Burnout in the Restoration Industry: Effective Workload Management | Part 3

employee burnout, restoration business management

Editor’s Note: 

This is the third and final article of a multi-part series on employee burnout in the restoration industry.  Part one introduced the nature of burnout and summarized findings from a study on burnout in the restoration industry. Part two was a discussion on things restoration companies can do to manage one of the most complicating factors for burnout among restoration professionals – workload. Part three advances the conversation and discusses what restoration professionals can do at the individual level to manage workloads more effectively.   

As we considered the findings of the burnout study and addressed hours worked, we first examined possible solutions focused on volume and capacity at the organizational level. When we consider the same dials of volume and capacity at the individual level, it is in the context of both the design of the operation and its culture. Individual volumes that allow for an optimal work-life balance will be contingent on a variety of factors that include but are not limited to capacity, competence, proficiency, efficiency, stress tolerance, focus, and organizational skills of the individuals. Although we consider adjusting the dials of volume and capacity at an individual level, this ability will be influenced by the culture and capabilities of the organization. There must be a level of personal responsibility for one’s own desire to find the proper work-life balance, commitment to the organization, and their individual roles. The company must share by supporting and creating a culture and operation that supports the adjusting of dials at the individual level.

Individual Volume

Due to the nature of the industry, one could say that a certain amount of flexibility and stress tolerance is a trait shared by many – restoration professionals appear to be highly resilient. At times, restorers may seem to be at their personal “best” when the chaos hits, and this may be supported by the finding that participants reported elevated feelings of professional efficacy while experiencing elevated feelings of exhaustion and cynicism – which is unique when compared to patterns in other industries.

1.  Open Work Environment:  Individuals and supervisors should have open communications regarding the volume of assignments.

Supervisor: “I have another job to go over with you”

Team Member: “I am feeling overloaded. I can take a new job next week but could really use a couple more days to get caught up”

Supervisor: “I will give it the job to Joe. Is there anything that I can do to help you?”

This comes with the caveat that managers need to be able to discern what volume a particular role should be able to manage and individual capacity. If someone has demonstrated they are not able to thrive under reasonable circumstances and with proper training, other options may need to be explored.

2.  Assignments: The operation should be designed to manage assignment volume appropriately.

  1. It sounds simple but without accessible information and/or understanding of workflows within the company, it will be difficult to manage individual workflows. A simplistic example is to consider a CAT event. The workload first peaks in the field operations. Several weeks later, the peak in company volume may flow into the administrative functions and affect administrative workloads (bills, invoices, and collections).
  2. With the objective of assigning volume appropriately, we must understand the individual team member’s capacity and be mindful as we make assignments. We cannot arbitrarily make assignments based on job titles/descriptions. At any given point, we must consider the complexity of assignments and the individual’s capacity. For example, one team member may be able to manage 10 jobs effectively and another in the same position may be able to manage 20. A side benefit of this is that the company will likely be able to deliver services more consistently to the organization’s standards and objectives.

3.  Workflows Adjustments:  In consideration of the labor shortage and the fact that much of the workload within the restoration industry is technical and specialized, there may be an opportunity to control workload by challenging the current workflows and reassigning tasks. There are functions and flows within many parts of our organizations that require a combination of training and experience some of which are highly specialized. There are functions that may be easier to train and may have more accessible resources available. Workflow adjustments may be made within the organization as a response to workloads increasing for the individuals. As presented in Part 1, organizational level cross-training may give the ability to adjust workflows within, when deemed appropriate in controlling the workloads. An adjustment may also be approached by adding team members or outsourcing. Consider the following examples:

  1. Crew leaders and technicians are working a high number of hours. One of their responsibilities is to clean and restock the equipment after a loss. This function can be easily trained and facilitated by team members other than the crew leaders and technicians.
  2. Estimators are overloaded and one of their job responsibilities is to prepare the invoice. This is a part of their workflow that may be reassigned allowing them to contribute their specialized skill and relieving workload.

