From Burnout to Thriving: A Leader's Guide to Improving Employee Wellbeing in Midsized Companies

Burnout is hurting your employees and costing your company, limiting its growth and success. You’ve seen the signs:

  • Decreased motivation or productivity
  • Increased procrastination
  • Increased number of careless mistakes
  • A withdrawal from responsibilities and team activities
  • Complaints of exhaustion and difficulty concentrating
  • Rampant cynicism and pessimism

Burnout harms your employees. In a 2018 Gallup study, 23% employees reported feeling burned out “very often or always” and another 44% “sometimes” felt burned out. Burned-out employees have a 13% lower confidence in their abilities than their coworkers, according to the study, and are 50% as likely to work with their manager on achieving performance goals.

Burnout harms your company, as well, particularly in terms of higher medical costs, lost opportunities, and higher turnover rates. According to Gallup, companies suffer an aggregate $322 billion in turnover and productivity and $20 million per 10,000 workers in lost opportunities; 75% of medical costs billed to companies health insurance plans come from preventable conditions.

The overwhelming recommendation for companies is to create a culture of wellbeing through internal programs, fringe benefits, and recommended resources. Yet for midsized companies, which tend to have a lean management and run on an even leaner budget, overcoming burnout and instituting a culture of wellness seems impossible.

The answer is to turn obstacles into opportunities.

Lead Your Team in Wellbeing

Senior leaders at midsized companies can have a greater influence over company culture because they have a closer relationship with their teams. With a smaller team, you can more easily interact with more team members, building trust in your leadership and engaging employees more directly in activities. And any impact you make will be more visible to the company as a whole, encouraging more people to invest in their own wellbeing.

As a leader, start by demonstrating how you approach your own wellbeing:

  • Take vacations and leave your computer at your desk.
  • Take sick time rather than coming in to the office sick.
  • Share some of your healthy habits with your team, such as exercise, nutrition, and meditation.
  • Acknowledge when you’re struggling rather than pretend everything is okay.

Next, work to create an environment that is supportive of people prioritizing their wellbeing:

  • Normalize taking breaks throughout the day, especially a lunch break. Be sure you take breaks, as well.
  • Set up a quiet space that employees can use when they need it, or work with your employer to create one for the whole company.
  • Offer flexibility in the workday to allow employees to go to health appointments.
  • Offer a hybrid work situation to allow employees to work from home when that meets their needs.
  • Set a standard of not responding to work messages outside of work hours.
  • Work to create project schedules that account for employee time off and inevitable delays.
  • Set a standard for shorter meetings and a minimum of 10 minutes between meetings.
  • Consider creating meeting blackout times or days to give your team dedicated heads-down time.

Want to be a hero? Don’t allow meetings after 3 p.m. on a Friday. Everyone wants to go home for the weekend. You can communicate the importance of time off by giving them time to wrap up tasks before leaving for the weekend.

Most of these tactics will help with your team’s physical and mental wellbeing, which is where many wellbeing efforts stop. But there’s more opportunity for you to support your team and encourage a culture of wellbeing, particularly through career, social, and community wellbeing.

Encourage Longevity with Your Company

Career wellbeing focuses on a person’s satisfaction with their work. Are they using their skills and knowledge fully? Do they feel proud of their work?

As their leader, you can have the most direct impact on your employees’ career wellbeing. Don’t wait for review time to learn whether an individual is satisfied with their work. Take note when people appear satisfied and fulfilled with their work and when they aren’t. Signs of dissatisfaction include a disinterest in projects or team activities, pessimism about how the work is going, and decreased productivity.

Have both planned and casual conversations about what your team wants from their career and consider how you can help them get there. Within your department, you might create a mentoring program and seek out or create skills training that will bolster everyone’s abilities.

Work satisfaction also comes from knowing one is doing a good job and is appreciated. Praise your team and individual members publicly for their good work. Be specific when you can. What does your employee do and how does that help the project reach its goals? How does it help your team or the company overall?

