Editor’s note: Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. Below, the veteran tech explains how service leaders can use a personal touch to help employees avoid that toxic workplace condition: burnout.

Do you sometimes have a hard time getting enthused about going to work? I dare say that everybody has days when they would rather be fishing or binge-watching Netflix. But when does this human condition move out of ordinary lethargy and into a classic case of job burnout? Do you know the signs and are you aware of the cost it has on your employees’ health and your business’s bottom line? What can you, as a manger, do about it anyway?

The Tell-Tale Signs

According to the Mayo Clinic, those who suffer from job burnout experience one of more of a rash of symptoms, including:

  • Cynical workplace outlook
  • Chronically tardiness, or a tendency to doddle once they arrive at work
  • Irritability or impatience
  • Feel less productive or satisfied or are disillusioned
  • Abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Experience more than normal physical ailments, including poor sleep, change in appetite, headaches, backaches or other unusual pain

From my experience, attitude is the first to go. If an employee becomes abnormally combative or negative – consistently – he or she is could be either having problems at home or suffering from job burnout.

The Cost of Job Burnout

According to a New York Times Op-Ed by management consultant Tony Schwartz and Georgetown professor Christine Porath, companies whose employees were fully engaged at work had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent better customer ratings, 28 percent fewer cases of employee theft and 48 percent fewer safety incidents. (The authors didn’t mention the cost of replacing a burned-out employee who quits.)

What’s a Manager to Do?

Many factors that lead to job burnout are beyond management’s control. But an engaged manager who is attuned to the signs can play an active role in putting out the fire.

  • Manage humanely: In their New York Times article, Schwartz and Porath say, “Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior …” Sending a text or email to ask, “How’s it going?” is not the point here. A phone call might do, but the best way is to meet with the tech and say something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit short with me lately. Is there anything wrong?” And then let them vent. Getting defensive will only make matters worse.
  • Actively encourage breaks during the workday: The Harvard Business Review reports that a lack of workday breaks, and undue attention to electronic devices, are top factors that lead to burnout. In field service organizations that provide 24-hour service, this might be difficult to do, but it’s an important step to keep techs engaged.
  • Give technicians (some) control: The Mayo Clinic suggests that employees who feel a lack of control at work are prone to burnout. This is a tricky problem in field service, since technicians are often instructed by their managers (or management software) where to go and how to get there. One solution? Make senior techs a part of the decision-making process. It’s also a good idea to allow flexibility within the system, so that your techs can move calls around as needed.

A Simple Blogger’s Theory

I’m of the opinion that advances in technology are contributing to the almost epidemic job dissatisfaction levels that many of these studies point out — and field service is perhaps more affected than any other industry. Before email, texting and web conferencing became the de facto standard for communication, we had to talk to one another over the phone and have face-to-face meetings to let everyone in on the discussion. It is very difficult to show the level of concern for your employees that is prescribed through an impersonal text or webinar. Humans need to be able to read body language and hear voice inflections to determine sincerity. In-person meetings are the best way for that to happen.

I’m not suggesting that service managers ditch email, texting or virtual meetings, but it is important to have frequent personal interactions with your techs. We’re a lively bunch and it might just help you cope with your job, too.

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