employee burnout, restoration business management

Individual Capacity

The organization must recognize the concept of capacity within the individual team members. A combination of encouraging, valuing, and investing in the development of individual capacity is a key ingredient to the ability to improve it. Individuals must take ownership of their capacity and understand the economics of it. It is in the best interest of individuals and the organization to increase individuals’ capacities. As one’s capacity grows, the individual can handle more work in less time, essentially reducing hours worked at a given volume of work. Individuals could also increase their value to the company. This basic principle can be observed in the practice of piece-rate work, where people are compensated based on output. Although the restoration industry does not lend itself to this method, the economic relationship between output and value is illustrated by it.

  1. Resourcefulness:  By definition, resourcefulness is “having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties.”  Be resourceful, challenge the status quo, and contribute to all aspects of adjusting workloads for you, for others, and for the organization. Applying resourcefulness includes but is not limited to evaluating and employing technology, evaluating workflows, finding new resources, and improving efficiencies.
  2. Management Principles and Work Habits:  The organization should support, and the individuals can be driven to increase their capacity, by developing skills like time management, email management, and being organized. Consider the time wasted looking for supply, piece of equipment, finding an email, touching the same document 10 times before we act. There is an opportunity to increase our capacity and possibly reduce the inherently related stress by developing ourselves in these disciplines.
  3. Proficiency:  The more proficient we are the more we can complete in a given amount of time. There are a variety of skills needed within a restoration company from monitoring a water loss to computer keyboarding. Companies should celebrate, develop, and encourage individuals to increase their proficiency in their skills and trades. In addition to executing our responsibilities with quality and consistency, we can grow and improve our proficiency in our skills and trades and be driven to do so. As an example, an estimator who is a novice will have to practice and be diligent, as a $5,000 estimate may take two hours to sketch and write. As proficiency is developed, the same $5,000 estimate may be completed in 30 minutes. At a given volume, the improvement in proficiency provided a net gain of 1.5 hours.

Organizations and their members can proactively manage volume and capacity to have a positive effect on the hours worked as a contributing factor to burnout within the industry.

As an industry, we can bring to the forefront the necessary skills, competencies, and practices that help its members enjoy the reward and opportunity offered. In consideration of the burnout study, by adopting these notions not only can we help professionals within our industry better enjoy the benefits and rewards of being a restoration professional there are additional benefits. In a time when finding new people to enter the industry is a challenge, we can better manage with the resources we have, we can help make our organizations stronger financially, and we can better serve those who call upon the industry in times of need. Beyond technical and soft skills, strategic operations, execution, workflow training, theory, and development can be actively pursued.


References:

Avila, J., & Rapp, R. (2019, January 2). Restoration industry burnout study. https://doi.org/10.5281/zendo.3404108

Bakker, A., & Demerouti, E. (2014). Job demands-resources theory. In C. Cooper, & P. Chen (Eds.), Wellbeing: A complete reference guide (pp. 37-64). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Deloitte. (2018). Workplace burnout survey: Burnout without borders. New York, NY: Deloitte. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-survey.html

Huberty, C. (1984). Issues in the use and interpretation of the discriminant analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 95(1), 156.

Lee, R., & Ashforth, B. (1996). A meta-analytic examination of the correlates of the three dimensions of job burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81(2), 123.

Leiter, M., & Harvie, P. (1998). Conditions for staff acceptance of organizational change: Burnout as a mediating construct. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 11(1), 1-25.

Leiter, M., & Maslach, C. (2011). Areas of worklife survey: Manual (5th ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden, Inc.

Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2(2), 99-115.

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. (1997). The truth about burnout. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maslach, C., Jackson, S., Leiter, M., & Schaufeli, W. (2016). The maslach burnout inventory: Manual (4th ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden, Inc.

Maslach, C., Leiter, M., & Schaufeli, W. (2008). Measureing burnout. In Cooper, & S. Cartwright (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pines, A., Aronson, E., & Kafry, D. (1981). Burnout: From tedium to personal growth. New York, NY: Free Press.

