5 Strategies to Motivate Burned-Out Workers

 

By Paul Falcone June 12, 2019
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​Robert is a human resources director in a local community hospital who feels the heaviness of low staff morale. Employees are clearly tired, they feel like they're working at their maximum, and they're having a hard time keeping up with the patient load. In fact, due to leaves of absence from co-workers' disabilities and workers' comp, more employees have been working double shifts over extended periods of time. They are showing the classic signs of burnout. Unfortunately, Robert can't simply backfill positions because employees are on protected leaves of absence, and temp agencies and registries have few candidates to offer due to the tight labor market. In short, Robert doesn't know how to stop this apparently endless cycle of staffing shortages, excessive shift coverage, employee leaves and limited position replacements.

"Unless you've got some kind of magic wand to make these all-too-common challenges disappear, you won't have much success in terms of addressing these issues directly and head on," said Terry Hollingsworth, vice president of education and human resources services for the Hospital Association of Southern California in the greater Los Angeles area. "Yes, tightening up your recruitment cycle and opening your network to more temp agencies and registries may help, but those are Band-Aids. The real value lies in looking at the other side of the equation: employee engagement and self-motivation."

Rewarding people for their achievements, it turns out, is an optimal way to motivate and engage a team that feels like it's treading water. Allowing people to assume greater responsibilities and focus on their career development is better for them and for the organization—even when they may be feeling overwhelmed or burned out at the time you initiate the programs that follow. 

1. Create a Career Development Pipeline            

If your organization isn't already doing so, look for opportunities to build a succession planning program, especially among your hourly workers where career escalation is relatively easy to accomplish.

In Robert's case, the hospital's key challenge lies in finding certified nursing assistants (CNAs) due to market shortages. 

"Hospital food service workers, janitors and others might want to pursue their CNA certification as a first step to formally launch their health care careers," Hollingsworth said. "Setting up onsite training classes and allowing on-the-job shadowing can be a game changer in terms of your culture and creating an environment where workers feel motivated and re-engaged. Ditto for developing a training program where CNAs can apply for their licensure to become licensed vocational nurses, the next rung on the nursing career ladder."

2. Develop a High-Po Program

"High-potential (high-po) programs focus on identifying the top 10 or 20 percent of workers in a given classification and awarding and recognizing them for their achievements, while helping them build out their resumes," said Rita Van Vranken, chief human resources officer at the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans in Studio City, Calif.

"High-pos may not be ready to promote just yet, but they set themselves apart as top performers, brand ambassadors, and potential leaders who deserve special levels of acknowledgment and development from departmental and senior management. A structured high-po program serves as an effective recognition and development tool and dovetails nicely into formal succession planning."

Identifying one person from each department or unit gives these individuals more than an opportunity to feel special. They also may, for example, attend advanced classes on leadership, communication and teambuilding; enjoy a once-a-quarter lunch with their regional manager; and benefit from individual development plans that, created in tandem with their manager and department head, will single them out for promotion when the opportunity arises.

3. Develop an Active Employee Recognition Program

"Many organizations fail to realize the importance of both formal and informal recognition programs," Van Vranken said. "More important, though, is that companies that have them in place fail to promote and publicize them. If you have [an] Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year award program that barely gets attention, scrap it temporarily." Instead, try a Shining Star or Employee Spotlight program that recognizes employees who go above and beyond their job's expectations.

"[Pilot] a three- or six-month program that generates a buzz and makes the rewards something to brag about," she added.

Just remember that these types of programs are meant to spark up the troops, and, if you're not rewarding the most-needed behaviors (e.g., accepting double shifts or coming in on weekends), you're missing the main benefit of the exercise. 

"Make it real; make it pop; and make sure your messages, values, and activities are all aligned," Van Vranken said.

Don't be surprised to learn that the most dramatic and immediate change in your organizational culture stems from praising employees and recognizing their achievements. And that recognition need not be monetary. In fact, many consulting firms that specialize in reward and recognition programs will tell you that research shows public praise and recognition can be more meaningful to workers than a cash card or check in a sealed envelope. 

There are plenty of simple and effective ways for leaders to recognize their employees, from employee photos in the lobby to prestigious parking spots. Whatever you decide, make sure to communicate both expectations and celebrations clearly. Encourage your team members to follow your lead in recognizing others for a job well done. Share praise openly, and consider organizing recognition events to honor bigger accomplishments, especially those reached by teams working closely together.

4. Help Employees Fulfill Their Personal Career Goals

Career development is a key driver of employee satisfaction. Your strongest performers will always be resume builders. Providing opportunities for talented individuals to do their best work every day, combined with training and educational opportunities, will go a long way in helping people achieve their career advancement goals.

Become an organization known for its commitment to professional development. Provide networking opportunities for your staffers to meet leaders from other parts of the organization over team lunch meetings. Serve as a mentor and coach to your direct reports by asking them about their longer-term goals and how you could help them get there.  

"Show that you're interested in the whole person, not just the one who shows up at work," Van Vranken said. "You'll likely find that people will respond in kind to the heightened dose of positive attention they're garnering,"

More specifically, Hollingsworth said, "Ask your employees to schedule 30 minutes with you once per quarter to review their progress toward their career goals. Invite them to share their resume with you to help them make the best presentation possible and [add] their work-related achievements to their LinkedIn profiles as well. Remember that when you develop an achievement mentality where employees are adding accomplishment bullets to their resume, you'll create a high-performance culture where high-performers are far less inclined to leave." 

5. Plan Ahead

All employees want some sense of job security regarding their future with the company. They likewise want to understand how their efforts contribute to the organization's larger goals, mission and vision. 

Share information generously. Ensure that people understand the goals and challenges so they can tie their recommended solutions to the broader picture. Help them learn about your organization and build on their knowledge by collecting information in scorecards, dashboards and other forms of data intelligence. 

Likewise, honor the annual performance review process—the one hour per year dedicated to each individual worker as the culmination of the previous 12 months (i.e., the 2,080 hours typically worked). Yes, managers and employees at times express frustration with the annual performance review process, but you'd be surprised how many employees complain about not getting formal feedback—sometimes for years at a time. 

Finally, turn your team into corporate futurists: Have them research your organization, industry and competitors. Have them scour the Internet for current trends and patterns in your business, especially those that can impact their careers for the better. As an example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes its Occupational Outlook Handbook at www.bls.gov/ooh. Send your employees on research missions to the BLS website to determine what the growth trajectory for their particular position is (currently measured in terms of job growth from 2016-26). 

If Robert's employees take on this task, they will find career projections for medical assistants, dietitians, home health aides, nurses, massage therapists, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians, among others. The BLS site outlines national median pay, educational requirements and the all-important "job outlook." 

On the job outlook page, the hospital's workers will find a bar chart showing, for example, medical assistant jobs will grow at a rate of 29 percent per year between 2016 and 2026, relative to average job growth in the U.S. of 7 percent (all job classifications). 

That's pretty motivating, but there's also an Excel spreadsheet embedded in the page that maps out job growth in particular medical areas relative to the 24 percent overall growth for the entire classification. Robert's medical assistant employees will learn that 10-year job growth projections line up as follows by specialty area:

Outpatient care centers                       +53 percent

Specialty hospitals                              +38 percent

Nursing/residential care facilities       +32 percent

General hospitals                                +16 percent

Wow! How's that for motivating employees to focus on their career development and construct a longer-term career plan to help them isolate the areas where their skills will be needed most? And who knows—Robert may be helping his front-line operational leaders realize that the ones who shine at extracurricular exercises like these just might distinguish themselves as high-pos ready to build the hospital's leadership bench.


Paul Falcone (www.PaulFalconeHR.com) is CHRO of The Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills, Calif., and author of 75 Ways for Managers to Hire, Develop, and Keep Great Employees (HarperCollins Leadership, 2016).

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