How to Combat Burnout with Engagement Initiatives

The real question isn’t whether your employees are satisfied—it’s whether they’re engaged. Understanding the difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement is critical to implementing human resources initiatives that prevent employee burnout and costly turnover.

Combat Burnout with Engagement

Employee Satisfaction Versus Engagement

As an employer, you need to be concerned about both satisfaction and engagement. Satisfaction is a measure of an employee’s job happiness, while engagement is a measure of how emotionally committed an employee is to the work and to your company—in other words, is the employee willing to go the extra mile at his or her own discretion? Gallup has been measuring employee engagement in the United States since 2000 and finds that approximately one-third of the U.S. workforce and about 15 percent of the global workforce are “engaged.”

But being engaged doesn’t mean working 80-hour weeks or responding to emails in the middle of the night. In fact, such behaviors can easily lead to burnout—the opposite of engagement.

The Origins Of Burnout

Psychologist Christina Maslach defines “burnout” as an employee’s response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stress in the workplace—the cumulative effect of employee exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. In other words, burnout is the byproduct of an environment in which an employee has too much to do, an unclear role, social isolation, and little opportunity to provide or receive feedback. Employees who work in this type of environment—especially those with perfectionistic or overachiever tendencies—are at a higher risk of reaching a breaking point and making a dramatic exit.

Preventing Burnout Through Engagement

Nurturing engagement among your employees is the best burnout prevention around and doesn’t require the resources of a Silicon Valley giant. Companies of any size or budget can try the following engagement initiatives:

  • Practice strategic onboarding. First impressions count—and once your new hire is on the payroll, you’re the one making the first impression. Don’t let your new employee flounder. Even small businesses can welcome new employees with a first-day lunch, a first-week training schedule and perhaps even a mentor. Don’t send your new employees home questioning their decision to leave their comfortable old jobs for your company. And don’t stop onboarding with the first paycheck—schedule one-month, three-month and six-month check-ins as appropriate.


  • Develop clear job descriptions and performance review timelines. People do better with boundaries. It’s human nature. We want to know that we are meeting and exceeding expectations.


  • Enforce flexibility and reasonable hours. This will look different in every industry, but as appropriate, encourage people to “clock out” and prioritize down time. Model this behavior by not initiating unnecessary after-hours contact. And build goodwill by allowing productive employees to duck out early as needed for vet appointments, school plays and other personal commitments—they’ll reward your generosity with engagement.


  • Create a culture of feedback. Not only should you provide regular feedback to your employees, but you should also ask them for feedback. If you survey employees about job satisfaction, don’t let the results collect dust. Make sure your employees see that you’re making an effort to improve corporate culture.


  • Have fun with work. Again, this doesn’t mean you need a fully stocked kitchen or “Thirsty Thursdays.” Have a holiday potluck. Take part in a local charity walk. Wear your favorite team shirts on “Football Fridays.” (Hint: Ask your employees for ideas.)


  • Say thanks. Find appropriate ways to show you appreciate your employees as individuals. Acknowledging an employee’s birthday and work anniversary is a simple but meaningful way to say thanks.

At its core, engagement is about respect. When you’re willing to go the extra mile for employees, they’ll go the extra mile for you, and they won’t get burned out doing so.

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