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Burn-out is your company’s fault, not your staff’s fault

(MARKETING) Employee dissatisfaction is on the rise, resulting in burn-out from a variety of factors, but it’s not the staff’s fault. Here’s why…

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burn-out employee

Have you ever worked at a company only to eventually get completely burned-out? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has seen so much “burn-out” that they decided the term is actually one that is health-related; more specifically, a disease.

The WHO released this information in conjunction with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), but a day after the ICD came out, WHO corrected itself, saying it’s actually not a disease, but an occupational phenomenon.

This topic does bring up a good point though – who’s to blame when burn-out occurs – the company or the employee?

There are plenty of people out there who have started a job, one that was exciting and oriented with their goals, only to be completely fed up with the job 6 months later. For some, it may take longer, and for others, it may take less time, but regardless, if you’re truly burned-out, the problem may not be your fault. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

When Stanford researchers looked into how stress in the workplace can raise health costs and even mortality in the US, they found it led to more spending (almost $190 Billion) and nearly 120,000 deaths each year. Worldwide, over 600 million people suffer from depression and anxiety, which can be a direct result of an inhospitable work environment or a job that’s simply dissatisfying or mundane. Of course there are other reasons for anxiety and depression, but feeling undervalued or unsupported on a job can have a huge impact.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. When the WHO made the mistake of calling the term “Burned-Out” a medical disease (which we now know is not the fact) it got a lot of the community thinking, including myself and Jennifer Moss of the Harvard Business Review. I asked myself who is really to blame for the high burn-out rates we’re seeing? Is anyone to blame?

Having been a victim of this “disease” (Just kidding! Remember, it’s not a disease guys), I know first-hand how hard it can be when the feelings of wanting to give up come a’knockin’. I’ve worked at multiple startups, each of them with their own initial allure and charm. Sometimes, that’s all there is and you don’t realize it until you aren’t happy in your role, which is exactly what happened to me.

You see, my first startup right out of college was super fun. Not only did they care for my needs as a person, but they also nurtured my abilities and eagerness to grow. They were your typical startup with Ping-Pong tables, holiday parties, monthly contests, and so much more. Sounds like a standard startup, right? Maybe, maybe not.

When it finally came time to leave the company for another role, (something they absolutely supported as it pertained to my growth), I quickly realized that not all companies are created equal. The next job I took turned out to actually be a 10-month series of ups and downs. Not only was the job totally different from my last one, but the company itself was highly disheveled and aimless.

Not only was it out of sorts, but the company had zero warm and fuzzy extras I had been so accustomed to. To start, there was absolutely no company culture – something I thrive on. There were no amenities like a fancy pool table or swings, which was totally fine, but alongside this and many other factors, I quickly learned how ill prepared the owner was to make the office a nice place their employees were excited to work.

The management was awful, and the owner was even worse, turning down ideas only to, weeks later, proclaim them as his own. The environment was hostile and there was no time to get to know my co-workers. But in the end, the nail in the coffin was that there was no direction at all – from the owner, management, or co-workers.

When I finally realized that I was burned-out and that my needs weren’t being met, I took an introspective look at myself and asked, “what’s wrong with me?” and after thinking long and hard, I had a moment of clarity. This wasn’t 100% my fault. In fact, it was the fault of the company I worked for.

Now, it may sound like I’m complaining (and to a degree, I am), but my point really is that if you’ve burned-out on a job, and your needs aren’t being met, you’re definitely not alone.

To further illustrate my point, I’d like to bring up Fredrick Herzberg’s dual-factor, motivation-hygiene theory. This theory primarily focuses on motivation and hygiene-related needs in the workplace and how they relate to job satisfaction. Herzberg found that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are in no way tied together and, in fact, are completely independent of one another. This means that it’s entirely possible to be satisfied and dissatisfied in the same job, at the same time – something leadership and management are not always prepared to understand or address.

Moss explains the difference between hygiene and motivational needs. She describes hygiene-related needs as things like “salary; work conditions; company policy and administration; supervision; working relationships; status and security.” On the other hand, she defines motivational factors as pertaining to “challenging work; recognition for one’s achievements; responsibility; the opportunity to do something meaningful; involvement in decision making; and a sense of importance to the organization.”

