Why You Need to Prevent Burnout at Your Agency (and how to do it)

Updated: Mar 29

What’s with all the buzz about employee burnout?


It's no secret that the talent shortage has been a burden on businesses everywhere - especially small businesses. Educating yourself on burnout is vital to keep you and your current staff healthy, happy and productive.


Let’s start off with some statistics.


According to Gallup, employees experiencing burnout at work are:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick day

  • Half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager

  • 2.6x as likely to be actively seeking a different job

  • 23% more likely to visit the emergency room

  • 13% less confident in their performance


If these scary statistics don’t motivate you to prevent burnout, consider the very real risks to your business - companies without systems in place to support the well-being of employees have higher turnover, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs. (APA)


Almost half (40%) of employees surveyed cited burnout as the top reason for leaving their job. (Limeade)

And that's still a factor among employees who haven't left their jobs yet - about 50% of the workforce prioritizes well-being and purpose to the point that they are prepared to move to a new organization to improve their well-being. (Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends Report)


Tired employee sits with his head down at his desk.

Considering all of these statistics, if you haven’t already taken action to prevent burnout in your insurance agency, you need to start now.



What is burnout?


In the age of increasing conversation about mental health and wellness, it’s all too easy to get caught up with buzzwords without fully understanding their meaning - “burnout” being one of them.


Burnout isn’t just needing a break from work or feeling stressed about a big project. These are a normal part of work life.


The World Health Organization classifies burnout as,


“a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;

  • and reduced professional efficacy.”

When we refer to “burnout” in this article, we’re talking about burnout - not just a rough day at work.



What causes your best employees to experience burnout?


To take action to prevent burnout in your agency, you first need to understand what causes it.


Gallup surveyed 7,500 full-time employees and found the top 5 contributors to burnout:

  • Unfair treatment at work

  • Unmanageable/unsustainable workloads

  • Lack of role clarity/expectations

  • Lack of communication and support from their manager

  • Unreasonable time pressure


Other contributors to burnout worth mentioning:


Insurance agency culture meeting.


We’ll get into ways to eliminate these contributors later in the article, but for now, it’s crucial that you understand this one thing about burnout:


Employee burnout isn’t a personal issue. It’s an organizational one.


Take another look above at the lists of contributors to burnout.


All of those contributors are organizational, not personal.



Christina Maslach, social psychologist and leading expert on burnout, shares a compelling metaphor in an interview for Harvard Business Review:


In our interview, Maslach asked me to picture a canary in a coal mine. They are healthy birds, singing away as they make their way into the cave. But, when they come out full of soot and disease, no longer singing, can you imagine us asking why the canaries made themselves sick? No, because the answer would be obvious: the coal mine is making the birds sick.


Emotional intelligence skills (mindfulness, self-awareness, gratitude, etc.) can absolutely help employees prevent burnout in themselves, but is it their responsibility?


Is it in the job description to deal with unfairness, insufficient communication, unclear expectations, unreasonable time pressures and workloads?



Warning Signs of Burnout


Burnout doesn’t happen overnight (thankfully). This gives you plenty of time and opportunity to spot it and take appropriate action before it worsens.


Well Right gives us some common warning signs that an employee could be experiencing burnout:

  • Emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion

  • Disengagement

  • Increased absenteeism

  • Isolation

  • Higher sensitivity to feedback

  • Emergence of physical symptoms

  • Decreased productivity


You won’t be able to identify all of these signs at a glance - you need to be present with your team if you want to pick up on them.


Insurance agency employee experiencing workplace burnout.

For some, you will have to directly ask if they’ve noticed any of the above symptoms.


Some people won’t notice the first signs of burnout in themselves, but when asked the question, they can reflect on it and identify where they’re at and what can be done to mitigate it.




How to Take Action


Proactive, preventative action will always be more effective than trying to undo the damage that’s already been done. That being said, reality isn’t always ideal, and sometimes you have to roll with the punches.


I can’t tell you precisely what you need to do to prevent burnout in your agency, as all insurance agencies are unique, but I’ve got a lot of places you can start!


Once again, I’ve scoured the internet for you to see what the most successful agencies and small business employers do to prevent burnout in the workplace effectively. Let's get into it.




Paid mental health days


Offering a regular benefit of a specified amount of mental health days for your staff members to use helps in a few different ways.


Making mental health days available to your staff members gives them the permission they might feel they need to take care of themselves.


Many people are hesitant to take time off of work for fear of how operations will be handled when they’re gone, missing out on compensation, putting their job in jeopardy, getting behind, etc.


