Why Reducing Burnout Is About Great Leadership

Nothing makes burnout worse than acting like it’s not happening. Unfortunately, many organizations are oblivious or don’t seem to care that their employees are struggling. Conversely, front-line leaders are experiencing team members at their breaking point and are unsure how to help their team and themselves. 

Take Paige, an experienced Regional Vice President, as an example. For two decades, her teams experienced high engagement, consistent growth, and low voluntary turnover. Then the combination of the Covid-19 Pandemic, constant pressure from her management team for double-digit growth, and a shaky economy had her team working around the clock with no end in sight. At first, she acted like it was no big deal, expecting it to be a short season of hard work. But no relief came; eight quarters later, the problem is more significant than ever. What started like a rock making a small crack in a windshield has now grown into long cracks moving in all different directions.

For the first time in her career, she had double-digit voluntary turnover, open positions with no candidates to fill them, and stress levels that caused a short stay in the hospital. 

In a recent coaching session, she asked a simple question, “John, how do I make things easier?” My answer was simple, “Instead of wanting things to be easy, prepare for them to be hard.” I continued, “There is nothing easy about leadership, which is why most people don’t do it. However, your leadership is needed most in uncertain and difficult times.”  

Instead of wanting things to be easy, prepare for them to be hard.

Burnout is a Real Problem

Before we go any further, let’s clarify what burnout is. The Mayo Clinic describes it as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. 

In a survey of over 1000 respondents by Deloitte, 77% say they have experienced burnout at their current job. 91% say that unmanageable stress or frustration impacts the quality of their work, and 83% say burnout can negatively impact personal relationships.

Achieving anything meaningful requires a relentless work ethic and a willingness to consistently do what the ordinary person does occasionally. However, burnout goes beyond this kind of effort. Burnout isn’t a badge of honor; it’s the start of your life unwinding.  

Burnout isn’t a badge of honor; it’s the start of your life unwinding.

What starts as a bit of stress can quickly become health problems, severed personal relationships, and the pursuit of a meaningless life. So admitting you or your team is burned out isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength. 

Top Causes of Burnout

Research by McKinsey Health Institute found toxic workplace behavior is the single largest predictor of negative employee outcomes, including burnout symptoms. Here are some examples of toxic workplace behavior:

  • Unrelenting Leadership Communication – Managers and executives who communicate at night and on weekends expecting immediate responses
  • Unrealistic Expectations – Unsustainable activity or performance levels.
  • Consistent Micromanagement – Inability for professionals to be empowered to do their best work.
  • Lack of Community and Relationships – Sustained periods of loneliness or lack of support.
  • Sole Focus of Monetary Gain – Primary objective is profit above all else. 

If you didn’t notice, leadership is the common denominator in all the top causes of burnout.  

Why Solving Burnout is Essential

No one desires stress, anxiety, depression, or the like. However, eliminating work or retiring isn’t the answer to burnout. The late great psychiatrist Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “People can find meaning in one of three places; work, love, and courage.” Former CEO of Best Buy Hubert Joly wrote in his book The Heart of Business, “Work, love, and courage often converge at work because doing something significant often involves caring for others and overcoming adversity.”

Work isn’t the enemy. Not only does it provide financial means, but it can create meaning, purpose, and community. 

Simple Ways to Unleash Change

There is no silver bullet or a one size fits all approach to unleashing the kind of change necessary to solve burnout in your team or organization. However, here are a few of my favorites:

1. Focus on a Deeper Purpose

People work harder and overcome adversity much easier when they know their effort is for a meaningful cause. Study after study shows that people who are connected to a meaningful purpose behind their work are more engaged. The best leaders recognize that even a tiny dose of meaning makes a significant difference in reducing burnout.  

Even a tiny dose of meaning makes a significant difference in reducing burnout.

It doesn’t matter what you do. There is some more profound purpose behind the work you or your team does, and it’s your job to be connected to it. 

2. Enable Personal Growth

Evidence suggests that personal growth, development programs, and learning opportunities effectively tackle burnout and engage and retain employees. However, new research by KPMG suggests the vast majority of CEOs (91%) are expecting a recession within the next year, with about a third anticipating it to be mild and short. This means layoffs and budget cuts around training development are likely.

However, companies and specifically Human Resource or Learning & Development Executives, that commit to investing in their employees will make meaningful contributions to people and business metrics. 

Companies committed to investing in employees will make meaningful contributions to people and business metrics. 

Want to empower your employees to achieve their goals and ignite their personal growth? Check out the new Catalyst for Growth Program.  

3. Hold Yourself or Managers Accountable

Almost all roads of burnout lead to executive management teams and managers in the organization. However, many organizations measure their leaders based on one thing, and that’s results. So I would like to suggest an alternative approach, one that looks at both results and culture. You can see the impact of effective leadership in more ways than one.  

