Highly engaged employees may be more likely to face the risk of burnout. Here's what you need to know.

The risk of burnout hovers over us all, but are your company's star players at greater risk than others? According to the Harvard Business Review, a new study suggests that 1 in 5 highly engaged employees is at risk of burning out at work.

Employee Engagement and the Risk of Burnout

Gallup's 2016 report that nearly 70 percent of employees feel unengaged got companies' attention. Many took great pains to ensure that their best employees felt satisfied and motivated to keep doing great work.

But the problem with employees who fall into the engaged category is that they may be more likely to dive into their work without taking steps to ensure a healthy work-life balance. Companies can unintentionally encourage burnout by praising behaviors that test the boundary between engagement and overwork — for example working long hours and taking on multiple big projects.

Although higher engagement can certainly lead to greater productivity and creativity, companies must recognize and address the fine line between engagement and burnout risk.

How to Help Employees Avoid Burn Out

So what can you do to ensure that your star players achieve greatness without running aground? The Harvard Business Review notes that employers can take the following steps to encourage healthy forms of engagement:

  1. Providing optimal resources, including personnel and materials to complete projects
  2. Offering supervisor support and encouragement to high achievers, who thrive on positive recognition
  3. Allowing for periods of distraction-free work, which reduces stress
  4. Watching the demands placed on engaged employees and avoiding overburdening them with projects
  5. Increasing not only tangible resources like materials and budgets but also intangible ones like a fun, supportive and friendly work environment
  6. Maintaining boundaries between work and personal time to give engaged employees downtime away from work
  7. Knowing the warning signs of employee burnout, for example working too many hours, not taking lunch breaks and working through vacations, among others — and intervening before employees succumb to exhaustion

Keeping Engaged Employees Happy

What about stretch goals, those projects intended to challenge and motivate high achievers to fulfill their potential? The results of the study covered in the Harvard Business Review are mixed. While there's no doubt that stretch goals encourage strong team members to achieve beyond their current levels, they also raise stress and anxiety levels, neither of which are good for anyone's health or peace of mind.

The trick, then, is to balance the need for achievement and success with the resources and support required to achieve that success. Although wellness initiatives have their place, the real support for health and wellness comes from a solid balance between demands on a worker's time and the tools they have to meet those demands.

To make sure you're getting this balance right, communicate with your employees regularly, inviting them to be candid about their workloads and engagement levels. This lets them know that you have their best interests in mind and helps ensure that they stay on the safe side of burnout.

Read about improving your employee communication practices: How to Help Ensure Your Employees Feel Heard

Tags: engagement Human Resources Employee Well-Being