Is your front office staff burned out?
It’s okay to admit that they are. And don’t feel self-conscious, your team is not alone. A recent study found that a whopping 76% of U.S. employees are burned out. It’s actually abnormal not to be burned out. And it makes sense that most of us are burned out. The year 2020 brought us a global pandemic, societal shifts, political challenges, and toilet paper shortages, just to name a few highlights.
And while we’re no longer in acute crisis mode, there’s still so much uncertainty about everything. You feel it. Your staff feels it. Your patients feel it.
As a society, we’ve been permanently changed by the events of 2020, and those changes can take a toll on everyone’s mental health.
But the good news is that we can do something about it. In this post, we’ll discuss what burnout is, what causes it, how to recognize it, and how to reduce it. Let’s get started.
Burnout is mental, emotional, and sometimes physical exhaustion that's caused by prolonged stress. Burnout is not just feeling stressed. Everyone feels stress from time to time. A looming deadline, a negative interaction with a patient, or adapting to a new change in the office can all lead to stress. However, those stressors tend to be short-lived.
Burnout happens when the stress is excessive and doesn't let up.
Burnout often occurs when a worker feels overworked or under-appreciated (maybe simultaneously). It’s a natural reaction to unrelenting pressure.
Here are some of the factors that can lead to burnout:
Dental offices have experienced a tremendous amount of stress since the pandemic. In response to COVID-19, dental practice revenue in 2020 declined by 6%. Hygiene appointments were down, too. This caused nearly 10% of dental practices to downsize their office staff. And downsizing means that you’re increasing the workload on your other staff members.
On the flip side, COVID-19 also made it difficult for dental practices to hire new employees.
According to this report, millions of adults are still concerned about getting or spreading COVID-19, which is why they're not eager to get back to work. In addition, they may be caring for an elderly loved one or concerned about returning to work without proper child care. Some people also receive more in unemployment benefits than they would if working.
All of these factors have made it difficult to find employees.
This also creates more of a burden for your current staff. Your office may be running without the ideal number of people, which means that everyone has to do more. Being understaffed is a recipe for burnout.
Downsizing has a ripple effect. Beyond affecting your staff, downsizing your staff may translate to longer wait times and an overall decline in your patient experience. This can cause your patients to take out their frustrations on your office staff. If your staff is constantly bombarded with complaints and frustrations about wait times beyond their control, it can take a toll.
Everyone wants to be recognized for their efforts. They want to know that management sees and appreciates them for doing a winning job under immense pressure. Without validation, your staff members can feel like their work doesn’t matter. This can make every task even more difficult to accomplish.
Are your office policies stricter than most? Your staff feels like they’re struggling under an oppressive list of guidelines. It’s stressful to work in an environment where you don’t feel free to make a mistake from time to time.
Work isn’t the only contributor to burnout. Your staff members may be facing challenges at home, such as caring for an elderly loved one. In fact, a growing number of American workers (over 53 million) are also providing unpaid care for a family member.
There are definitely more factors that contribute to burnout, but these tend to be the biggest triggers for most workers.
So, how can you tell if your team members (or you) are burned out? Here’s a shortlist of telltale signs:
Does your employee seem downtrodden and negative? Are they no longer the enthusiastic employee you first hired?
Does your employee look tired? Do they often complain about being exhausted, even in the morning?
Have you noticed a downtick in productivity from your employee? Are they no longer hitting the same marks that they once did?
Does your employee seem more withdrawn and quiet? Are they not socializing as much as they did before?
Does your employee call out more often than normal?
Does your employee show up to work late often?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, it’s very possible that your employee is teetering on or experiencing full-blown burnout.
Burnout isn’t something that resolves on its own. This is why you can’t ignore it. When left unchecked, burnout will get worse.
Not only will your employee’s performance decline, so will the office environment. Burnout tends to be contagious. If one member of your staff is burned out, it will eventually affect other members, too. Why? Co-workers complain to each other. They’ll air out their grievances and that criticism will cause others to wonder if they are feeling mistreated, too.
