At a time when it feels as though the whole world is tired, leaders have an enormous responsibility of keeping themselves, and their teams, safe, motivated, and well. Despite the vaccine shining a light at the end of the dark tunnel, the home stretch will be long and perhaps take a greater toll on levels of resilience.
There is little doubt that employee burnout has and will become even more prevalent during the pandemic. The complexities of Covid have exacerbated competing demands and expectations on all of us. Finding the energy to support others, when we are at our limit is tough.
Burnout occurs when people do not have enough time to disconnect, rest and focus on other aspects of life to recharge. It diminishes personal motivation along with the desire to learn and grow. Instead, of thriving people focus their energy on survival.
Of course, a level of stress is inevitable in the workplace and in life. But burnout takes stress to an unhealthy, extreme level. It has lasting and detrimental impacts on both the individual and the organisation.
The Mayo Clinic defines it as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and value of your work. Burnout is now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation and acknowledged that the responsibility for managing it has shifted from the individual to the organisation instead.
A recent Gallup survey of 7,500 employees found the top reasons for burnout are:
Unfair treatment at work
Lack of role clarity
Lack of communication and support from their manager
Unreasonable time pressure
Before we can help others with their stress, we have to manage our own. A good starting point is to prioritise your own health and wellbeing. That means eating healthy, getting enough sleep and regular exercise. Taking care of yourself is not indulgent, it is essential.
Unreasonable workloads account for over a third of the root cause of burnout. Despite agile ways of working and technology platforms, leaders do not always have visibility of what their direct reports are working on or fully understand their overall workload.
The tendency is that we want to fix the person and often adopt the approach that the person must be at fault for being unable to cope. But this approach results in a blame culture and undermines trust and engagement.
Regular check-ins with employees to understand what they are working on and helping them if needs be to prioritise workload, can be insightful and help with support strategies.
It is often the strong performers within the organisation that are most at risk of burnout. These are often people who regularly go above and beyond, who volunteer to undertake additional work or who may be juggling a multitude of responsibilities both personally and professionally. As with workload above, ensure that your people are not over stretched and create opportunities for others to grow and develop.
Whilst leaders cannot eliminate all stress at work, they have a duty of care to identify and understand what contributes towards their people feeling stressed. Once the stressors have been identified, leaders must implement helpful strategies to support their people. It is also becoming more prevalent since the start of the pandemic, for organisations to capture stress and burnout in organisational risk registers.
If you are serious about creating a culture of wellness, you have to be conscious of our behaviours first to set an example to others. If you are always ‘on’ and seldom take a break, the expectation you create, is that your people must always prioritise work. Encouraging people to take regular breaks, acknowledging when they may be feeling over-whelmed and not sending emails late at night, will give the permission to rest and recover.
When our energy levels are depleted and work demands are frantic, people start feeling that they are not good enough and motivation declines. Recognising and noticing people for their personal contributions and steering away from only talking about ‘getting things done’ in conversations, will reduce anxiety and build a sense of community and support.
Burnout is preventable. It requires compassionate leadership, good organisational hygiene and a focus on the health and wellbeing of our people. Ultimately, it’s about realising that when our people are happy, healthy and motivated, they are more likely to be productive and will take better care of the organisation and its customers.
Author: Janell White of Trinity HR. https://trinityhr.co.uk