She explains that much of the time, employees don’t even recognize when the organization they work for has good hygiene, like Apple who has an excellent company culture and freebies for days (I know this from my own personal experience working there). However, when a company has bad hygiene, like what I described earlier, employees typically notice pretty immediately. Frivolous as it may seem, as humans, we’re creatures of comfort. If we’ve been comfortable for a certain period of time, and something related to that comfort is suddenly taken away, that can have a major affect on the employees’ happiness and willingness to push forward. Likewise, feeling unappreciated and underutilized can have the same effect.

As a matter of fact, burn-out can be directly correlated to situations when pre-supposed features in our daily work lives are removed or are missing. For instance, my first startup supplied coffee to all of its employees. If that was suddenly taken away or it didn’t exist at all, there would have been a lot of noise – especially form our coffee-guzzling sales team. The company knew how important this was and took every effort to make sure they gave us coffee.

From there, they raised the bar even further, asking the team what kind of coffee they wanted. This is exactly what it takes to keep employees happy and to prevent them from reaching “burn-out”. Again, it may all seem totally innocuous and low-priority, but from a leadership perspective, they knew perks like this were exactly why their employees liked their job.

Now, you’re probably wondering what it is business owners can do to learn more about burn-out and how they can combat it. The answer: employers should prepare and align themselves with employee needs. There are a variety of ways to figure out what it is your employees want, including surveying them.

Christina Maslach, social psychologist and professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, has been studying burn-out for 25 years and is now seen as the foremost authority on the topic. She offers surveys for employees and employers-alike, such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory and Professional Quality of Life Scale.

Aside from that, look at your employees as actual people. Ask yourself what reasonable steps you should take to make your employees happy in their job as well as whether or not you’d be happy in their shoes. If the answer to the second question is “no”, you probably have some serious research and thinking to do.

If you’re an employee, you’re not off the hook yet. You have some homework, too.

What do you need to be happy in the workplace? I challenge you to make a list of your must-haves and to seriously consider whether you’re settling for less.

This article was first published here in December 2019.

Rachael Olan is a Texas-based Staff Writer at The American Genius and jack-of-many-trades. She's well known for her abilities in Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service, with a focus on SaaS and eCommerce businesses. Outside of writing, Rachael spends much of her time with her swarm of pets, including a 70 lb tortoise named Frankie.

Business Marketing

What we can learn & apply about branding from trendy startups

(MARKETING) What are the branding secrets of these new trendy startups and how can they be applied to your large enterprises?

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A set of wine from Craft Hugo, showing off pleasing branding in labels.

Think of your favorite brand. Is it the product they offer or the branding that you love? Exactly – brand ethos reigns supreme, especially with those trendy, aesthetically-pleasing startups (I never thought Glossier had good makeup, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t visit their website once or twice a month).

So let’s break it down.

Co-founder of Red Antler – a company that assists startups in creating successful branding – Emily Heyward believes in a few branding truths.

Firstly, you have to make sure not to market your brand as a single product or experience. Doing so, she says, will pigeonhole you and thus truncate your ability to expand and offer new products and services (she gives MailChimp, known almost exclusively for email marketing, as an example).

What Heyward does say to do is instead market an idea. For example, the brand Casper (one of Antler’s clients) markets itself as a sleep company instead of a mattress company. By doing this, they kept the door open to eventually offer other products, like pillows and bedding.

Heyward states that this “power of focus” is a way to survive – with countless other startups offering the same product or service, you have to position your company as offering something beyond the product. Provide a problem your customer didn’t know they had and offer an innovative solution through your product.

Ever used Slack, the app-based messenger? There were other messengers out there, so focus of Slack’s branding is that regular messaging is boring and that their app makes it more fun. And customers eat it up.

How can this logic apply to mid-to-large enterprises? How can you focus on one specific thing?

