growing strong leaders. That’s how favorite bosses are made, and it’s the best way to reenergize a team that may be in need of a jolt.

Paul Falcone, author of the second edition of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees , is a human resources executive who has held senior-level positions with Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, and City of Hope.

By Paul Falcone