Relia Healthcare Advisors
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Burnt-Out Engaged Employees

Most companies agree, engaged employees profit their bottom line, increase production and motivate those around them, they are one of the more likely employees to experience burnout and leave. High engagement is linked to stress and may not be entirely beneficial as noted by Yale researchers. 20% of the exhausted-engaged employees polled reported high engagement and high burnout. Due to this elevated burnout and stress, companies may experience higher, costly turnover rates.

It is clear that chronic stress isn’t good for employees, yet company wellness programs may not be enough. Data shows the larger “levers” at work must be deployed to include interaction with front-line supervisors to understand and explore the specific demands of the job, balancing demands and resources, the need for acknowledgement and opportunities for recovery. While challenges (stretch goals) may be beneficial, care must be taken to examine the high cost of those challenges. At this time research has not shown conclusive evidence regarding the benefits of stretch goals. For some it is motivating, for others they are debilitating. Ultimately the goal is to seek “smart engagement”

What does smart engagement look like?

Key differences exist between the optimally-engaged employee and the engaged-exhausted employees experiencing burnout. Half of the optimally engaged employees reported having high levels of support and resources, such as supervisor support, rewards and recognition, and autonomy at work; in addition they reported experiencing low demands in terms of workload, company politics and low to moderate concentration/attention drains. However, exhausted-engaged employees reported having high resources and high demands.

Companies can make simple changes that may reduce the number of exhausted-engaged and move them into a more optimal space.

  • Companies can create a culture that supports being “unplugged” from time to time, whether that’s while on vacation, schedule breaks during the day to allow for undisturbed creative thinking or opportunities for social interaction, all of which provide stress relief.

  • Allow for honest and open feedback without repercussions, but with safety parameters to keep things flowing without being false or personally motivated.

  • Actively listen to and respond to employees.

  • Allow for some appropriate individuality, constantly bowing to peer pressure and conformity creates stress and pressure in the engaged employee.

While these are but a few ways companies can change their culture to minimize the exhausted engaged, increase the optimally-engaged and ultimately experiencing less costly turnover, they offer a place to begin the journey toward minimizing burnout and losing your best employees.

Rod Brace, Ph.D.

Managing Partner

Rod Brace, Ph.D. is the managing partner for Relia Healthcare Advisors specializing in culture assessment, operational excellence and leadership development in High-Reliability Organizations.  He is a faculty member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the ACHE.