4 steps mining execs can take to prevent employee burnout

Employee burnout can have disastrous consequences for mining industry employers, so what can executives do about it?

Employee burnout is not an unusual phenomenon, but it can have disastrous consequences for both employers and their staff. Work-related stress is estimated to cost Australian businesses almost $11 billion a year, according to research from PwC and Beyond Blue. For individual organisations its impacts range from high staff turnover, lost productivity and disengagement to increased absenteeism and compensation claims.

Many business leaders treat employee burnout as a personal or managerial issue, rather than an organisational one. However, it’s often the prevailing workplace culture and organisational norms that create the conditions for work-related stress. Executives can play an important role in preventing burnout while getting the most out of their employees.

Encourage staff to switch off and take leave

In our ‘always on’ digital world, the expectation is for employees to answer emails and phone calls outside of working hours as a matter of course.

In organisations where overtime and excessive work hours are considered standard—or worse, admirable—managers are pushed to the limits by roles that don’t allow them the restorative downtime they need to work effectively. It’s now being recognised that just because we are more connected than ever to our jobs, it doesn’t mean we should be.

In France, for example, workers have had the legal right to not check work emails outside of work hours since 2017. It’s all about stamping out the ‘always on, always working’ mentality. The French success led to similar ‘right to disconnect’ laws in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine.

To prevent workplace stress leading to burnout, executives need to recognise the culture that has been established could be a primary cause of the problem and realise that responsibility for this culture comes back to those at the top. Managers who feel discouraged from taking leave or not being on-call 24 hours a day because it might negatively affect their career progression are going to be increasingly stressed, overworked and unhappy. Executives should lead by example and make sure the prevailing attitude is about producing quality work, rather than spending more time working.

Clamp down on excessive communication

Unrelenting meetings, phone calls and emails cause stress, cut productivity and focus, and rob people from the time they need to actually perform their role. 

What we tend to call multitasking is really ‘task-switching’, which is a very expensive way to work. Research shows it takes more time to complete tasks if you switch between them, rather than doing them one at a time. Switching also creates more errors and could cost a person up to 40 per cent of their productivity in a day.

Days fragmented by unnecessary meetings and conference calls are another productivity killer that causes stress. Professionals attend an average of 60 meetings each month, with managers complaining that 30 per cent of their time in meetings is wasted. This especially happens when there are too many decision-makers or levels of sign-off needed, even for very basic projects. Taking an audit of decision-making processes and reducing the amount of collaboration that’s needed is a sure-fire way to ease frustration and relieve the burden middle managers in particular tend to carry.

We all know the sinking feeling of an overflowing inbox. But just how many of those emails are necessary? UK research has found only 14 per cent of emails are crucial to work activity, yet emails chew up 50 percent of the average office workers’ day. Many senior managers report sending and receiving more than 122 emails every day. By making responsibilities and chains of command clear, you can prevent managers from wasting time reading and answering messages they don’t need to be. Instituting new zero-tolerance policies or introducing collaborative software systems cuts down time-wasting activities and increases productivity.

Don’t load work onto the best performers

It’s very easy to overload the best employees with work, labouring under the impression that it is the best way to solve a current problem. What is usually seen as a short-term solution quite often becomes routine and is essentially punishing those workers who excel. The end result is burning out and losing your top talent. Workplace analytical tools can show you in black and white whose time is being spent where. They enable you to redesign workflows or identify efficiencies to relieve your best managers of additional work and stress.

Create the right culture

Giving people the time and resources to effectively do their job isn’t rocket science but it’s frequently overlooked when employees are showing signs of burnout. Those who are ‘working too hard’ or showing signs of work-related stress are usually in that situation because of organisational failures, rather than it being their own doing. Executives have a fundamental role to play in ensuring they create a strong, supportive culture in which stress, overwork and unproductive practices are minimised and managers can thrive.

If you have positions you need to fill on your team, contact MPI. Our consultants are experts at finding the right person not just for the job, but for your company’s culture.


Lindsay McPhee
Mining People International