Leaders: Concerned about Employee Burnout and Turnover? Here is the One Solution You Haven’t Tried

During the first year of the pandemic, we were just trying to keep our organization afloat without burning out employees.

Year two rolls around and we now have a new challenge. With ongoing stress and burnout among employees, we are now facing high turnover. This creates a downward spiral. Turnover leads to high rates of burnout for those employees who stay, which then increases turnover….

Many leaders are at the point where they feel like they have run out of options. What can you do to support your employees and stop the hemorrhaging?

My recent research within the healthcare sector – arguably one of the hardest hit during the pandemic – identifies a powerful solution. It’s a hidden resource that resides within all organizations and…. it doesn’t cost a thing.

If you think this is too good to be true, read on.

Using survey research and path modeling, I’ve been able to identify predictors of burnout and turnover during the pandemic. There are the typical culprits: staffing shortages, lack of resources, and limited flexibility in work and home balance. But there is another powerful predictor that no one is talking about: leadership communication.

My research shows that when leaders communicate with employees, employees are more apt to believe that their leader cares about them, which subsequently results in a more supportive workplace culture. These seemingly intangible factors – caring leaders & supportive workplaces – have a strong cascading effect on minimizing burnout and turnover. I purposefully use the word ‘seemingly’ to describe ‘intangible.’ While these perceptions and feelings are immaterial, they shape our experience of the workplace. As noted by David Cooperrider, “Words create worlds.”

So the question to ask yourself: What kind of world are you creating for your employees?

Is it one where they feel isolated as they try to manage increased work demands AND home demands? Or is it one where they feel unified with their co-workers?

Here are a few powerful communication strategies leaders can use to support your employees:

  1. Communicate to your staff as often as possible. Any decision that impacts an employee should be communicated to them first. Hearing it through the grapevine conveys the message that they are not important or valued by you or the organization.
  1. Be as transparent as possible. Not all information at the leadership level can be shared, but make it a default to share information unless there is a reason not to.
  1. Ask for input. Communication should be a two-way street. No leader has a complete picture of what is going on in an organization. Assume that all staff members have a valuable perspective to offer. They feel valued when you ask.
  1. Let them know what you are trying to do to support them…even when it doesn’t work. This may be particularly relevant for middle managers in large organizations who can’t always pull the levers of change. For example, you may not be able to offer pay raises or adjust the number of vacation days as these are often determined by the HR department. Even if your efforts come up short, let them know what you’ve tried. This in itself is an important message to convey – that you care.

Published by dramymyoung

Organizational Psychologist & Professor

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