How to Keep Your Top Talent: Prevent Employee Burnout

You know top talent when you see it in action. Productivity in the workplace soars. Innovative discussion buzzes between office cubicles. Employees leave meetings light on their feet, ready for the next challenge.

Sales go up. Companies grow. At the end of the day, people fuel business success. And these people are sometimes hard to find.

So when you attract and hire rising stars, you’ll want to do everything you can to help them reach even greater heights with your company.

Start by preventing employee burnout.

Why is employee burnout a big deal?

Frankly, employee burnout is costly.  It manifests itself in absenteeism, high turnover, and ‘presenteeism’ – when the employee is physically present but completely unproductive.

According to a report compiled by three Quebec universities for insurance company Standard Life, lost productivity related to employee burnout cost Canadian companies $6.3 billion in 2011.

And burnout spreads faster than wild fire. As Kissmetrics contributor Tiago Palva says, “burnout not only affects the employee’s performance, but impacts the performance of the team and work environment.”

Remember that innovative energy amongst office cubicles? Nothing more swiftly kills the buzz than burnout.

When do employees experience burnout?

The commonly known recipe for burnout – too many work hours in a high stress environment – is just one scenario in the burnout bucket.

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has another:

“I have a theory that burnout is about resentment,” she says in a Bloomburg Businessweek post, “and you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.”

She uses the example of a Google employee who was happy to stay up for 1AM conference calls with executives in India, so long as she got to attend her daughter’s soccer games and music recitals.  Those activities were important to her personal life, and so were accommodated by her workplace.  This made it easier to keep up with the demands of her job.

Resentment in the office grows quietly, especially because employees might not even understand why they are feeling resentful in the first place. Something is missing. And it’s your job to find out what it is.

Preventing employee burnout

As Mayer notes, “the challenge is to get people to recognize and express how important certain personal activities and interests are to their daily ‘rhythm’.”

Once you understand what matters to your top talent – dinner dates with family, floor hockey games on Thursdays – accommodate it.

Sure, they can’t have everything they want. But as Mayer says, they can have the things that really matter to them.

Do this now! It’s a preventative measure.  Many of us don’t recognize a burned-out employee until it is too late. By starting a conversation about extracurricular priorities, you take a meaningful step towards improving workplace morale and maintaining happy, thriving employees.

But what about those busy times?

Some business seasons are busier than others, and when the work starts piling up, managers want all hands on deck, all day and all night.  Preventing employee burnout can really take the back burner.

Here are some basic tips to keep in mind during busy times:

– Be realistic when assigning tasks. There’s a fine line between challenging and overwhelming. As a manager or CEO, this is yours to master.

– Insist your employees take regular breaks. Ambitious employees may fight with you and say they don’t need half an hour for lunch. They do. They’ll thank you later.

“Don’t spread your team too thin,” says Palva. Recognize when you need extra resources to get everything done on time. Instead of piling too many tasks on your permanent staff, hire temporary employees to take the weight off and maintain productivity.

If you can attract top talent, you can keep top talent

You’ve built an awesome team. Now let’s keep it that way. Let us know what you think it takes to keep employees engaged and thriving.  We look forward to your insights!


Mayer, Marissa. “How to Avoid Burnout: Marissa Mayer.” 12 April 2012. Bloomberg Businessweek

Palva, Tiago. “How to Prevent Employee Burnout.” 28 February 2013.