Insights & Ideas

Cease fire: Helping your people overcome burnout

Burnout and stress are at an all-time high. Here’s how to refuel and reenergize your team.

In today’s world alleviating exhaustion and stress sometimes seems like a losing battle. However, if you’re a people manager, you can become a burnout-busting advocate—providing relief, empathy, and hope. If you notice that someone on your team—or even the whole team—is burned out, it’s time to refuel the engagement tank. Here are some hints to help you get started.

First, learn the signs of burnout

Burnout is different for everyone, but managers can be on the lookout for some common warning signs. For example, the World Health Organization recognizes three symptoms for burn out: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.1

The Mayo Clinic goes into a little more detail.2 They say signs of burnout include:

  • Working long hours or having a heavy workload
  • Feeling like you have no control over your work
  • Struggling with work-life balance
  • Becoming cynical or critical at work
  • Having trouble getting started each day or difficulty concentrating
  • Being irritable or impatient with others
  • Lacking energy/being less productive
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better
  • Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, or other ailments

Treat each person as an individual

Have regular one-on-ones with your reports and get to know them. Empower them to discuss their goals, their worries, their work, and life in general. Once you establish trusted relationships, people will be more likely to tell you when they’re extra stressed and why. And, even if they don’t say anything, chances are you’ll know when something feels off—giving you the opportunity to check-in proactively.

Tie work to purpose and gratitude

Everyone likes to be valuable and needed. That’s why it’s important that managers:

  • Recognize each employee’s contributions: Show people how the work they do fulfills your organization’s purpose, leads to achieving their personal goals, and improves the community at large.
  • Make people feel appreciated. From an everyday “thank you” to a special award at an all-company meeting, gratitude is a balm for burnout.

Make work more workable

Sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference. For someone experiencing burnout, it can be helpful to:

  • Set clear expectations: Providing clarity around responsibilities and priorities is critical to wellbeing. There’s a reason people on the internet like the “I understood the assignment” meme. Less ambiguity = less stress.
  • Be flexible: Give people choices around when, how, and where work happens. Modifying a schedule, location, or process can be a game-changer—especially when work-life balance is a concern.
  • Find the right level of challenge: It can be stressful to be in over your head or bored to tears. Help each person find a “sweet spot” of work that’s rewarding without being grueling.
  • Identify pain points: Miscommunications, office politics, glitchy software, uneven workloads—every workplace has some adversity. Discussing pain points and taking steps toward change will help your team heal.
  • Focus on personal development: Offering opportunities to learn and grow can help employees feel more hopeful about the future.
  • Encourage collaboration: Burnout can be isolating. Working together gives people a sense of belonging, whether they’re commiserating or innovating.
  • Offer some time off: If your people have been working non-stop, a break might be in order. From a full-fledged sabbatical to a random, unexpected day off, giving people a bit of rest can lead to better outcomes later.

Keep the tank full over time

In reality, most of the hints above aren’t just about managing people with burnout. They’re best practices for managing people, period. No matter what’s happening in your team, skills like cultivating relationships with your employees, collective problem-solving, and showing gratitude are always great ways to keep people firing on all cylinders.

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Attribution

1. Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases, World Health Organization
2. Job burnout: How to spot it and take action, MayoClinic.com

Lindsay Schneider

Managing Director

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