Scientific Productivity | Managing the Lab

How to Motivate your Lab Team and Prevent Burnout in 2022

Burnout is no new fad. Overbearing workloads and a lack of internal support have led to employees feeling unmotivated and drained at work for decades. In recent years, COVID-19 and the resulting work environment stressors have caused increased burnout across industries.

Burnout impacts 76% of employees at some point in their careers, and the pandemic has made work-life balance more challenging, especially those who do in-person work. While the “Great Resignation” continues on, making the lab a comfortable environment that encourages wellbeing at work will help to attract and retain top lab staff.

Lab managers and biotech leaders can take actionable steps to reduce burnout in the lab by identifying it early and taking the necessary steps to ensure their employees are receiving the support they need — in and out of the lab.

Here are the top ways that lab managers can motivate their team members in order to prevent burnout in the lab in 2022.

Benefits of a Motivated Lab Team

Unmotivated employees can cost companies up to $550 billion a year. That’s a big impact, especially at a time when burnout has the power to affect entire workforces at once. To avoid the financial fallout of your employees experiencing mass burnout, take the steps to effectively motivate your lab team before they even get the chance to feel unsupported at work.

In addition to the financial benefits, here are a few other reasons to invest in motivating your lab team this year:

  • Motivated employees are more engaged at work, leading to higher retention rates
  • When employees feel motivated they are more inclined to develop their lab skills, resulting in a more successful lab
  • Motivated teammates are better communicators and collaborators with each other
  • Motivated employees are more likely to set and work toward long term goals
  • Employees who feel supported at work are able to achieve a greater work-life balance

How to Identify Burnout in your Biotech Lab

Working long hours without breaks and skipping socialization can lead to low morale in the lab. Along with overworking, which can lead to burnout, watch out for signs that lab staff members might need a slower pace. Look for signs of job burnout, such as:

  • Consistent exhaustion and low energy at work
  • The inability to concentrate leading to a rise in workplace mistakes
  • The sudden lack of confidence or increase in worrying thoughts
  • Irritability causing tension between coworkers

To take a proactive approach to preventing burnout, monitor your team members and create an environment of open communication.

Top Ways to Prevent Burnout in the Lab in 2022

While there is no cure-all for employee burnout once it strikes — working overtime in the lab, feeling lonely and isolated while working, and ever-looming deadlines naturally result in physical and emotional depletion for employees — there are many ways to prevent employee burnout from taking hold in the first place.

Here are the top ways that lab managers and business owners can begin preventing burnout from impacting their lab teams in 2022

Cultivate strong interpersonal relationships in the lab.

Lacking lab culture is one of the leading causes of workforce-wide burnout. When employees’ immediate surroundings (aka the labs they spend the majority of their time in) no longer feel like supportive, inclusive, and collaborative environments the overall lab culture will suffer for it.

In order to improve lab culture, get to know your lab team as people first, employees second. To foster an even greater sense of community in the lab, encourage them to get to know one another and establish social relationships as well. When team members feel safe and included in their lab community, they are more likely to feel motivated each day.

Re-evaluate the pace of your research.

Another leading cause of burnout in the workplace is feeling overwhelmed by your workload or too-soon deadlines. To ease the burden on your team members, take some time to re-evaluate the pace of your deadlines and details of ongoing projects.

Has your lab been operating at full-steam ahead on high level projects for many months at a time? If so, see if there are any less burdensome projects that can be added to the schedule in their place. When re-evaluating deadlines, consider breaking projects down into more manageable short term goals.

Assign point people for specific challenges.

Reflect on what exactly is being asked of your lab team. Make sure that everyone has a manageable serving of responsibilities on their plate and feels comfortable with their current workload of responsibilities and support systems.

One way of doing this is to assign a point person for each different challenge that arises in the lab, so no single team member is left to fight every fire on their own (or even left believing that they are alone). By assigning each team member the responsibility of navigating potential issues that may arise, once that problem does arrive in the lab there are already clear and actionable steps that can be taken to overcome it.

Think long term.

Of course, some degree of burnout is inevitable. As supply chain disruptions continue to present challenges to the industry, it’s natural for lab teams to feel overworked and underprepared to handle their tasks at hand. To get through the rough patches as a team, think long term.

It may be your instinct to put your head down and push through challenging situations or feelings of exhaustion, but how does that serve your lab team in the long run? Burnout is the result of built up exhaustion, while toughing it out may seem like the best idea to achieve short term goals, you will be more likely to experience the effects of burnout if you don’t take time to support yourself and your team members on a daily basis.

A degree of burnout is a natural occurrence for most lab teams. The goal isn’t to nip it in the bud the moment it begins to show signs of emerging, but to make sustainable changes to your overall lab culture in order to ensure your team members always feel supported and motivated to do their best work.

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