Burnout can lead to health-related problems, such as heart disease and stroke. These issues can sometimes pop up years later.
If you care about the health of your team members, you’ll definitely address burnout before it becomes a problem.
So now that we’ve discussed what leads to burnout and what happens if you leave it unchecked, let’s now focus on how to reduce or eliminate it altogether.
When surveyed, 30% of workers believed that reducing hours at work would alleviate burnout symptoms. Look at ways that you can shift your schedule to reduce hours for those who may need it. And consider rotating overtime whenever possible so that the same group isn’t stuck at work all the time.
It’s also a good idea to re-evaluate your staff’s workload. Don’t try to tackle more in the hours that your employees are at work. Instead, give them the normal or even a lightened load. Surprisingly, this tactic has been shown to improve productivity.
When the office is busy, it’s easy to skip a coffee break or even a lunch break. If it happens occasionally, it probably won’t contribute to burnout. However, if skipping breaks turns into a daily occurrence for your front office staff, it’s important to re-distribute your workload. Ironically, skipping breaks can lead to a decline in productivity.
Make breaks mandatory and provide a stocked pantry to ensure that your employees have quick access to healthy snacks.
Even when their mental health is at stake, U.S. workers are less likely to take a day off because they simply can’t afford to. However, 24% of people believe that having more paid time off can help them reduce or avoid burnout.
Consider offering paid time off as a special employee incentive. This move benefits your employees because they'll have the opportunity to take care of their personal obligations. It also benefits your business because your employees won't be as stressed out when they return to work. Offering paid time off shows that you care about your employees and their well-being.
In addition to basic paid time off, you can also implement mental health days into your employee benefits package. Even offering as few as two to five mental health days each year can do a lot to improve the health and productivity of your team. This can also dramatically reduce incidents of burnout among your team. Make these mental health days available to team members who need a break.
Also, consider creating a mandatory minimum vacation break for your team members.
Most employees would take advantage of mental health resources, such as talk therapy, if given complimentary access to it. Companies like Lyra Health give companies the ability to provide mental health benefits.
Micromanaging, i.e. controlling every small task, is one sure route to burnout. Breathing down their neck for every task will only create a negative work environment. It sends the message that you don’t trust them. This can make your team feel inadequate and resentful. This management style will also stress out both you and your team.
You've hired your employees to do a job. Trust that they'll get it done. Set goals so that the employees know what you expect. And then, find out what your employees need from you in order to accomplish those goals.
A great way to reduce burnout is to offer personal support and show empathy to your team. When surveyed, one out of four employees believed that having a supportive manager would help them with burnout. There are many ways to be supportive to your team, such as:
Make it a goal to know your employees, including their strengths. Learn what motivates them, whether that’s more time off, more money, or more recognition. The answer will be different for every person.
Contests provide a fun way to celebrate small and great achievements. For example, you can run a contest for the person who gets the most reviews online. This motivates your employees to do their best, and it also promises to recognize them for those efforts.
But don’t just do one major contest. Make your contests short (such as once a month or quarter). And then provide the winner with a reward that reduces burnout, such as time off.
Another option is to run contests for the entire team instead of pitting employees against each other. This way, your entire team will motivate each other to succeed.
It's hard to give to others when you're completely exhausted and depleted yourself. Here are a few tips to reduce your own symptoms of burnout:
Everyone is susceptible to burnout. It doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of the job. It simply means that you’re human. Give yourself the same empathy that you offer your employees. Understand that burnout is something you can recover from.
Self-care is essential when facing burnout. Take time for yourself by doing the following:
Don’t just offer mental health care resources to your staff. Take advantage of them yourself. You can set the example that taking care of your mental health is important.
Life is stressful, but burnout isn’t just the result of normal, everyday stress. Burnout can have a negative impact on everyone. But, by implementing the above tips, you can reduce burnout in your front office.