How to Avoid Employee Burnout and Increase Productivity: Eight Top Tips

Your employees are your most precious asset. By taking preventative measures to curtail burnout, you’ll safeguard their overall health and ensure that they’re engaged and productive in the long run.

Employee productivity is crucial for a business to thrive, and this is never more important than when dealing with an SME business.

Day-to-day operational and overhead costs mean that employees need to constantly produce enough work to justify not only their salary, but the time and the space they occupy in the office.

No wonder then that a study found that last year a study found 65% of SME owners said their business productivity—or lack thereof—keeps them up at night.

A major cause of lost productivity in the office is due to employee “burnout”—a term recently added to the World Health Organization’s international classification of diseases.

The WHO defines employee burnout as a syndrome developing from unmanaged chronic workplace stress, characterized by feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional performance.

Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent, says “burnout is a serious personal and business affliction that costs a company money and workers mental health implications.

In the U.S. workplace burnout costs $125 billion to $190 billion per year in additional healthcare spending, according to the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

In Britain, employee burnout or work-related stress and mental illness accounts for over half of work absences, and costs British businesses an estimated £26 billion per annum.

If you’re concerned about the productivity of your staff or simply looking to improve, here are eight methods you can incorporate to stop employee burnout while ensuring productivity remains at a maximum.

1. Invest in Your Office Space Where Possible

It’s well known that the office environment has a huge mental and physical impact on workers.

As a SME, it’s likely not possible to create offices like Google and Amazon, however much you’d like to replace your stairs with slides.

There are, however, plenty of cost effective ways to improve your employees’ working space.

Freshening up the space with paint can go a long way, but choose your colors carefully. For example, white will reflect daylight and make spaces feel light and airy whilst dark colors could make your workspace feel confined and dingy.

Plants have been known to improve people’s moods and improve indoor air quality. One study made a direct link between plants and productivity, suggesting as much as a 15% productivity increase.

If you have resources, create flexible work space such as a sofa seating area (“breakout space“), or standing desks. Allowing employees to get away from their desk can break up monotony, and therefore get productivity flowing.

Moreover, simply providing quality tea, coffee and the odd sweet treat can go a long way to keeping employees happy and productive—at minimal expense to yourself.

2. Consider a Shorter Working Day or Early Finishes on a Friday

Enforcing a working week longer than the national average may sound like it will increase SME productivity (more hours, more work, right?).

But in reality, overworking employees could have the opposite effect.

A study by Stanford University found longer hours actually lead to a decrease in total output.

They put this down to stress, fatigue, and the association of overwork with sleep deprivation.

Essentially, overwork leads to employee burnout.

Signs of burnout include employees getting poor sleep, being snappy and irritable and having poor concentration, which results in reduced productivity in the office, as well as resulting in more sick days being taken.

Furthermore, work produced may be of a lower quality or be riddled with errors, which will both negatively impact your brand and relationship with clients.

Sticking to a shorter working week and/or letting your employees leave early on a Friday is a simple way to combat employee burnout.

3. Offer Employee Perks

The 9 to 5 is soon to become a relic of the past. An increasingly popular perk is offering flexible working to employees.

Employees value having the chance to grab an extra half hour in bed on certain days, or leave work earlier to catch a cheap off-peak train on other days.

Allowing staff little bits of freedom like this goes a long way to improving SME productivity, as it promotes a better work-life balance and therefore can decrease the risk of employee burnout.

Similarly, if you work in an industry with unnaturally busy periods, offering time back in lieu can help employees get through these times without feeling completely demotivated at the workload on their plate.

Ultimately, some employees simply work better relaxing on their sofa in their dressing gown so letting them work from home is a great perk to offer.

This could improve job satisfaction, productivity, and could be a deal breaker when employees are deciding whether to stay with your company or move on.

4. Outsource Properly

Outsourcing is not always the right option for a business; the struggle of finding, commissioning and paying freelancers or other companies could eat into your profit margins, and it’s sometimes easier to have things done in-house.

Yet there are certain tasks that you should consider outsourcing to make sure you’re not wasting employee time.

For example, when completing employee DBS and background checks, going through a DBS checking service can save you hours and hours manually applying for employee background checks.

Using intuitive services like this designed to make your life easier can be a lifeline for increasing SME productivity.

5. Pay Your Employees What They’re Worth

You might believe you’re saving money by paying an employee less than their rightful salary, but this can backfire.

Money can be a powerful demotivator, especially when employees compare themselves to people doing the same role yet earning more at other companies.

Moreover, financial worries can result in employee burnout, as well as an employee losing sleep and turning up to work tired, demotivated, stressed and more prone to making mistakes.

A lack of enough spending money means employees are limited to what they can do with their leisure time, again affecting that all-important work-life balance.

Paying your employees that extra money could save you thousands down the line.

6. Do Team Building Exercises

Workplace rifts waste time and result in a lack of communication, while gossip and simmering resentments can create a toxic work environment.

Toxic work environments lead to increased sick days, lack of motivation, lack of communication and high staff turnover, all of which largely impacts office productivity.

Paying for a staff lunch or putting down money for staff drinks or fun outings like mini-golf can boost team morale, cohesion, and therefore productivity.

7. Offer Positive Feedback and Reinforcement

If workers are constantly told off for making mistakes, but never recognized when they do a good job, this could make them demotivated and less likely to put in the effort to go above and beyond.

Simple behavioral psychology states that if someone does something good and you reinforce this verbally, they’re likely to repeat the action.

Not recognizing employee achievements is listed by as one of the biggest communication issues that impair effective leadership, with 63% of respondents citing this as an example of bad management.

This is the easiest and cheapest way to boost SME productivity—train managers to acknowledge employees’ good work.

8. Incorporate Productivity Tools

Time is wasted when there’s not easy systems for logging and tracking the process of tasks.

A host of SME productivity tools can get all tasks in a clear and accessible format, help managers keep track of employees’ work, and more.

Communication tools like Trello allow teams to converse with one another in a straightforward, structured way, and stop tasks and information being lost in a busy email inbox.

Constantly look at streamlining organizational processes in your business and what technology is available to help you—anything that saves employees time and makes tasks easier to track will increase productivity.


Improving employee productivity is about looking out for employees’ well-being by ensuring they’re as happy as possible with their work patterns, environment, and work-life balance, which will in turn make them more productive.

It’s also about helping to avoid employee burnout, giving them the tools to use their time as effectively as possible, and therefore cutting out wasted time and demotivation.