Schaufeli, W., & Bakker, A. (2004). Utrecht Work Engagement Scale: Preliminary manual (1.1 ed.). Utrecht, NL: Occupational Health Psychology Unit, Utrecht University.

Schaufeli, W., Salanova, M., Gonzalez-Roma, V., & Bakker, A. (2002). The measurement of engagement and burnout: a confirmative analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(1), 71-92.

Seashore, S., Lawler III, E., Mirvis, P., & Cammann, C. (1983). Assessing organizational change: A guide to methods, measures, and practices. Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Tonidandel, S., & LeBreton, J. (2013). Beyond step-down analysis: A new test for decomposing the importance of dependent variables in MANOVA. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(3), 469.

Wigert, B., & Agrawal, S. (2018). Employee burnout, Part 1: The 5 main causes. Washington, D.C.: Gallup. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-causes.aspx

Burnout in the Restoration Industry: Managing Workload | Part 2

employee burnout, restoration business management

Editor’s Note: 

This is the second article of a multi-part series on employee burnout in the restoration industry.  Part one introduced the nature of burnout, and summarized findings from a study on burnout in the restoration industry. Part two begins a discussion on things restoration companies can do to manage one of the most complicating factors for burnout among restoration professionals – workload. Part three advances the conversation and discusses what restoration professionals can do at the individual level to manage workloads more effectively.   

Nature of Workload for Restoration Companies

The nature of our industry has inherent demands and fluctuations that seem challenging to control. At any given point, a variety of circumstances from a catastrophic weather event to the loss of a staff member can have a dramatic effect on the workload of the company and the team members. It is safe to say that a career in restoration is not a 9 to 5, 40-hour per week job; however, in consideration of the findings of the burnout study, there is much to be gained by proactively managing the workloads of our team, our most valuable assets.

When we consider workload, we can look at it from two related perspectives: organizational and individual. Can solutions be found by balancing volume and capacity at both levels? In part one of this series, we will delve into some potential solutions that allow us to control volume and capacity at the company level followed by the second part, which will examine the balance at the individual level. It should be noted that these concepts are not exclusive to each other, but rather are inter-related strategies that can be considered in our efforts to reduce workload.

As we consider taking control of volume and capacity in our companies, there are added benefits of a few sound principles that apply to the effective management of our day to day operations. While avoiding the epidemic of burnout from affecting your team, we may be able to improve in our service to others and find sound economics and financial benefits.

employee burnout, restoration business management

Volume of Work 

It may seem counterintuitive to control or decrease the volume of work coming into your company. You have strategized, invested, and have put great energy into having the phone ring and then we want to decrease it? At any given point, when your volume is exceeding your capacity, not only are we exposing the team to the threat of burnout, there is a risk of detrimental side effects to your reputation, customers, and quality of your services.

When do you know that it is time to dial it down in an industry where you could be inundated one week and waiting for the phone to ring the next week? There is not necessarily an exact science to this but rather an understanding of your capacity combined with intuition and being in tune with your team and organization.

In Eastern Pennsylvania, what started out as a steady summer, turned into an unrelenting series of individual localized flood events that continually moved around targeting and retargeting a localized area. The first of the flood events to wreak havoc presented itself in early July. The team worked diligently around the clock until everyone was taken care of in some way. Then another flood, and another flood, and another flood, with nothing but weather forecasts, there was no way to tell that the weather would cause extremely high volumes for over two months straight. After several weeks, it was time to dial it down for the good of the team and the quality of the services being delivered.    There is no crystal ball in our business; therefore, we must be able and willing to pivot at any given point.

