The ag industry, and particularly the ag retail sector, is facing a crisis. Low unemployment, smaller talent pools, tighter margins, and a demand for better service create the ideal conditions for organizations to expect their employees to do the proverbial more-with-less. As a result, it’s not surprising that the word “burnout” is the top reason candidates give for considering careers outside of retail agronomy and possibly the agriculture industry overall.
A recent Gallup survey reported that 23% of employees report feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% report feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job. Burnout is much more than a concept. With workplace stress accounting for an estimated 8% of our national healthcare spending, even the World Health Organization (WHO) is taking measures to add it to its classification of diseases.
The ag industry tends to make excuses about seasonal demands, limited talent pools, and other details in order to justify burnout as just a part of the industry. Unfortunately, this acceptance of burnout can trigger a downward spiral over time in both employee and company performance. Several studies have shown us that burned-out employees cannot perform at their best. If these folks can’t perform at their best, how can you expect your organization to deliver the best customer service, quality control, and overall performance?
Much of the burnout we face in this industry is often overshadowed by what we see as passion. Most folks in this industry are truly passionate about their role in the business. We have either grown up being part of the industry or have been fortunate enough to find a home here. Unfortunately, this feeling that we all share makes it incredibly challenging for even the best of managers to recognize the signs of burnout in a top employee. Nearly 87% of professionals surveyed say they have passion for their current job, but 64% say they are frequently stressed. This data removes the myth that passionate employees are immune to stress or burnout and makes matters even more challenging when you consider that these same studies uncovered the fact that high-performing employees suffering from burnout are more likely to search for a new opportunity than to discuss their situation with a manager.
There are five primary factors that can push a top employee into this situation:
- Unfair treatment at work: Employees who don’t trust their managers or coworkers will no longer feel their work is meaningful. Their passion for the industry and their customers may keep them engaged and overshadow their loyalty to the company in the short-term but will likely result in them seeking employment elsewhere to regain that feeling.
- Unmanageable workload: When their workload is out of control, employees look to their managers to be their advocates for what they can and can’t accomplish and to assist them in finding other people or processes to help them. Answering with comments like “that’s just the way this business is” and leaving that concern unmanaged will inevitably add stress and burnout potential to a team.
- Lack of role clarity: Good mangers do a great job discussing the “what” with each employee. They take the time to ensure everyone on their team is clear on what their goals, expectations, and responsibilities are. The one detail that is often overlooked in that step is the “why,” leaving many employees uncertain of why the things they do are important to the success of the company and why they are important.
- Lack of communication and support from manager: Manager support and communication is a powerful buffer in a business with seasonal demands and expectations. During these times, stress is high, and expectations are even higher. Employees need to know that if something goes wrong, their managers have their backs. Employees who strongly feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
- Unreasonable time pressure: Employees who feel they have enough time to do their work are 70% less likely to experience high burnout. Granted, there are some roles and activities that may always have time constraints. However, we need to recognize that periods of unreasonable deadlines have a snowball effect. As each deadline is missed, employees become further and further behind as every new deadline approaches.
There is no quick fix for eliminating or preventing employee burnout. Likewise, addressing these concerns by talking about “culture” and “process” from a high-level leadership position will not be effective either. However, it doesn’t take a lot of resources to reverse the impact of this phenomena in your organization. By being more diligent in understanding what matters most to our employees at a personal level, addressing the challenges our teams face each day, and working with each employee to provide them with an environment in which they feel comfortable addressing concerns (rather than avoiding potential conflict by seeking employment elsewhere), we can each make a positive difference!
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a three-part series focused on employee retention. The other two articles discuss strategies for managers to be more effective at identifying employees with concerns they aren’t sharing with you, and how to best address those challenges.