Four Tips To Avoid Burnout And Reignite Your Team’s Spark

In August, Nike announced it was shutting down its corporate office for a week to give employees a mental health break. The reactions I heard from clients over this were varied. Some were in awe of how a company could focus on prioritizing mental health to this degree; others yearned for the same given the number of team members they had off on medical leave. Several were inspired to incorporate a mental health focus within their organizations as they continued to witness a steady increase in burnout risk as the months rolled by. When clients asked to re-schedule their appointments due to "a health day" mandated by the company, I wholeheartedly supported them.

My clients' reactions told a deeper story: People are burned out. Employees in many organizations are emotionally exhausted, feeling less personal accomplishment and disconnected from either their individual work, their team or their deeper personal life. We are witnessing the intense fallout of a very stressful year and a half into a pandemic.

Given what has followed since the start of Covid-19, including staff layoffs and now staff shortages, a strain on our healthcare systems, increased fear of the unknown and worry for our families, markets crashing and so much more, it’s no wonder that people, particularly those within the healthcare and technology industries, continue to see burnout numbers increasing.

In a 2021 survey completed by MindSharePartner, in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP, of the 76% of individuals who reported having a mental health challenge (download required), 56% of responses were for burnout, followed by 46% for depression and 40% for anxiety (as these often coexist alongside one another). For leaders, these are numbers to be aware of, both for your people and for your personal battery as well.

We’ve been pushing forward since March 2020, thinking that we’d be through the pandemic and back to “normal” by now. Yet, the longer we push through the never-ending exhaustion, the more stress we put on our bodies, which in turn impacts our physical and mental health. This ultimately affects how we produce in our work — both in quality and quantity. So, what can we do to make sure our whole team doesn’t succumb to burnout?

See the individual person.

Connect with your people as individuals. Ask them how they’re doing. More than that — let them know if you’ve noticed any changes in their behavior. For instance, if you have a team member who is unusually quiet one day, pull them aside and say, “I notice you’re quieter than usual today, Joe. What’s going on?” This shows that you see and care for them in addition to what they bring to work.

Connect to personal meaning.

When we’re not engaged in our work, there is often a decrease in productivity and quality of work, an increase in absenteeism, a disconnect in our relationships and much more. The world has changed — what was once important to your people may no longer be. Check in and see where they’re at in their work from a values perspective. Do they feel like they’re having an impact and adding value because of what they uniquely bring? What might give them more meaning/purpose in their work so they can produce from a place of power?

Care for yourself.

It is hard to continue to stretch that empathy and compassion muscle, particularly when you may be feeling burnout symptoms yourself. First things first, check in with yourself and make sure that you are doing okay. Who is listening and holding space for you as you navigate leading in an ongoing pandemic? With no way of knowing when we’ll be out of the pandemic, it’s more important now to understand how to support yourself and your people.

Assess and address workloads.

Our batteries are not operating at 100%, therefore, we cannot recharge ourselves to 100% because we are living in a constant state of fight or flight every time we leave our homes. How, then, can we expect ourselves or our people to operate as though they have 110% to give? Consider the workload and whether it is realistic given the people involved in the projects and the capacity at which they are performing. Set them up for success rather than continued failure.

Thanks to the boom of virtual commutes and hybrid teams, there has been an increase in the number of hours people find themselves working. However, this does not mean people are more efficient or producing at a higher quality. If you and your team are receiving unreasonable requests with timelines that do not account for the level you’re operating at today, here are three strategies you can use to reduce burnout: 

  • Ask your team about realistic timelines, without increasing their workload.
  • Gain clarity around boundaries for what’s expected of your people as part of their role.
  • Bring this information to your leadership team, along with a clear outline of what is reasonable, why and anything else they need for decision approval.

Burnout is the silent team member you have to acknowledge so they do not fully integrate and implode your team’s purpose and delivery of results. Know that this is happening and that sometimes the smallest of check-ins with yourself and your people can help alleviate the strain. Now is the best time to start creating a workspace that supports the mental health of your team so you can have the flourishing team you know you can lead.