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How To: Combat Burnout at Work

How To: Combat Burnout at Work

These days, employee burnout is pervasive.  The stresses brought about by a pandemic, in combination with rapidly evolving work expectations and family responsibilities, have driven thousands of folks to scramble for an exit.  Whether they feel unheard, overburdened, or outmanned, many workers long for relief and support – leading some to seek them elsewhere.

If you’re in a leadership role, then you’re on the front lines of this fight against burnout.  You may contend with it personally.  Or if you don’t, it’s probably a pretty safe bet that at least someone on your team struggles with it.  Rather than remaining passive, assuming that things will improve on their own, be as proactive as possible in combatting burnout in yourself and among your teammates.  The longer it’s allowed to linger and fester, the more tempted you and your team will become to throw in the towel.

Below are several suggestions, both for you individually and for you as a team-leader, that are aimed at nipping burnout in the bud.


First, for your team: 

  1. Stay attentive. Some people are able to conceal their burnout rather easily, while others give more visible signals: fatigue, pessimism, lower work quality, diminished output, and so on.  As best you can, keep an eye out for such warning signs; even if you don’t see any obvious ones, check in with your teammates regularly to gauge their morale.

  2. Distribute the workload. Make sure that no one individual on your team is getting pegged with the hardest or most time-consuming assignments.  Within reason, be willing to adjust deadlines and recalibrate expectations to ensure that folks don’t fall behind due to factors beyond their control.  Frequently check in to see where support is needed.

  3. Insist on balance. This is especially vital in our age of telecommuting.  When more work is being done at home, it’s a greater challenge to define and honor the distinction between home and office.  Urge your teammates to draw a clear boundary between their workspace and their relaxation space, and to take adequate time for themselves and their families.

  4. Recognize good work. Virtually everyone wants to know that their efforts are being noticed.  Make a point daily to affirm your teammates in some way – whether verbally, via an encouraging e-mail, or through a reward of some kind.  And as employees prove their capabilities, provide them with opportunities for greater responsibility.  This is one of the best ways to convey that you trust them and believe in the quality of their work.

  5. Be willing to accommodate. There’s a balance to be sought here, for sure.  You certainly want to avoid providing too much flexibility, to the point that the quality and consistency of your work suffer. But don’t insist on one way of doing something if you know that your teammates can be as, if not more, effective doing that same thing in a different manner or setting.

  6. Solicit feedback – and be receptive to it. From time to time, send out something like a questionnaire to ask your team what they think your organization’s been doing well and what they think needs improvement.  You might be surprised to discover that something you had thought of as a strength is actually perceived by your teammates as a weakness, and vice versa.  This will serve to guide your growth.

  7. Create a culture. If your employees truly feel like they’re part of a team, united in pursuit of a common goal, then they’re bound to be more productive – not just for themselves, but also for one another and for the success of the organization.  Do everything in your power to preserve the peace, model enthusiasm, and facilitate connection among your coworkers.

  8. Be wise about whom you bring aboard. Often, burnout occurs in people who feel like they just don’t “fit” at their current organization.  If you’re someone who’s involved in hiring decisions, try to identify whether someone is well-suited to your company during the interview process – not after he or she has been hired.  This involves more than just inspecting candidates’ credentials and evaluating their level of professionalism: ask them pointed questions about what excites and motivates them, what discourages and frustrates them, and what they would describe as their ideal work culture.

Second, for yourself: 

  1. Look ahead. If your work feels tedious or even pointless at times – picking up slack here, putting out a fire there, wash, rinse, repeat – then set some targets for yourself as an individual.  What are some contacts that you’d like to make this year?  What performance standards would you like to blow out of the water?  As you focus more of your energy and attention on these objectives, you likely won’t feel as consumed or discouraged by routine disruptions.

  2. Take time for yourself. Don’t stress the importance of balance to your teammates and then neglect to cultivate it in your own life.  For the sake of your loved ones, your colleagues, and yourself, put your work down.  I’ll admit that I struggle with this one: it’s tough for me to press pause while I’m in the middle of an important assignment, or to say no to a request for help.  But as a friend of mine once said – in vivid and somewhat unsettling terms – it does no good to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.  You might think that you’re serving others by working around the clock, but if you’re sidelining personal health and relationships in the process, then those whom you seek to serve will ultimately suffer in the long-term.

  3. Embrace optimism. I’d venture a guess to say that, these days, optimism is pretty hard to come by.  Between a protracted pandemic, intense political discord, and historic inflation – Oh, my! – there seems to be greater justification for pessimism than positivity.  Without living in denial of today’s difficulties, choose to highlight what’s going right in the world.  As hard as it is to believe sometimes, there is good out there to be celebrated – and your decision to focus on it, rather than fixate on the bad, can set the tone for the rest of your team.  Extinguish burnout by exuding joy.

  4. Adopt the “village” mentality. In our country, especially, we tend to assume that being an indomitable, rugged, self-sufficient individualist is the ideal.  But as much as we strive for this, sooner or later, each and every one of us comes to the same realization:  We can’t do it alone.  By extension, we recognize that everything does not – and indeed cannot – depend on us.  Come to terms with your limitations – they’re a good thing! – and learn to lean on the capable support and diverse expertise of your “village.”

  5. Address your stress. If you’re suffocating under the weight of your responsibilities, don’t bury your distress or discouragement.  Seek help from a trusted confidante, or if you think you would benefit from professional help, reach out to a counselor or minister.  It can be extremely clarifying and encouraging to talk through your frustrations with someone who is a wise and trustworthy sounding board.  This harks back to the previous point, but don’t assume that you can just “rough it” on your own, emotionally.

 

Burnout may seem ubiquitous, and even feel inevitable to some degree, but there are numerous ways that you can fight the good fight against it.  It’s my hope that the pointers above provide practical guidance, leading to considerable improvement both in your own morale and in the spirits of your teammates.  And remember: while you have a major role to play in the battle against burnout, you’re not in it alone!  As you offer support to others, be sure to seek it out yourself when you need it.

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