Working Together: Reducing risk of employee burnout amid COVID crisis (Voices) |

Working Together: Reducing risk of employee burnout amid COVID crisis (Voices)

Amy Fleming

Working Together

Amy Fleming
Courtesy EDAWN

Sources and additional resources:

• Harvard Business Review, “Employee Burnout Is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person”

• Harvard Business Review, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”

• The Harvard Chan School of Public Health, “How to Deal with Pandemic Stress”

• The Mayo Clinic, “Job Burnout — How to Spot It and Take Action”

• Society for Human Resource Management, “High Anxiety in Uncertain Times”

RENO, Nev. — Whether you call it stress, anxiety, grief, fear or burnout, we can all recognize we’re suddenly forced to function in a world that is dramatically different than it was a few weeks ago.

While we see an increasing number of resources to help individuals function amid the chaos, what role do employers play in minimizing stress? It’s important to note that layoffs are certainly playing a role in our environment, but our focus here is on threats to and strategies for retaining the employees you intend to keep.

The psychological, physical and financial costs of managing a burnt-out workforce are complex; researchers in 2015 estimated that workplace stress costs the country anywhere from $125 to $190 billion dollars a year — or 5 to 8 percent of national healthcare spending.

In the workplace, stressed employees exhibit increased errors and lower productivity and can demoralize colleagues. For individuals, stress and burnout can lead to insomnia, substance abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and vulnerability to illness.

Whether you are supporting a newly remote workforce, manage frontline staff or are trying to keep a small business afloat, we’re hoping these are areas you can control that will have a positive impact. It’s important for all levels management to play a role and should not be the sole responsibility of your HR department:

  1. Communicate frequently, clearly, and transparently. Most of your employers are overdosing on news but are also looking to leadership to provide reliable information. Be deliberate with what information you discuss or disseminate. Help to digest material so that the most relevant and high-priority items are clear.
  2. Validate concerns. Anxiety is amplified if employees perceive their feelings to be unwarranted and leaders can inadvertently make a stressful situation worse if the message is, “don’t panic.”
  3. Provide guide stars to focus energy into positive work. Increased messaging to focus staff on what can be done, even in a small way, can strengthen collaboration and positive outlook and lead to more valuable productivity.
  4. Put extra effort into treating others with respect and understanding. In a state of heightened anxiety there is a tendency to be short or impatient and leaders should be careful to both give and receive information from a place of empathy.
  5. Consider reducing work hours to encourage employees to take care of themselves and their families. Many are managing themselves, their environments, and dependents. Acknowledging employees need extra time to do so, or giving more space to complete complex tasks and generate ideas, will be appreciated.
  6. Promote tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams that facilitate virtual collaboration but may also be a way for employees to share memes or videos to spread joy and show support. Try using Zoom or other video conference platform to add a more human component to your regular meetings and remember to stay light-hearted while kinks in the technology are worked out.
  7. Check in more regularly. Make yourself available to answer questions over a variety of media and/or schedule a daily check-in with your team to share updates or provide guidance. Help set goals for what must get done and what can wait.
  8. Encourage employees to become masters of their work and give room for ownership. Giving them a purpose, particularly if you are on the frontline in any capacity, is a critical component to avoiding burnout. One of the greatest sources of organizational energy is giving employees a sense of autonomy.
  9. Regulate the media in your environment. Consider trading the news or stock tickers for a tranquil escape. The CARE channel, source of soothing and calming videos, has made many of their resources available for free; go to for more.

Ultimately, the most valuable thing you can do is to take care of yourself. If you aren’t managing your own stress or burnout, it will be nearly impossible for you to create a supportive environment for your employees or for them to support their stakeholders.

When it comes down to it, we need consider different approaches to keeping effective employees functioning at the high levels, and most importantly, make sure they stick with us through the crisis.

“Working Together,” which focuses on fostering a future workforce for the greater Reno region, is a recurring Voices column in the NNBW authored by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. Amy Fleming is manager of workforce development for EDAWN. Reach her for comment at