When volume is exceeding capacity, the following are a few strategies that may help control and reduce workload:

  • Managing Expectations:
    • Evaluate and prepare to communicate realistic timelines that allow you a more manageable volume as a company.
    • Be honest and upfront to those you serve and make commitments based on reasonable workloads.  Example: “Normally we are able to respond to emergencies within an hour. However, due to the high volumes of disasters in our region, we are scheduling emergency responses two days out.”  If you are managing repair/reconstruction volume, give accurate and upfront timelines for repairs to begin.
    • Be prepared to help those who reach out to you. Refer other restoration companies who may be able to help sooner and/or give tips on how they can mitigate until you can respond.
  • Pausing / Controlling Streams:
    • Many in our industry have a variety of relationships and strategies that bring revenues to the organization. As an effort to control workload, the following is a sample of potential sources that can be temporarily paused or reduced:
    • Insurance programs:  direct and TPA (third-party administrators)
    • Lead generation and referral programs
    • On-line initiatives and advertising
    • Other preferred vendor lists
  • Territory/Coverage Area:
    • The territory or area of coverage that your company covers may be something to evaluate when attempting to dial down the volume.  Depending on circumstances and geography, reducing coverage area (even slightly) can have a reduction in volume that has an exponential effect on workload. As an example, if there are areas that you serve that require a 90 to 120-minute drive per day, you can potentially buy back three to four hours in drive time with a minimal effect on total revenues.  At times, there may be good economics to this approach as drive distance can also have an effect on job profitability.

Company Capacity

When we consider capacity, we are literally looking at the amount we can produce with our resources. Our resources can include but are not limited to human, equipment, vehicles, and facility. Depending on the timing, both internal and external forces can influence capacity. As we look at the environment today, unemployment is at a historic low, and this could be directly affecting your company’s capacity by making it challenging to hire and add to the team. During the polar vortex of 2014, due to the widespread effects of severely cold temperatures, equipment and supply inventories were affected.

In general, to be able to adjust and control capacity we need solid systems and operations in place that allow us to know what resources are available at any given moment.  Consider that you have depleted your equipment inventory, perhaps you rented additional equipment and that is also depleted, one may plan and schedule based on the timing of equipment being pulled and available by using systems and tracking.

Our team also influences capacity as it applies to the human resources within our organization. By employing a similar approach in scheduling and managing our equipment, we must also add the leaderships’ empathy and intuitiveness for the team.  The individuals who make up your team may have a vast array of skills, proficiencies, individual training, and circumstances that may also contribute to your overall company capacity.

employee burnout, restoration business management

As we consider some possible solutions to increasing your capacity as a company with a focus on our human resources, it can decrease the workloads on the individual team members. In addition, there is sound economics to some of the considerations that apply when operating at any given volume level.

Expanding Capacity

The following strategies may be helpful when trying to expand capacity to reduce the workload on the individuals within the company:

  • Improve Efficiency:
    • Examine and find ways to decrease the workload by improving efficiencies.
      • Duplication of efforts
      • Employing technology when possible
      • Routing and movements in our field operations
    • “The way we always did it.”  Be mindful of activity within workflows that may have little or no value to the organization and eliminate it.
    • Within the workflows there may be opportunities to reassign tasks to better utilize the individual’s special skills and improve their workload while increasing the capacity of the organization.
  • Expand your Resources:
    • Other Restoration Companies: Either referring other restoration companies or developing relationships to work together.
    • Subcontractors: Utilize your existing subcontractors and aggressively build new relationships.
    • Other Sources of Labor:
    • Employment agencies may be able to supply a variety of labor and support for your team. They may also be a resource to manage the HR and processing of seasonal and other type of employment opportunities that could help the team.
    • Be creative. For example, if there are local colleges in your area, you may be able to recruit college students to help monitoring water losses and other tasks which may prove to give some relief to your team on weekends and after hours. The college students could be run through the employment agency for your ease of management.
    • Specialty Resources: From accounting to estimating, there are a variety of specialty services, some that are even industry specific, that may be utilized at any given point in managing capacity.
  • Develop and Train:
    • Proficiency:  Encourage and develop individual’s proficiency in their skills.
    • Organization Skills: Including but not limited to email management, time management, etc.
    • Leadership and Soft Skills: Imagine a great technician who was trained and developed in their leadership and management abilities. This technician can run a loss with two less experienced individuals allowing the opportunity to increase capacity.
    • Cross Train: Cross training individuals within the organization not only gives team members the opportunity to increase their value to the company; it also allows the company to be nimbler when managing fluctuations in volumes.