Again, placing emphasis on brand over products is essential – what is it about what you offer that makes your customers’ lives better? It’s more cerebral than material. You’re selling a better life.

Another thing to remember is that customers are intrigued by the idea of new experiences, even if the product or service being offered is itself not new. Try not to use dated language that’s colored by a customers’ preexisting feelings. Instead, find an exciting alternative – chat solutions are desperately trying move away from the word “chat”, which can bring to mind an annoying, tedious process, even though that is in fact what they offer.

Broadening the idea of focused brand ethos to a large company can be difficult. By following these tips and tricks from startups, your company can develop a successful brand ethos that extends beyond your best product or service.

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Business Marketing

7 low-budget marketing ideas for small businesses to grow their reach

(MARKETING) Marketing ideas are often expensive or ultra time consuming, but let’s talk about some proven tactics that won’t break the bank.

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Man leaning against wall on phone representing marketing.

The following marketing ideas are provided to you buy Threadsy:

No matter the size of your business, marketing matters! It’s important for small and big businesses alike to attract new customers, establish brand awareness, and to create buzz around products and services. But we know that not every business owner has tons of funds to devote to their marketing strategy. The good news? There are some highly effective marketing tactics that are also budget-friendly!

Here are seven low-budget marketing strategies for small business owners and side hustlers to grow their reach:

1. Sponsor Local Events

One of the best ways to get to know potential customers? Actually meet and talk to them! When you sponsor local events, you can be on-site to help people put a face with your business’s name. Sponsoring events is also a fantastic way to offer branded merchandise that can help you get your name and your logo out there.

Besides branded materials like signs, banners, or fliers, think about offering some fun items like wine bags to give away to attendees. Goody bags also make fantastic take-home options for local events. A branded canvas tote can be repurposed as an environmentally-friendly grocery bag, lunch bag for work, or a carry-all accessory for conventions and tradeshows. Print your logo on the outside and fill your goody bags with customized items like water bottles, notebooks, pens, and towels.

2. Let Your Colors Fly

Make some cool t-shirts featuring your logo! Wear them to the sponsored events mentioned above, out in the community, or anywhere you may encounter potential customers and can strike up a conversation. You can also offer t-shirts at a discount in-store or online, and turn your loyal customers into advertisers.

Quick tip: Purchase wholesale shirts to reduce manufacturing costs.

3. Social Media

If you’re not already leveraging social media to promote your business, it’s time to start! Think your customers aren’t using social networks? While certain demographics use various platforms more than others, according to fundera, 74% of consumers rely on social media to guide purchasing decisions. Plus, 96% of small businesses say they use social media in their marketing strategy.

So use your social media channels to level the playing field. To maximize your time and effort, determine where your audience members spend their time. Which platforms are they using? If you have a dedicated social media strategist on staff, they can perform audience research to tailor your approach to your existing and potential customers. If you’re running your own social strategy, spend some time digging into the demographics to determine which platforms make the most sense for your brand. From there, you’ll need to decide on the types of content you want to post, how to interact with your customers online, and create a social media calendar to plan your strategy.

4. Host a Giveaway

Once you’ve got your social media strategy up and running, why not host an online giveaway/sweepstakes to build some buzz, boost engagement, and attract followers? Pick a social media platform where you already engage with your customers. You’ll want to offer an item as the prize. This can be anything from a free product, a discount on an expensive product or service, or inexpensive swag like hats to help you promote your brand.

Once you’ve chosen the prize(s), decide on the terms for your giveaway. For example, an Instagram sweepstakes might look like this:

  • Create posts about the giveaway and explain the rules (multiple stories and 1 or 2 posts depending on the length of the contest)
  • These posts should specify the terms, for example:
    – In order to enter, potential winners must follow you
    – Encourage your followers to tag other people who may be interested. Each “tag” gets them another entry into the contest
    – You can also specify that contest applicants must share your post on their own profile
  • Once the contest has ended, pick a winner. Tag them in a post and story announcing what they’ve won and ask them to also share these posts to their own profile

Quick tip: You can also offer smaller or less-expensive items as consolation prizes. People love free swag and it’s an easy way to get your name out there!

