3 Ways to Battle Burnout

Friday, May 27, 2016

Carol Cookerly doesn’t want to risk employee burnout at Atlanta-based Cookerly Public Relations & Marketing Services, the firm she founded in 1991. Her team’s creativity is her currency.

But keeping morale high can be a challenge in her industry, where publicists face constant deadline pressure and frequent rejection when pitching the media. As president of the 23-employee firm, Cookerly makes it a priority to keep her team energized and motivated. That means breaking the daily grind with activities that range from trips to her horse farm to spirited office bingo games. “You can’t have the same schedule day in and day out without having burnout and office morale go down,” she says. “Repetition is the carpal tunnel of the mind.”

Poor morale is a problem in many industries. Gallup found in recent research that only 31.5% of employees are engaged at work, defined as being enthusiastic about and committed to their workplace. Smaller organizations, Gallup reports, have an edge in keeping employees emotionally invested in the company. Those with 10 employees or less had the highest engagement.

It takes a proactive approach to keep morale high. Here are some tips for keeping your own employees happy and engaged.

1. Minimize economic stress.

It isn’t always easy to offer a competitive salary range in a small or midsize company. Often, though, it is an investment that pays for itself by giving your team the freedom to focus on work rather than on unpaid bills. Cookerly believes one reason her firm scores high in employee surveys is that she pays wages at or above the top of her field for her community. She also offers a high-quality healthcare plan and pays 100% of the premiums — freeing employees from healthcare-related financial stress that could potentially distract them from their work.

Similarly, Pepito Fierro, owner of Pepe’s Bistro in Lincoln, Nebraska, pays his servers and dishwashers above the minimum wage because he knows what it is like to work in low-paying service industry jobs. “I have been down that road and felt appreciated when I was paid well,” says Fierro, whose eight-table restaurant typically employs two or three people other than himself.

Fierro, who also opened a community nonprofit bike shop in Lincoln, now run by volunteers, will give his bistro employees a bike to get around if they have worked 30 days straight during a busy period. He believes they deserve it. “If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have a team,” he says.

If you don’t know whether the wages you’re paying are competitive for your area, don’t just take a guess at it. Check out data published by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for regional salary ranges.

2. Stay flexible.

Life happens outside of the office walls and the ability to both acknowledge and be accommodating of personal situations can pay off. At Gongs Unlimited, also in Lincoln, Andrew Borakove sells gongs to musicians, yoga instructors, and others on eBay and through other sites. He pays attention to what his employees are dealing with in their personal lives so he can be responsive and help them avoid feeling overwhelmed. His attentiveness can help the business remain productive. When one employee was dealing with an illness recently, they made an agreement about working remotely.

The best way to find out if employees need more flexibility is to ask them, either individually or in a team meeting that focuses on building a better workplace. Offering perks like the ability to work from home can strengthen team loyalty. If your business doesn’t lend itself to a remote policy, look for ways to offer scheduling flexibility so employees can avoid work/life conflicts.

3. Make time for fun.

To keep spirits high among the members of his nine-employee team, Borakove — a former comedy writer in Hollywood — tries to cultivate a fun atmosphere, to the point where he sometimes gets on the counter and dances with music cranked. “I make sure everyone is having a good time,” says Borakove. “We’re selling gongs. We’re not landing planes.”

If you’re unsure of the type of activities that will bring your team together, don’t create a burden for yourself. Put together a social committee that collaborates on activities for the group, like a Cinco de Mayo celebration or an after-work happy hour or picnic. Chances are you won’t need to twist arms to get employees to plan fun activities and you’re likely to emerge with a team that has much stronger bonds.

Windstream provides advanced network communications that are professionally installed and fully supported, 24/7, letting SMBs focus on running the business and keeping employees happy. 

For more information on Windstream services for small business, visit