3 Key Steps to Preventing Employee Burnout in Agriculture

In the past two articles we’ve discussed the difficulty of identifying and addressing employee burnout. However, the real challenge is how to prevent it in the first place. Every business and company culture is different, so there is no single solution that is certain to eliminate this risk. But one thing that is certain, is that a proactive approach to preventing burnout is far more effective and will have less impact on your team than trying to deal with burnout after the fact.

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Preventing employee burnout puts supervisors in a challenging position. Although each organization has a responsibility to maintain the well-being of their employees, they are also faced with the reality that most employees want to work hard and succeed. As challenging as this sounds, a recent survey by Gallop suggests that companies can accomplish both by creating a supportive environment and focusing on the things that create burnout in the first place.

Here are three of the most important steps you can take to prevent employee burnout:

1. Set expectations the employee can control

Most companies have performance metrics or goals that are used to measure an employee’s success. For a sales representative it can be metrics such as sales calls per week, customer retention, or total sales. Operation roles may have measurements based on inventory shrink, days without injury, acres without a complaint, or others.

Each of these examples are activities and results the employee can affect themselves. However, when organizations set metrics that are out of an employee’s control, this can result in a negative impact on the employees. Goals that include a sales team’s incentive in operational goals, or adding sales results to the goals of an operations employee, can create anxiety within your staff.

Although these types of goals are implemented with the intent to foster teamwork or communication between groups, it can create an environment where hard work starts to feel pointless when factors out of their control will erase their best effort in doing their job. In these situations, even staff meetings designed to motivate become a source of frustration for the affected employee. This is a big challenge in most organizations, so it’s not surprising that employees who have 100% of their metrics and goals within their control have a 55% lower risk of burnout!

2. Create a trusting relationship

Re-search conducted by Gallup, Harvard Business Review, and other organizations all point to the importance of autonomy in the workplace as a way to reduce burnout. Autonomy is the ability for an employee to make their own choices on how to do their job, opposed to an environment where they are told what to do every step of the way. While I agree with those research results, my experience working in most agronomy organizations is that they typically have a trust issue that results in an autonomy issue. Creating a trusting relationship with your employees, such that you coach them on results vs. directing their activities each day, is a challenging thing to do in an industry where talent is in short supply, margins are tight, and tight windows of operation can dictate your day.

However, the risk of employee stress and burnout is reduced by 43% when an employee feels they are in control of what they do each day and how they’re going to do it. A key component to this process is to meet with your team more, not less, by making it a regular schedule. Chances are, you’ve heard of someone who only speaks to their team members occasionally. This isn’t enough to build trust. Aim for recurring one-on-one time when you can ask team members if they’d like to change something in their job or whether there are any problems with their workload.

It doesn’t always have to be an hour-long meeting; even a few minutes on a regular basis to touch base or give feedback on something can strengthen your working relationship. Creating this environment of trust, where leaders empower employees by nurturing that right level of autonomy, will not only reduce the risk of burnout, it will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the organization’s culture and overall performance of their team.

3. Enable collaboration

Employees who regularly get the opportunity to collaborate and work on projects with co-workers are 26% less likely to feel burnout on a frequent basis. When people are surrounded by a supportive team and environment, they naturally flourish and perform their best over the long term. Supervisors play a key role in this process by empowering their team, encouraging them to share and test ideas, and being good listeners. They will undoubtedly make mistakes in this process. However, if you can step back and provide the right amount of honest and transparent feedback to keep things moving forward, your employees will start doing the same with each other, and you as well.

Burnout is a common phenomenon that’s a risk to every organization. With the business model, culture, and employee expectations being different in every company, there is no single, best solution to this growing problem. Hopefully the tips we have offered in this article series will help you recognize, prevent, and manage employee burnout on your team in order to maintain that positive work environment.

Editor’s note: This is the third article in a three-part series focused on employee retention.

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