5. Referral Discounts

Offering friends and family discounts on your products or services can help you establish loyalty and promote exclusivity. Offer discount codes or create a refer-a-friend program. You can also offer small incentives for customers who share about your brand on social media. Referral discounts are a great marketing strategy whether you use them in-store, online, or both.

6. Create or Update Your Blog

If you already have a website, you can put it to use to help build brand awareness and attract high-funnel customers. Blogging is a low-cost way to generate organic traffic (website visitors via Google or other search engines). If you don’t already have a blog, there are a number of free and inexpensive blog platforms you can use including Wix and WordPress.

You’ll want to write about topics that are related to your product or service and are of interest to your customers. For example, if you offer graphic design, you might want to create content about how to find an effective graphic designer online, or which projects you can do with an online platform like Canva vs. more complex projects where you should hire a professional designer.

Your website and blog are also great places to post “about us” content to offer website visitors an opportunity to learn more about you, your business, and your mission and values.

7. Update Your Google My Business Profile

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that allows you to share important information about your business like your address, hours of operation, and contact information. When your listing is optimized with this information, it’s displayed in Google Search and will also appear in Google Maps, which can help you attract local customers.

To get started, you need to create a GMB profile and verify your business information. This is a relatively simple but important step to ensure customers are able to find your business or service online. Make sure to keep your listing updated if you change any information like your website URL, address, or hours.

The takeaway:

When creating your marketing strategy, remember to stay true to your brand. Not every tactic will be the most effective for every business. Choose the tactics that make sense for your brand or product offering. Another way to prioritize is to consider the perceived impact and effort of each marketing strategy. Use the strategies that require the lowest effort but will potentially drive the highest return.

Once you have those in place, decide which of the other strategies make sense for your customers and your business goals. Also, make sure to keep track of all of your marketing expenditures and the sales from these tactics so you can assess which ones were successful and which ones you may need to re-evaluate or alter.

Remember, when it comes to marketing, it’s an ever-evolving system. Trust the process and try to have some fun with your marketing strategy!

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Business Marketing

No-reply emails don’t help customers, they’ve run their course

(MARKETING) No-reply emails may serve a company well, but the customers can become frustrated with the loss of a quick and easy way to get help.

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no-reply mail boxes

Let me tell you a modern-day horror story.

You finally decide to purchase the item that’s been sitting in your cart all week, but when you receive your confirmation email you realize there’s a mistake on the order. Maybe you ordered the wrong size item, maybe your old address is listed as the shipping location, or maybe you just have buyer’s remorse. Either way, you’ve got to contact customer service.

Your next mission is to find contact information or a support line where you can get the issue resolved. You scroll to the bottom of the email and look around for a place to contact the company, but all you find is some copyright junk and an unsubscribe option. Tempting, but it won’t solve your problem. Your last hope is to reply to the confirmation email, so you hit that trusty reply arrow and…nothing. It’s a no-reply email. Cue the high-pitched screams.

Customers should not have to sort through your website and emails with a microscope to find contact information or a customer service line. With high customer expectations and fierce ecommerce competition, business owners can’t afford to use no-reply emails anymore.

Intended or not, no-reply emails send your customer the message that you really don’t want to hear from them. In an age when you can DM major airlines on Twitter and expect a response, this is just not going to fly anymore.

Fixing this issue doesn’t need to be a huge burden on your company. A simple solution is to create a persona for your email marketing or customer service emails, it could be member of your team or even a company mascot. Rather than using noreply@company.com you can use john@company.com and make that email a place where your email list can respond to questions and communicate concerns. Remember, the whole point of email marketing is to create a conversation with your customers.

Another great strategy for avoiding a million customer service emails where you don’t want them? Include customer service contact info in your emails. Place a thoughtful message near the bottom of your template letting people know where they can go if they’re having an issue with the product or service. This simple change will save you, your customers, and your team so much time in the long-run.

Your goal as a business owner is to build a trusting relationship between you and your customers, so leave the no reply emails behind. They’re annoying and they might even get you marked as spam.

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