The best organizations hold managers accountable for results and the culture they create.

Which would you rather have; 

Manager 1: Delivers double-digit revenue growth yearly but has an 80% turnover rate and a highly dysfunctional team.

Manager 2: Consistently delivers single-digit revenue growth, but has low turnover, develops talent, and a highly engaged team.

Your answer to this question should show you a lot about how you are holding managers accountable.

Closing

It’s time to bring burnout from the shadows into the light because nothing is worse than acting like burnout isn’t happening. Focusing on a deeper purpose, enabling personal growth, and holding managers accountable won’t solve the problem, but they will reduce it. When it comes to burnout, helping even one professional reconnect and find meaning at work is worth it. 

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How the Best Leaders Are Combatting Employee Burnout

Burnt matches, concept for highly prevalent resident burnout. Highly prevalent resident burnout.

Ever wonder when most executives and managers will stop talking about employee burnout and instead do something about it?  

Take Whitney Wolfe Herd, current CEO of Bumble, for instance. In light of a hectic year, with her company navigating remote work, a global pandemic, a public offering (Nasdaq BMBL), and immense user growth, Wolfe Herd was done talking about employee burnout and decided to do something about it. She gave all of the company’s 700 employee workforce a week off of paid vacation to help them with burnout. 

In a statement, Bumble said that like most people, “our global team has had a very challenging time during the pandemic. As vaccination rates have increased and restrictions have begun to ease, we wanted to give our teams around the world an opportunity to shut off and focus on themselves for a week.” 

Now I don’t pretend making a decision like this is an easy one whether you are the CEO of Bumble or any other organization. To go a step further, just because it was the right decision for Wolfe Herd doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for another organization. However, it proves she found the courage to make a tough decision, especially when it came to taking care of her people. 

“Great leaders find the courage to make tough decisions, especially when taking care of their people.”

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a term thrown around so much; it feels like it’s lost its meaning. It’s defined as; a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It typically occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

The Mayoclinic goes a step further, saying, “Burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis. Some experts think that other conditions, such as depression, are behind burnout. Researchers point out that individual factors, such as personality traits and family life, influence who experiences job burnout.”

If you or a team member is burned out, here are a few warning signs:

  • Inability to think or focus on anything other than work
  • Loss of passion for completing work you previously loved
  • Constant negativity about the future where once positive
  • Excessive weight gain or weight loss without a significant change in diet or exercise
  • Inordinate satisfaction about achievement or positive results

Now that we’re clear on what it is and some of the signs, the natural question is, are workers burned out?

According to an Indeed survey, 52% of all workers are feeling burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believe the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic. So not only is burnout real, but it’s still uncertain how it will affect professionals in the future.  

Here are a few strategies to implement to lead effectively in this increased level of burnout.  

Don’t Ignore It, Talk About It.

The first step to identifying any problem is to open up lines of communication about how people are feeling and what burnout is. There is a decent chance your team might be experiencing signs of burnout without knowing what it is. A couple of good ideas to consider include: 

  • Run a pulse survey to get insight into how people are feeling and their engagement level
  • Share the results of the survey with the team
  • Share the definition of burnout and signs I previously outlined
  • Collaborate on ideas to prevent burnout specific to your team

Turn Down Demands But Don’t Lower the Standards.

One of the leading causes of burnout is excessive demands of a job. Now here is where many managers get leadership wrong. They confuse demands with standards. A leader who makes demands gives insistent requests made as if by right. A leader who leverages standards defines what great looks like and helps their team meet or exceed it.  

Great leaders don’t make demands, they elevate the standards.

An excellent way to think about this is the quality of work that’s required. For example, if a leader of an engineering team that designs bridges or buildings were to lower the standards of her team, it would put people in danger who use the building or bridge in the future. So instead of lowering the standard, this leader should extend project timelines or limit the number of projects her team takes on to maintain the design standards while putting her people and their wellbeing over short-term profit. 

Give More Recognition than Usual

Recognition matters to people, and it works. Don’t just take my word for it; according to research, When asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents replied: “give recognition.”

O.C. Tanner found 45% of surveyed employees said the recognition they receive at work feels like an empty gesture that is not meaningful to them. Here are a few ideas from a video to help:

Closing

There is no doubt that each professional, team, or organization could be affected differently by burnout. So to assume there is just one way for every leader to respond would be foolish. So whether you want to take a page out of the Wolfe-Herd book of leadership and give your people a paid week off to show them you are serious about their health and well being or not, the key is that you don’t ignore burnout or downplay those that might be experiencing it. It’s your job to elevate others, and being proactive in overcoming burnout will be a sign you are doing just that. 

Do you agree with Bumble’s CEO Wolfe-Herd’s decision? How do you suggest leaders combat burnout? Tell me in the comments.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades