Whether it's a brutal heat wave, upcoming vacation plans or your shopping list for that holiday barbecue, summer is the season of many distractions. And for businesses of all kinds, employee burnout is a big risk that can ultimately lead to financial losses. So how does an employer get past the summer-burnout phase without looking like the bad guy? Our OPEN Forum experts weigh in to help you turn your office's summer slump around.
When Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, was asked what the best way to motivate employees during the summer was, he received various answers from members of the YEC. A good amount of them suggested somewhat loosening up. Danny Wong of Blank Label Group, Inc. suggested taking a collective break on a beautiful day. Vanessa Van Pettenof Science of People offered the concept of "play time" to spur innovation. "If you are feeling your employees lag, put in place a free-time program where for three hours every week employes have to work together to solve an office problem in a creative way—it can be anything from the coffee machine to client retention. This energizes employees and can create ideas," she says. Other suggestions included simply capitulating to summer's temptations and letting out early on Fridays, or letting employees work from home.
If you can't afford to give everyone an early Friday, there are ways to avoid trimming down the work week, according to OPEN Forum contributor Katie Morell. She offers 10 tips on how to stick to a 40-hour week. Morell suggests delegating time for e-mail, which employees tend to have open all day. “A lot of times, we will spend one or two hours looking at emails and not responding. Instead, designate specific times in your day to look at email and carve out time to answer on the spot,” says J.T. O’Donnell, founder and president of CAREEREALISM, an online career coaching service.
Furthermore, while prioritizing might seem like a given, you might be more productive if there's something physical to refer back to. “Write a list of your priorities,” suggests Beverly D. Flaxington, principal at The Collaborative, a business development consultancy based in Medfield, Mass. “Keep that list on your desk and refer back to it. When you are making your to-do list, go back and make sure the tasks align with your priorities. Is quality of life your first priority? Is a specific revenue goal your first priority? Make the list and stick to it.” Crossing things off your list will keep you motivated and on schedule with your daily tasks.
Before employee burnout has the chance to manifest, Rieva Lesonsky suggests taking steps to prevent it from the start. First and foremost, stop micromanaging. "When employees have less control over how they do their work, they are less engaged…and more likely to burn out," she says. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't get your goals across as an employer. Communication with your team is key. The clearer you are about deadlines and expectations, the more willing employees will be to work towards them. "Even the biggest, hairiest project seems less intimidating when you can see light at the end of the tunnel," she says.
When businesses all around you are also in a slump, it's hard to not give into inactivity. But Lesonsky urges businesspeople to take advantage of the "dog days of summer." Instead of embracing the lazy mood, take care of all the tasks you've been putting off all year, like updating databases and technology. Clean out your files, old e-mails and office supplies. Go through your address book and get back in touch with old business contacts. Get things done that you don't have time to do during the regular business season. Come September, you'll be inspired by the fresh start to hit the ground running.