Leading Through Burnout

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” – Anne Lamott

As we recover from the effects of COVID, in the workforce, the word “burnout” continues to be discussed as one of the leading struggles among professionals.

In the US alone, burnout is a recognized medical condition that affects 77% of employees. 69% of women and 56% of men feel chronically exhausted, and nearly half of US workers decided to quit because of burnout in 2022.

Internationally, the number of stressed people out of 143 countries is 35%, and stress, anxiety, and depression cost the global economy around $1 trillion in lost productivity.

We continue to hear from our clients that burnout is the #1 struggle their workforce is facing.

So, what is burnout, and how can we support employees struggling with it?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress – a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

The impact of burnout on people and businesses has gotten a lot of attention in recent years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies employee burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The WHO lists the three main symptoms as:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative towards one’s career.
  • reduced professional productivity.

When thinking of supporting your employees with burnout, it’s important to first start with yourself. Are you feeling burned out? Are you taking care of yourself and leading by example? You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself.

As outlined in this HBR article, here are a few ways to lead and encourage your employees when they are experiencing burnout.

  • Tackle the problem as a group – Working with your team to overcome a stressful time in the office and confront it together is a great way to discuss the issue and collaborate on how to solve it as a unit.
  • Exhibit compassion – Be kind to yourself and your team members. Burnout is completely normal and, as indicated in the stats earlier in this article, includes a large percentage of the workforce.
  • Set a good example – Telling your team members to set boundaries and take breaks, but not practicing those self-care strategies diminishes your advice. Practice what you preach.
  • Focus on the why – Coming together with your team to refocus and understand the mission of your role allows you to think through why your work is important and affirms the need to ensure you’re performing at your best.
  • Advocate for your team – As a leader, it’s up to you to advocate for your team when speaking with your peers and supervisor. Acknowledging the lack of bandwidth or resources of your team, which causes constraints to take on more work, will not only validate your pushback, but also show support for your team.
  • Be a source of optimism – At the end of the day, being pleasant and kind to your team members will go a long way. It won’t take away the stress and heavy workload, but it will give ease and comfort to the situation.

Although burnout will always be present in the workplace, being able to work through it and support your team will not only make that challenging time more successful, it will also ensure your team is prepared for future change and turmoil.

Here are resources we found helpful on the topic: