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John Sylvester


Divisional Managing Director

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Blog: Lessons from Mars – How to prevent staff burn-out


As Curiosity touched down on Mars we all saw an elated NASA team jumping for joy that their lengthy mission had successfully reached a fundamental milestone.

The passion of the engineers, scientists and astronauts involved in the project was obvious for all watched the news that day, but back down here on Earth there a far fewer engaged employees to speak of.
Life on Mars may have been a reality once, but life in the workplace is certainly struggling to flourish right now! A Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson (July 2012) found that that 63 percent of U.S. workers “are not fully engaged in their work and are struggling to cope with work situations that don’t provide sufficient support.” 
1. Are your employees still “plugged in” on nights and weekends?
The workplace is changing, and many employees appreciate the flexibility of being able to leave early to pick up their children, and then to make up the time by working from home during nights and weekends.
In fact a third of UK workers now check their email at 7.17am in order to catch up and clear out their mailboxes before the official start of the working day. So is anything preventing this flexibility being misinterpreted as an expectation to remain “plugged in” at all times – therefore leading to ‘burned out’ individuals?
2. Houston, we have a problem here!
Remember that checking emails outside of work hours is one method that your employees use to demonstrate their commitment and love of their job, but employees who consistently work longer hours and take less time off will get frustrated quickly.
To avoid this, make sure that your staff know that you appreciate their time outside of work, but that you support their decision to take a well-deserved break or to shut off the blackberry when they leave the office for the day.

3. A good moan helps grease the (lunar) wheels!
Although it may not seem like it, the employees who complain incessantly about office procedures, their colleagues, benefits, etc. – do so because they care. They believe in the company and its culture and want it to succeed.
It’s likely that their dissatisfaction stems from the sense of disappointment that comes from not feeling like the company is truly reaching for the stars. Even though it may be difficult to hear, listen to what these people are trying to tell you.
Perhaps one or two minor changes will help them to regain their original interest and engagement in the company. Their ideas could help your organisation to be more productive, innovative and become a stimulating place to work.
Ask questions of your employees, gather feedback from surveys, form discussion groups and get a two-way dialogue going. By making some relatively small changes you may greatly improve the levels of engagement in your organisation. Curiosity, as with Mars, can be the most important step to discover great things.

John Sylvester is divisional managing director at marketing services agency, P&MM.

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2 Responses

  1. Behaviours are Key

     Really interesting read – thank you.  I absolutely agree that appreciating the efforts of your team is vital – ensure that they know just how much you notice and are grateful for all their additional support and input.  When did you last tell them how much their efforts mean to you personally?  Additionally, as this article outlines, it is critical that individuals don’t begin to feel that working every waking moment is the expectation, as this leads to seriously increased stress levels and we all know how damaging this can be in terms of effectiveness and creativity.  However, what we frequently hear on our programmes is managers saying things like,  "I never tell people that I expect them to work all hours and just because I send them emails at midnight, I don’t expect them to answer!"  We all need to be really clear about the messages our behaviours send – if you don’t expect people to work late at night, then don’t call them or send them emails at that time – only make calls at appropriate ‘working’ times and set a timer delay on your emails, so that even if you feel the need to write them at midnight, they don’t leave your Outbox until 8.00 am!  Your team can only really judge ‘what is important around here’ by what they see you do.


    Emma Littmoden
    Partner at Leadership Training provider The Living Leader

  2. great post

    Alot of managers are guilty of overworking their staff but in many cases there are times when the team have to pull together an put in extra hours to meet a deadline etc. One of the most important things to do however is to make sure that you help your employees prioritise their tasks but also use rewards to recognise their hard work and effort for the cause. This can but doesnt have to mean money or bonuses, but a reward that means eomething to your employees and adds value to them. 


    Dave Evans, director at accessplanit, specialising in learning management software and learninig management system

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John Sylvester

Divisional Managing Director

Read more from John Sylvester