Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global, once said this about burnout: “In a culture fueled by burnout, a culture that has run itself down, our national resilience becomes compromised.” The fact that Ms. Huffington describes burnout as a culture is the very reason why it’s so difficult to change the narrative. Burnout is not only expected from upper leadership, but working excessive hours with little reward is still worn as a badge of honour in some prominent organizations. But the truth is, burnout is a costly phenomena for any organization. Team and individual burnout leads to mental health challenges, more sick days taken (paid and unpaid), greater attrition, and less confident employees. It’s one of the worst things to happen to any team, so how do you avoid it?
Seriously. If you are firing on all cylinders with no sleep, a poor diet and a complete lack of work and life balance, how can you expect your workers to not follow suit? One of your jobs as a leader is to spot burnout long before it rears its ugly head, but you can’t do that if you’re on the cusp of it yourself. As the ol’ saying goes, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others.
Create a Culture of Empathy & Openness at Work
One of the first complaints workers have about burnout is not feeling like they are able to communicate openly with their superiors. Is your team able to approach you with conflicts or challenges they may be grappling with? Do they feel comfortable coming to leadership without repercussions? Is there trust? Rather than walking around holding everything in, your team should be able to come to you and know that you’ll meet them where they’re at.
Don’t Overwhelm Your Team With Crushing Workloads
Your team inherently wants to please you. They don’t merely want to achieve goals; they want to exceed them, even if it’s at the cost of their mental and physical health. Yes, there are timelines and quotas, and an executive board that constantly wants status reports, but how productive is your team really being if they’re constantly running on empty? Communicating with your team about their workload expectations for each project can alleviate taking on too much. Don’t surround yourself with a bunch of “yes” people. It’s important your team knows their own limits. And make sure to give your team permission to prioritize and set aside tasks at their discretion.
Consider Scheduling Breaks & Breathers
Teams that are micromanaged are far more likely to fail at tasks than those that are left to manage their own project schedules. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with building a little “chill” time into the timeline. Encourage your team to step away from their desks, take a breather, and talk about things that aren’t necessarily work related.
Check in Often
One of the most effective ways to avoid team burnout is to regularly check your team’s pulse. This ties in with the earlier point about having open communication. Without micromanaging, you can still get status updates at each project stage with the purpose of making sure no one feels overwhelmed. This checking-in is also an opportunity for you as a leader to offer your team encouragement and praise.
Conduct Post-Project Surveys
Sometimes we hit a project out of the park, and other times we stumble. Either way, having a roundtable talk about the wins and failures after a project is complete is a solid way to streamline your team’s process for future projects. Give everyone an opportunity, without judgement or repercussion, to speak on what they thought worked and what didn’t. This can help set expectations for future projects, and establish pride within your team when projects are successful.
Team burnout is avoidable. Expecting your team to perform at all costs is an outdated ideology, not to mention, it’s entirely inefficient. Keeping the lines of communication open, and encouraging workload feedback will prevent burnout before it begins. And remember, handling your own stress is the first step to modeling a manageable workload for your team, so don’t discount your own needs.
Kristie Santana is a certified life coach with 15 years of experience coaching clients all around the United States. She is the founder of the National Coach Academy and a co-founder of Life Coach Path, a New York based organization that provides resources and online education for aspiring coaches around the world.