Process and Structure

An overarching imperative to being able to proactively manage volume and capacity is having strong day to day processes and structure. Strategic scheduling, workflows, procedures, and best practices provide the ability to have information and structure to pivot and adjust these as needed.

At any given time, we can adjust volume and capacity to help us manage workload. Managing the company workload will help the individual team members enjoy the reward of being a part of the restoration industry and avoid burnout.

Lisa, Contributor and Co-Author

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Burnout in the Restoration Industry | Part 1

employee burnout, restoration management, restoration management software

Editor’s Note: 

This is the first article of a multi-part series on employee burnout in the restoration industry.  Part one introduces the nature of burnout and summarizes findings from a study on burnout in the restoration industry. Part two begins a discussion on things restoration companies can do to manage one of the most complicating factors for burnout among restoration professionals – workload. Part three advances the conversation and discusses what restoration professionals can do at the individual level to manage workloads more effectively.   


Since the 1990s, experts have been declaring burnout levels are reaching epidemic proportions among North American workers (Maslach & Leiter, 1997). Since that time, most people would probably agree that work-related stressors have only intensified with the proliferation of metrics, technology, and the need to be “on” all the time. A recent study by Gallup (Wigert & Agrawal, 2018) surveyed 7,500 full-time employees in the United States and reported that 67% of the respondents experienced feelings of burnout on the job. Another study by Deloitte (2018) surveyed 1,000 full-time professionals in the United States and reported that 77% of respondents said they had experienced burnout in their current job. In addition, the World Health Organization announced it would be revising its definition of burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, effective Jan. 1, 2022. One of the primary changes will be how burnout is classified—this revision will involve a change in classification from “a type of psychological stress” to a “syndrome.”

Disaster restoration professionals operate in a niche of the construction industry that is inherently stressful. Their work often demands being on call and working long hours under stressful and dangerous conditions following fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and a variety of other catastrophic events to structures. In addition, there are performance demands driven by metrics related to response times, project completion rates, customer service, and many other factors. Such conditions make restoration professionals more susceptible to burnout; therefore, it is important to understand the nature of burnout and how the effects may be mitigated.

“Burnout is defined as a crisis in a person’s relationship with their work, as well as a syndrome of three distinct feelings that comprise the dimensions of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy (Masiach & Leiter, 1997)”.

The reasons for burnout can be complex and are addressed at length in many studies and books that have been published on the topic over the past few decades. Many have debated the reasons for burnout, whether occasional feelings of burnout can be good for someone, the complexity of burnout and the degree to which non-work factors may contribute to feelings of burnout on the job (and vice-versa), and where future inquiries into the subject should focus—among other topics. While many of these factors are still being debated and explored, there are many things scholars and professionals have come to understand about burnout and agree upon. Specifically, it is important to understand that some industries have higher burnout rates than others and that contextual factors such as organizational culture and the capacity to cope with stress within individuals vary widely.

Regardless, there is much for an industry to gain by having a deeper understanding of employee burnout among professionals and to explore strategies for improving the health and lives of its members. The primary goal of this article is to discuss the nature of burnout, share findings from a recent study on burnout within the restoration industry, and begin a practical discussion related to how we, as an industry, can seek to thrive with the inherent challenges the industry faces. We hope many productive conversations develop from this article.

Restoration is a great industry that does great work for the great people of our society. It is inherently challenging and stressful, but rewarding for those who enjoy working hard and doing good work for good people in need. This article seeks to candidly discuss the challenges of burnout for restoration professionals and begin a productive conversation on how we, as an industry, can do our work in a rewarding, enjoyable, productive, and effective manner.

Burnout

Burnout is defined as a crisis in a person’s relationship with their work, as well as a syndrome of three distinct feelings that comprise the dimensions of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).

