“Our antidote to burnout is not necessarily less work. It could be more meaning.”—Adam Grant
Workplace burnout has been a serious issue for decades now—even before the pandemic. With around 70% of employees across the globe suffering from burnout, this issue cannot simply be swept under the rug. Changes at the individual, team, and organizational levels are necessary to address the situation.
The American Psychological Association defines burnout as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”
This impacts the productivity, engagement, and turnover rates of organizations as well as the mental health of individual employees.
Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.
According to the Harvard Business Review, exhaustion at the physical, emotional, and mental levels is the central symptom of burnout. It is hard to be productive, engaged, and effective when you are running on fumes. Cynicism, which is characterized by a lack of commitment to your job, your team, or the organization, and inefficacy—which refers to actual or perceived feelings of incompetence and underperformance—are frequent companions to exhaustion.
While individuals have distinct profiles showing different levels of these three factors, they are almost always present in all cases.
Ideally, it is best to address burnout before it happens and get ahead of these symptoms, because once it is too late, it is difficult and takes longer to recover from. However, most of us realize we are burned out too late.
How can we, as leaders, get ahead of burnout, and how can we build a work environment that helps our employees keep burnout at bay?
There are many underlying issues to address regarding burnout, but there are steps you can take once you are aware of the symptoms that might be causing it.
Here are some strategies you can use to help keep burnout at bay.
Getting enough sleep, getting proper nutrition, and exercising are keys to keeping your physical and mental energy at bay. We also need to “recharge our emotional batteries” by taking time to pursue hobbies and passions that we love doing, going out and having quality time with friends and loved ones, and giving ourselves enough mental, emotional, and psychological headspace through mindfulness exercises. Meditation, journaling, going out for walks just for a change of pace or scenery, and taking ample time off work to rest and restore ourselves holistically is essential.
I personally find sticking to my routines the best way to get ahead of burnout. Having routines helps ground you and bring you back to your why; it is also a great way to do more while using the least amount of mental energy and increasing your clarity and focus throughout the day.
One of the reasons we feel overwhelmed and overworked is because of the pressure we put on ourselves to get everything on our to-do lists done.
As they say, you can’t win a marathon by sprinting out the gate, you need to pace yourself for the long run. The same is true with our time and tasks.
Do an audit of how you use your time and carve out time to do things that fill your cup and energize you. Limit your exposure to tasks, people, and situations that suck the life out of you and don’t serve you or your goals.
Get clear about your top two to three priorities for the day and focus on them, then delegate, delay, or delete the rest. You will find that you do so many things in a day that do not need to be done by you.
When you take control of your time and honor your calendar, you find yourself doing more things that inspire you, motivate you, energize you, make you creative, and help you focus on the things that actually matter.
Resting, recharging, and prioritizing help you manage the exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy caused by burnout, but they don’t tackle the root of the problem. Once you’ve managed the emergent symptoms of burnout, it is time to deal with the heart of the matter.
What’s causing chronic stress in your life? It might be time to reevaluate your decisions and go back to your why—remind yourself of your purpose, your vision, and your goals. Are you suffering from work overload? Do you find it difficult to be efficient and effective because of a lack of skill or resources? Are the relationships in your life—with your clients, your team, or your friends—bringing joy and value to your life, or is there a misalignment somewhere?
When you’ve identified the source, it is up to you to make the necessary changes to make things right. If you have too much on your plate but not all of it is driving you closer to your goals, it is time to shave off some of it: again, delegate, delay, or delete. Fix what needs to be fixed with your relationships, whether that be making amends or cutting ties. And if you need more skills and resources, find the time to learn, cultivate, and gather what you need.
Making necessary changes in your lifestyle can feel like too much, but it is necessary if you want to achieve sustainable growth and success.
As leaders, we are not only responsible for ourselves, we also need to make sure that our people are also equipped and empowered to deal with burnout.
If you start noticing a drop in your team’s morale, an increase in absenteeism, or a decline in productivity, something is wrong, and you need to ensure that the system you put in place is supporting them for success, not setting them up for failure.
Overwork is one of the most obvious causes of employee burnout. Review their workload and make sure that you have enough people to support that load. You might need to hire new people to lighten your employees’ existing workload. As much as you can, cut back on busywork and duplication of effort, and give your team enough resources.
It is easy to lose track of how much work we are delegating to our people.
Be clear about expectations, and make sure everyone is aligned and in agreement with those expectations.
Encourage your employees to take breaks and paid time off, and educate them on the importance of prioritizing their health and self-care.
Do not email them or text them about work outside of business hours out of respect for their time. If you can't avoid it, be sure to clearly communicate your expectations for their responses so they won't feel rushed to respond.
Lastly, open channels of communication where your people feel safe to raise their concerns and ask for help when they do feel burned out.
One of the reasons that exacerbates feelings of burnout is the sense of isolation—when you feel unheard, unappreciated, and uncared for.
Break the stigma around conversations regarding burnout and mental health in the workplace and take the lead in talking about it with your team.
Communicate what is important and welcome discussions about priorities. Your employees need to feel comfortable raising their hands and saying, “There’s too much on my plate right now. Can we look at which can be reprioritized for later?”
Make sure to also show your team how much you appreciate them. Reward their efforts with gratitude and incentives. A simple “thank you” goes a long way, but a bonus or a raise, when well-deserved, should be given as well.
Culture plays a huge role in preventing employee burnout. If your organization fosters a culture where employees feel like they are unseen, unheard, or unappreciated, it leads to more stress, loss of morale, a decline in productivity, and burnout.
Create a culture where your people feel confident and comfortable being transparent about their needs. It takes both individual and collective efforts to combat burnout and create a work environment that everyone would love to work in.
Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”