However, I believe a more important element of this duty of care, is the moral and ethical duty of all leaders to ensure they are not instrumental in causing, or contributing to, the burnout of their employees.
Equally, they are responsible for preventing their own burnout, and for spotting the signs of and dealing with their own burnout, before it becomes crippling and possibly life threatening.
Much has been written during and since the pandemic about the effect it has had on employee burnout, as hybrid working shone a huge light on the challenges of managing remote and multi-locating teams. But it is not a modern occupational or mental health issue. Burnout has always been here, and it has been documented from the 1970s. It was rather a taboo subject as employees felt it was a poor reflection of themselves for ‘not managing their workload’ and they were concerned it would go against them in the future. But now, thankfully, the impact of the working environment is being factored in as a key component of employee burnout. Burnout is not an individual problem, it is a systemic problem.
Many surveys in recent years found that the top reasons people suffer burnout in the workplace are:
- unfair treatment at work
- unmanageable job demands / workload
- lack of clarity and unclear expectations
- lack of control over work schedule
- lack of support
- unclear communications from managers and leaders
- emotional and physical exhaustion leading to poor work-life balance
Burnout comes with real costs as it leads to lower quality work, disengaged employees and increased staff turnover. It also takes a toll on employees physical and mental health which ultimately impacts their creativity and productivity.
So, how do you as a Leader prevent this happening to you and to your employees?
Step 1 – Assess your own level of Burnout, or Potential Burnout
As you know, you cannot effectively lead your people without mastering your own self-leadership. In this ‘always-on’ world of work, there is a growing trend of excessive ambition, which is the desire or the imposed (by self or superior) need to prove yourself while at work. It fuels your determination to prove your worth, to elevate you above your colleagues, particularly in the eyes of your superiors, and to showcase your work.
During this process you will likely experience small peaks and valleys in your stress levels, which will increase in volume and intensity as you get caught up in your own internal mantra of “I must, I must, I have to…” until you hit the wall! And then it is too late!
There are two key roles to be addressed here:
- Yours .. as you aim for even greater success, you literally and at some stage, possibly subconsciously, ignore your self-care and ultimately put your own life at risk.
- Your superior’s .. they are aware of your increasing workload, are delighted with your results and are happy to have you continue in this way. They also don’t really care about you, because if they did, they would have a chat with you about the effect this rigorous work schedule is having on your physical and mental health.
In terms of your role, your self-leadership, you need to:
- Define ‘success’ – what does this mean for you, what does it look like?
- Understand what drives you to work excessively to the detriment of yourself and possibly your family?
- Observe the impact the increasing stress levels are having on your ability to switch to the other areas of your life – spending quality time with your partner, family and friends; having meaningful conversations which are not centred around your work; taking time out to sit and be; to exercise and enjoy your hobbies and pastimes etc.
- Observe the impact on your physical health, which is a manifestation of your mental health – if you are honest, you will see increasing levels of physical illness, mild at first, possibly recurring until you hit the ‘big’ one.
- When you notice the increasing stress levels, ask yourself:
- ‘why am I doing this to myself?’
- ‘is it worth it?’
- ‘who and what is it all for, do they even care?’
- ‘what impact is this having on my health?’
- ‘how can I change it?’
Step 2 – Assess the level of Burnout, or Potential Burnout, of your Employees
In terms of your superior’s role / your role as a leader of employees who are experiencing burnout, you need to:
- Ask yourself these all-important questions, and answer them honestly:
- Am I contributing to burnout in my team?
- Am I aware of their overwhelming workloads, and not asking how they are managing them?
- Am I afraid of their answers, because I need them to keep working at that intensity?
- Do I really care about them and value them as human beings and for their contribution to the team?
- Am I a strong and caring leader?
- Am I cascading my pressure down to them?
- Look for signs of burnout amongst your employees:
- Exhaustion and low energy levels
- Inability to concentrate
- Irritability and unnecessarily sharp communications
- Poor performance and low-quality outputs
- Poor teamwork
- Increase in sick-leave etc.
- Assess the level of burnout at team level and openly discuss your observations with your team – not in a critical manner, but out of genuine concern for their wellbeing. Ask questions like ‘what can I do to help?’, ‘how can I make you feel valued, understood?’. ‘what would you like to see put in place as a continuing support?’ etc.
- Understand you really must take pressure off your team and to achieve this, you have to adjust their workload.
- Observe the level of burnout at individual employee level and have a conversation with them, along similar lines.
- Start and continuously encourage open conversations around wellness. Talk about the mental and physical symptoms of burnout and make sure your employees know they can open up without fear of consequences.
- Be an influential role-model in terms of practicing what you preach in the area of self-care, managing your stress etc.
- Ensure your employees have the support and tools they need to avoid and alleviate any burnout and tailor strategies to improve your, and their psychological health and safety.
If you would like to speak with me about your own burnout or any challenges you are having in supporting your employees who are suffering from burnout, just email me at email@example.com and I will be happy to schedule a short call with you.