10 Ways to Fight Employee Burnout, Brain Drain and EPLI Exposure Like a Boss

By: | November 14, 2022

Sarah is the Vice President of Risk Management at United Educators. She is a member of the University Risk Management and Insurance Association, the National Association of College and University Attorneys, and the Kentucky Bar Association. Sarah has written extensively on enterprise risk management matters and managed complex insurance claims and high exposure litigation.

Whether it’s burnout, quiet quitting, or the great resignation, organizations nationwide are facing employment upheaval with profound consequences. While the challenges of operating with fewer staff take the headlines, the added strategic and liability risks from a stretched workforce are just as critical.  Agile employers can leverage current workforce shifts to improve business outcomes.

As reported on the PBS NewsHour, in September the unemployment rate went down to 3.5 percent. “That is a 50-year historical low,” according to Nela Richardson of ADP Research Institute.

Hiring and retention are acute challenges, even for educational institutions that historically could attract talent with the perks of working on a beautiful campus of regional or national renown. The institutions we serve at United Educators (UE) have described the ongoing employment marketplace disruption triggering a “brain drain,” sparking competition with corporate employers for talent, and putting staffing issues front and center in terms of liability risk.

Years of working around the clock amid staffing and budget cuts and juggling at-home responsibilities have exacerbated employee burnout to a point where many are suffering. Some employees are filling multiple roles and taking on new responsibilities where vacant positions exist.

Transitions and staff vacancies present risks surrounding the loss of institutional knowledge. This includes ownership of an organization’s risk management program, which is essential to helping prevent problems and to properly respond when bad things happen.

Research on the impact of burnout shows common behaviors displayed by burned-out employees, including teachers, physicians, police officers, and administrators. Many of those behaviors are root causes of incidents that involve liability risk. Inattention to detail can lead employees to overlook indemnification in contracts, forget critical safety protocols, or exercise poor judgment while driving. Increased aggressiveness can create a belligerent or hostile work environment for colleagues. And overwork can tempt employees to shortcut compliance policies.

Unlike other insurance companies, we at UE focus solely on risk mitigation for educational institutions. But we understand that managing workforce risks impacts companies of all types and sizes. The advice we offer can extend well beyond the world of education.

Reduce Employment Liability Risk

To help reduce liability risk associated with current workforce challenges, consider taking these steps at your organization:

  • Understand the law. Ensure supervisors understand key employment laws. This can help them handle many situations on their own and recognize when to get help as circumstances become more complex.
  • Train your workforce. Create awareness of common liability pitfalls including discrimination, harassment, and retaliation — and how to prevent them.
  • Conduct employee evaluations. Evaluate employee performance regularly, accurately, and consistently. Failure to provide proper evaluations is a common element in many employment claims.
  • Document your files. Maintain documentation of any employment action taken. This will ensure clear internal communication and support the organization in the event of a dispute.
  • Establish zero-tolerance for sexual misconduct. Take active steps to address this pervasive and, unfortunately, ongoing concern across industries.

Help Prevent Employee Burnout

No one can control all the potential causes for burnout, but there are steps organizational leaders can take to mitigate feelings of burnout. A strong focus on workplace practices and employee well-being can limit the impact of burnout on liability risk and even improve organizational culture.

  • Implement wellness and stress management programs. Assess these programs to see whether they address burnout and consider implementing services like child-care centers that help employees balance work and non-work pressures.
    • Focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Identify ways your DEI programs can address the unique causes of burnout among underrepresented groups. If you don’t have a program, consider launching one with burnout mitigation as one of its goals.
    • Express gratitude. Small gestures such as recognition of hard work or a gift to employees can develop a sense of shared purpose and build social support structures, countering two systemic causes of burnout.
    • Optimize administrative systems. Find opportunities to streamline administrative tasks or use technology to assist with tasks that employees find monotonous or draining.
    • Sustain interpersonal connections. With many workplaces increasing remote or hybrid schedules, taking time to build and keep connections between colleagues is essential to an organization’s health. Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of Gitlab, an all-remote company that operates in 60 countries, encourages staff to take time for informal conversations and periodic gatherings (including karaoke) to reinforce organizational values.

Recognize Upside Opportunity

Consider not only guarding against liability and burnout risks but also seizing the opportunities in employment upheaval. Shifts in workforce expectations create a space to rethink assumptions and evolve to meet changing circumstances. For example, many industries have moved to remote, hybrid, or otherwise flexible works schedules, revising their concept of ways of working, and where and when work can be accomplished. Are there possibilities to improve business outcomes through modification or innovation?

  • Develop a growth/learning mindset. Foster a culture where openness to growth and learning is an expected part of the job.
  • Consider skills-based hiring. Expand the available talent pool by eliminating rigid traditional degree requirements for certain jobs and focusing on an applicant’s actual skill set.
  • Recruit creatively. Along with internal recruitment opportunities, tap into non-traditional markets to source talent from new places, and revise position descriptions to capture of-the-moment needs.
  • Reset priorities. Assess organizational goals to focus on projects with the most impact. Set aside systems and processes that are no longer relevant.
  • Develop an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) program. Convert learnings from recent challenges into an ERM program to help plan and prepare for uncertainties of the future. &

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