Company leaders and managers have a big responsibility in overseeing employees. But they can’t see everything, and sometimes there’s more going on in a worker’s life than meets the eye.
Employee disengagement or burnout isn’t always apparent, and some employers may be in for a surprise if and when the COVID-19 pandemic winds down. One study shows that 57% of U.S. employees say they are burnt out, with many likely to leave their job after the pandemic is over. And a Gallup survey reveals that the percentage of engaged employees – those enthusiastic about their workplace – is under 40%.
What the numbers mean is leaders need to learn how to spot and help out-of-balance employees, says Mark McClain, CEO and co-founder of SailPoint and the ForbesBooks author of Joy and Success at Work: Building Organizations that Don’t Suck (the Life Out of People).
“One challenge leaders and managers routinely face is to recognize when the people around them – peers, colleagues, but especially subordinates – are out of balance or are heading in the wrong direction,” McClain says. “Beyond the potential impacts on their personal lives, you want to try to head off the negative effects such imbalances can have on their roles in the company.
“This may seem imposing, but you have to pay attention as a leader. No employee can run at a crazy pace forever, yet some companies let people run themselves right out of the building. Other workers who are disengaged can be harder to spot initially.”
McClain offers these tips for leaders to spot, address, and help out-of-balance employees:
- Make work-life balance part of your culture. “You can expect much from your employees, but you don’t want them to fry themselves,” McClain says. “You don’t want them to harm their health, their family, or their relationships. If you have good people, ideally you’ll grow them and help them work toward their vision of a healthy work-life balance. The sooner leaders confront imbalance in the equation, the more meat they put on the bones of company culture.”
- Screen out for potential burnout. Some companies hire knowing they will overwork people or take advantage of their ambition to work extra hard and advance up the corporate ladder, McClain says. But that approach can lead to burnout and departure, which costs companies in terms of replacing them. “There are always going to be ultra-motivated climbers,” McClain says. “But exploiting them is beyond bad. Those who can’t stand it get out, and the HR departments plan on the fact that every four or five years, only 15 to 20 percent of those hires will be able to move up the ranks. These types of organizations instead should invest in pre-hiring assessments to screen out those who value a life outside of work. Doing so would save the companies money and turnover.”
- Be a counselor. It’s not an invasion of privacy for a manager to show concern in an employee, McClain says, and probing is necessary to help the employee. “Like it or not,” he says, “being a counselor of sorts is part of managing people. Getting to know them as people, and their work styles, is what makes spotting imbalances possible. It’s why good managers pull employees aside and say, ‘Hey, you’re here, but you’re not engaged. Is something going on?’ Managers who take that step are able to uncover issues and steer their employees to the help they need.”
“Many companies talk about caring for workers until they’re blue in the face,” McClain says. “But when you put in place the pieces to help them succeed, leaders walk the walk – and everybody wins.”