Reward your team, as well. Raises and bonuses are always valued, but even with a tight budget you can find a way to reward your employees for excellent work. Maybe it’s lunch on you or negotiating a half-day off for the team after a grueling project. Could you offer a temporary perk, like a prime parking spot? Think creatively and solicit ideas from your team to reward them in ways they’ll value.

Nurture Healthy Work Relationships

Social wellbeing is about the quality of a person’s relationships. As a leader, you can help your team build strong relationships with each other and you in many ways:

  • Turn-taking in meetings. Ensure everyone who wants to has a chance to talk by making someone in each meeting responsible for keeping track of who’s spoken. This is especially important for video calls, where we often lack cues that tell us someone would like to speak or is struggling with the conversation.
  • Corrections in private. It’s rarely, if ever, necessary to call out inappropriate behavior or poor work performance in public. That might sound basic, but public humiliation happens more often than we might want to acknowledge. Always make any corrections in private.
  • Flexibility with struggling employees. We all have personal challenges. When a valued employee is going through a tough time, could you be an occasionally listening ear? Ask them what would help them in this moment and do your best to help provide it.
  • Social opportunities for your team. Try to find an activity everyone would enjoy or a few activities focused on different interests. Ask your team what they’d be interested in doing, offering a few ideas to get them thinking. Just don’t make any event mandatory. No one likes forced fun.

Sometimes relationship issues need more support than you can offer. Work with HR to come up with solutions to resolve office conflicts or referrals for personal or family problems.

Engage with Your Local Community

Community wellbeing is about feeling valued in the communities and knowing they make a difference. Your efforts with nurturing careers and creating a team will help your employees feel a part of your shared work community. Any efforts that involve other departments will help with the wider work community, as well.

Also consider the community your company’s office is located in. Organizing volunteer opportunities in your office’s local community can help your team feel like where they work is more than just the building. You could work together in a soup kitchen, pick up trash in a park, or run a food drive. You might also put together a list of opportunities that individuals might like to do, such as stocking shelves at a food pantry, snuggling premature babies in a local hospital, or listening to young students practice their reading skills.

For remote workers, are there virtual opportunities they could be involved in? Perhaps you could support them in helping in their own community, such as a flexible work schedule so someone could volunteer an hour or two during the workday, say, once a month.

Avoid activities that could be divisive, such as those related to politics or religion, unless that’s your company’s business. Even then, make it easy for people to not participate and make it clear they won’t be judged for it.

One easy way to encourage participating in your local community is to ensure everyone who’s eligible has time to vote. If your company or employees are located in a place that doesn’t have mail-in or early voting, think about how you can make it possible for all your employees to show up at the polls on voting day.

Become a Wellbeing Champion

Outside of your department, become the voice of wellbeing. Work with other leaders to come up with more ideas and work together on larger projects. The more cooperation, the more widespread your wellbeing culture will become.

Make the case for company-wide efforts and improved benefits. The healthier and happier your employees are, the better the results for your company. Happier, healthier employees are more productive and stay with their companies longer.

Whatever efforts you take on, clearly communicate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Talk about how important wellbeing is to you. Give your team control over what they participate in and how. No effort will suit everyone. Giving them opportunities and allowing them to do what works best for them shows your genuine interest in their wellbeing.

Take advantage of being a midsized company to start instituting change and improving wellbeing, helping your team be their best selves and your company become a healthy large company.

Erin Brenner is the owner of Right Touch Editing, a boutique editorial agency that specializes in helping small and midsize businesses to be more engaging with their audiences, more persuasive in their marketing, and clearer and more precise in their communications.

Erin is also the author of The Chicago Guide for Freelance Editors: How to Take Care of Your Business, Your Clients, and Yourself from Start-Up to Sustainability, Marketing Yourself Guide (with Sarah Hulse), Copyediting’s Grammar Tune-Up Workbook, and 1001 Words for Success: Synonyms, Antonyms & Homonyms. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading and a Full Member of ACES. Follow her on LinkedIn and Bluesky.

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