While putting employees into “responsibility boxes” may make your operation appear neater on the surface, as we learn more about burnout vectors and creative stamina, it’s clear: the box serves no one.
Knowing what fuels your employees beyond the bounds of their given roles (and helping them get more of it) not only improves productivity and collaboration, but helps you — their manager, team leader, etc. — know how to pitch their next internal growth opportunity.
You may not be able to overhaul every role in your department, but what you can do (today and everyday) to prevent burnout is invest time in getting to know your employees’ personal brands.
The consequences of not doing so may cost you your most valuable team members.
What We Thought About Productivity… It Isn’t True
We once believed that having hyper-specialized employees benefited the whole team: staff had clearly-defined tasks and subsequent pathways for their careers. Tick the boxes to eventually earn more boxes, and the whole team will operate more efficiently.
We know better now.
People thrive on being humans, not task robots. We need to feel creative and passionate, constantly growing and discovering, otherwise, we lose our sense of purpose.
As a member of leadership, if you understand your employees only by their deliverables — i.e., Rebecca, the Sales Associate — they’ll feel their purpose is just that: to be the Sales Associate, then flip the switch on their way out of the door to (hopefully) become Rebecca again.
(Hint: this modus operandi does nothing to encourage upward mobility, for you or Rebecca.)
This is a recipe for burnout, and employee burnout spells disaster for the bottom line and for retention rates.
Because when we can’t see how our passions could play into our projects, we fall victim to the Hamster Wheel Effect: run in one place until you’re exhausted, and then hop off. Or rather, fulfill your duties until you can’t bear your lack of true mobility*, and then quit — on to the next company.
*True mobility meaning there are more ways one could flourish than just assuming a more senior title in the department.
Your employees might be cranking out quality deliverables, and sure, it can be scary to consider them branching outside of the role wherein you only see their “successful” productivity.
But unless you invest in their growth beyond their title — and, more importantly, their growth as it serves their sense of purpose and the potential benefit that it could bring to your org — they will succumb to burnout from the monotony, and seek fulfillment elsewhere.
If Burnout Doesn’t Concern You, It Should
While not classified as a formal medical condition, employee burnout is plaguing enough people worldwide for the Mayo Clinic to directly address it on their website, listing the following (amongst others) as contributing factors to the mind state:
A Lack of Control: I don’t have the ability to influence my responsibilities.
Dysfunctional Dynamics: My boss micromanages my every move.
Ceaseless Activity: I plug away constantly at the same tasks.
A Lack of Social Support: I feel isolated while at work.
These are all things that people in leadership roles have the power to ameliorate. At minimum, by checking in with the members of your team. At most, by knowing their personal brands.
What are their strengths and interests, and how can you create opportunities for them to bring that to their work?
This is vital groundwork, not only for the mental health of your employees, but because burnout leads directly to turnover. High turnover rates make not only you look bad as management, but it’s a detriment to the organization as a whole.
Start by asking any of these (or similar) questions:
What fulfilled you recently? Is there anything you’ve been itching to explore?
Do you have any side projects you’re interested in right now
What’s something you’re doing outside of work that you’re excited about?
What do you think makes your approach to this role unique?
You may also read or watch any independent content they create or make time to attend talks or events where they might be featured. Taking an interest in, or at least being aware of, their value outside of their ROI will not only help them feel appreciated for their individuality, but will help you develop a more holistic perspective of their potential, so you know where to best utilize their talents.
I noticed you seem pretty interested in ______, and I think your experience here could benefit from it. How would you feel about helping out with a ______-related project?
And the icing on the cake? When employees’ roles are aligned with their personal brands, productivity and innovation increase. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Advocacy and Empathy is Leadership at Its Best
As part of leadership, it’s your responsibility to figure out how your employees’ goals and talents can best serve the organization.
You need to be willing to admit that what you know of their work is not the whole picture. Knowing an employee’s personal brand means knowing what radiates in the nuances of their deliverables, or what might have the potential to do so that isn’t yet being utilized.
Be accessible. If you come to know your team (sincerely), they will respect you more for it, and feel much more comfortable coming to you with their ideas. Even if their idea is wanting to move to a different department, you earn brownie points both as a mentor and a management peer for recommending not only the most qualified person, but the person who will feel passionately about the job. As your peers and higher-ups come to trust your advocacy, your reputation as an empathetic and competent leader will follow suit.
A personal brand is an engine. You have the power to fuel it.
If employees do more of what they excel at and love doing, their career will pick up momentum (propelled by unrelenting satisfaction and a sense of purpose). As a leader, you want your employees to thrive. You need them to thrive, or the consequences fall on you.
The bottom line is that not every employee feels confident enough to ask for fulfillment before the burnout settles in. It’s up to you to beat them to it, and reap the spoils of knowing every member of your charge is truly thriving.
That is high-retention workplace productivity.