According to a Deloitte survey, one-third of employees don’t feel comfortable taking vacation time.

While vacation time off isn’t the same as mental health days off, the discomfort of taking any time off speaks to this.


Normalizing self-care by periodically taking mental health days can do a lot to help your employees feel valued, safe, and motivated to do their best at work.


You’ll also save money in the long run by prioritizing employee mental health days.


Mental health helps improve overall health - people who suffer from depression are more vulnerable to physical conditions like heart disease or cancer, which will typically increase the premiums you have to pay. (Eddy)


And it’s clear that productivity thrives when employees thrive. Giving your team mental health days will help them be more productive in the office.


While it's probably not realistic to shut down operations for a week to give your whole team some time off (like LinkedIn did), having an allotted few days for your team members to use when needed can help your agency as a whole.



Transparency & Open Communication


Equal access to information, news, and updates will go a long way for your team. Experts suggest that having an open-door policy helps your team to feel comfortable coming to you with concerns, questions, ideas, and feedback.


Transparency fosters a unified team mentality. Giving your team transparency also enables them to take ownership of the work, which will increase job satisfaction.

Insurance team member has one on one with her office manager.

Have a weekly one-on-one or “catch up” meeting with each team member. This will strengthen your relationship and give you both the opportunity to get and stay on the same page.




Clear Expectations


Along with open communication and transparency, your team needs to know exactly what's expected of them.


Have you ever felt unsure about where you stand with a boss or supervisor?


Being in that position is exhausting to say the least. Staying there too long will inevitably lead to burnout.


Along with having clear expectations of your team, make sure to communicate often that you’re happy with their work. And if something needs to change, you’ve got to be upfront about it.


Don’t assume that the absence of questions from your team means they understand exactly what’s expected of them.



Don’t be afraid to update old policies and processes.


Be mindful of policies and processes that might need some updating. (SHRM)


Is there busy work that you can streamline?


What tasks can be done remotely for those who need it?


What are the tedious, repetitive tasks that your team has to do?


Have you looked at these processes to see how they could be improved?



Like life, business is ever-evolving. Policies that used to be important in your business can become arbitrary over time.


Besides all their other tasks, do you also expect your team to keep up with customer appointment setting?


Most of the agents I’ve spoken with about in-house appointment setting have had the same experience - the team gets too busy with day-to-day tasks, and outbound calls get put on the back burner.


If this common situation sounds familiar to your agency, consider outsourcing to a vendor like Engagex.


Not only will you have a consistent amount of appointments each month, but your team will feel happier knowing that’s not on their to-do list.


Insurance employee works from home to prevent burnout.

You can outsource more than just appointment setting: marketing, social media management, graphic design, etc.



Breaks


Breaks need to be a part of the workday.


Psychologists agree that prioritizing breaks is vital for improved mood, attention, job performance, and fulfillment. (APA)


William S. Helton, Ph.D., talks about how long periods spent focusing on one thing can wear us out.


We don’t know exactly what in the brain gets depleted, but when you do a cognitively demanding task, it operates as though there’s a ‘mental fuel’ that gets burned up,” (APA)


You wouldn’t expect your phone to keep working after the battery runs out - you recharge it.


It’s crucial that you lead by example - seeing you take breaks can reassure your team that they can also take time to recharge.



Opportunities for advancement and growth


According to Decision Wise, growth opportunities are key to overall job satisfaction and success.


It’s a human need to be challenged - to learn and expand.


Insurance agent teaching mentoring team member.

When challenges aren’t present in a job, and the work is repetitive and routine, it’s easy to become bored, distracted, and disengaged. (Decision Wise)


Now, this doesn’t mean you should give your team projects they can’t handle.


When your team members have been showing you their capabilities, give them more opportunities to learn and grow within your agency.


Being stuck in the same place with no opportunities for advancement or growth feeds job dissatisfaction, and burnout is right around the corner.


Have you trained any of your licensed staff members to hold customer insurance reviews?


If not, check out this article: The Monetary Benefits of Training Your Agency Staff Members to Conduct Customer Insurance Reviews.



 


Burnout is absolutely preventable.


If you haven’t done much to prevent it yet, don’t worry. It’s not too late to make it a priority so your agency and your team members can thrive.


Like I said before, I can’t tell you exactly what to do with your agency to prevent burnout, but hopefully, these tips and ideas will help you know where to start or what to do next.


How have you been able to prevent burnout at your agency? Let us know in the comments below!


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