Dimensions of Burnout

The three dimensions of burnout help us understand the primary characteristics of burnout and provide insight into the nature of the burnout experience.

employee burnout, restoration management, restoration management software
  • Exhaustion: The feeling of being overextended and physically and emotionally drained. “[It] is the first reaction to the stress of job demands or major change” (Maslach & Leiter, 1997). When someone is feeling exhausted, they lack energy and are unable to unwind and recover (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).
  • Cynicism: Leads to people developing a distant attitude toward work and the people surrounding them at work. In a sense, it is a defense mechanism that is deployed to protect oneself from exhaustion and disappointment (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).
  • Professional Efficacy: Relates to feelings of effectiveness and adequacy regarding a person’s work. Accomplishment is vital and it is important for professional development and self-confidence. As someone loses confidence in themselves others lose confidence in them (Maslach & Leiter, 1997).

Worklife Context

(Sources of Burnout)

Equally important to understanding the components of the burnout phenomenon it is essential to examine the primary sources that influence exhaustion.  There are six sources of burnout that mediate feelings of exhaustion:

Summary of Findings from a Recent Study

A recent study on burnout conducted by two of this article’s authors, Dr. Avila and Dr. Rapp, sought to explore the nature of burnout and worklife context (sources of burnout) among restoration industry professionals (Avila & Rapp, 2019). We distributed a survey that consisted of a demographic questionnaire, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, (MBI), the Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS), and a set of exit questions that gauged respondents’ turnover intentions. A total of 318 respondents completed the entire survey.

employee burnout, restoration management, restoration management software

The results on burnout revealed that, when compared to other industries, restoration professionals were experiencing higher levels of exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy. The researchers had not anticipated this interesting finding. The model, as discussed in earlier in this article, suggests that as exhaustion increases, cynicism increases, and professional efficacy decreases. Why would restoration professionals have increased professional efficacy when the mediating factors suggest they should be experiencing the opposite? Is it their resilience? While years could be spent studying this to find an explanation we aren’t going to be doing that.  It is time for a practical discussion. We know restoration professionals experience burnout so it is imperative for us to discuss why we think this is the case and what we (professionals and employers) can do to mitigate the effects of burnout.

“Results of the six sources of burnout found that workload was the only source having a statistically significant effect on exhaustion for restoration professionals.”

Moving forward, an important part of the discussion on burnout should explore the reasons restoration professionals would experience burnout in a manner that is so unique and different from other industries. What factors do we think are contributing to this dynamic? Could findings on the sources of burnout help us understand how and/or why restoration professionals would experience burnout in the manner the study has revealed? Could the amount of hours restoration professionals work be contributing to them having a high sense of professional efficacy? Could factors related to the number of years they have worked in the industry influence their sense of professional efficacy?

employee burnout, restoration management, restoration management software

Results of the six sources of burnout found that workload was the only source having a statistically significant effect on exhaustion for restoration professionals. From this point, the researchers had to look to answers respondents provided in the demographic questionnaire at the beginning of the survey. There were two primary data points in the demographic questionnaire where the researchers discovered correlations to workload:

  • Number of hours worked: Respondents self-reported the number of hours worked and the average was 52 hours per week; however, some respondents reported working more than 80 hours per week. As the number of hours increased, the respondents were move likely to report a heavier workload.
  • Number of subordinates: Respondents self-reported the number of subordinates supervised and this finding was negatively correlated with perceptions of workload. As the number of subordinates supervised increased the respondents were more likely to report a heavier workload.

While workload, in itself, can involve many factors, we will explore ways in which it can be managed effectively at the company and individual levels. In the second part of this series, we will start to discuss how to manage the burnout.

Special Thanks

The authors wish to extend special thanks to the members of Business Networks who have graciously shared their experiences, NextGear Solutions who opened the door for public discussion on these topics among restoration professionals, and other industry professionals who have engaged us on the development of the study throughout the entire process. Thank you for the support, feedback, and valuable insight.

Lisa Lavender, Contributor and Co-Author