How Do You Manage Burnout?

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Deadlines. Milestones. Deliverables. Meeting upon meeting. Proposals. Managing risks. Too often, the onus of responsibility placed on individuals breaks them down mentally and physically. We’ve all likely witnessed or experienced burnout at some stage. The World Health Organization describes it as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Symptoms include “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.” Burnout can be, and often is, collective.

Health risks of burnout include increased risk of coronary disease, which can contribute to type II diabetes and biological aging. There are also neurological implications — less attention to detail, less capacity for decision-making, and challenges with recall, memory, and emotional regulation. Burnout also tends to affect those around us as they suffer “compassion fatigue” or experience this stress along with us. Beyond the physical and mental costs are the economic costs — burnout costs organizations an estimated $120 billion–$190 billion a year![1]

Managing burnout can not only help you live a happier and healthier life, but also enable you to retain (happier and healthier) talent and deliver your best work.

Identifying Burnout

Burnout can occur at several levels — individual, team, and organizational. At the individual level, certain people may be more predisposed to burnout as a result of their coping mechanisms, support network, and personality characteristics. You or your teammates may suffer from perfectionism and have anxiety over making a mistake or delivering an imperfect product (see chapter 26 on imposter syndrome). Burnout can also take hold at the team level and can escalate during times of tight timelines, when team dynamics or culture impact the ability to successfully complete work, and when there are not clear lines of communication or people feel uncomfortable taking risks.

Knowing people’s burnout vulnerabilities and what causes burnout in them can help. Stanford Hospital recently instituted a quick two-minute quiz (https://www.skylyte.io/self-assessment) to help people identify the factors contributing to their own burnout. This assessment sets out 12 questions on how you approach problems and deal with setbacks. It then provides you with your typology, your strengths, recommended actions, risks, and how you could impact your team. Full-blown burnout takes an average of 14 months to two years to recover from, and being able to identify and manage it early on can substantially reduce the cost and length of interventions. Be self-aware of your typology and know your team!

Overcome Burnout

To reduce the risk of individual burnout, create an environment where it is acceptable to learn, grow, and leverage others. Establish support systems within your team and advocate for resources from your firm. Many firms offer stress relievers and tips to help make the workplace more tenable during those high-stress times. As a leader, it is vital that you use your emotional intelligence to identify when someone may be feeling down, be empathetic, and be aware of resources to counteract stress. This also goes for you. Ensure you have a support network that allows you to vent and take breaks to recharge — whether its practicing mindfulness, meditating, exercising, or scheduling a mental health day. Set the tone for your team and model that burnout is something that needs to be actively managed.

At the team level, foster a culture where you and your team can be open, transparent, and vulnerable. Early intervention is critical and so setting this environment up front, proactively reviewing the project schedule and highlighting areas of potential high stress (major deliverables or milestones), and having systems and structures in place to alleviate burnout will help prepare you for success.

The effort to manage individual and team burnout must be constant over time. Poor relationships with direct managers account for nearly 75% of turnover;[2] thus, you play a critical role in retaining your staff, particularly during high-stress situations. Transparency and fairness are also key elements in combatting burnout. Distributing work fairly, being open and honest, and recognizing unconscious biases that may influence your decisions can help you to better lead your team and avoid burnout.

Part of overcoming burnout is establishing keystones of resilience within the team. The Four Pillars of Resilience in the Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Burnout from an Organizational Perspective[3] provide an overview of the dynamic that you want to foster in your teams to avoid burnout:

· Self-Awareness: Encouraging team members to know their strengths, triggers, and to be vulnerable enough to share these with the team

· Autonomy: Balancing independence with support so that team members can do their best work

· Structured Rest and Relaxation: Ensuring time for rest is protected and encouraged and that the workload is evenly distributed

· Community: Establishing a culture of collaboration, comfort, and trust so that teammates can better work together to accomplish goals

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Burnout has an outsized impact on our own and our team’s ability to deliver excellent work. Being mindful of how burnout manifests itself, affects you and those around you, and actively managing it can will help you retain team members, keep productivity and morale high, and accomplish your goals.

[1] https://ssir.org/articles/entry/burnout_from_an_organizational_perspective

[2] https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/106912/turning-around-your-turnover-problem.aspx

[3] https://ssir.org/articles/entry/burnout_from_an_organizational_perspective

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Evan specializes in change management and is the author of Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit. https://publicsectorcaseinterviewprep.com/

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Evan Piekara

Evan specializes in change management and is the author of Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit. https://publicsectorcaseinterviewprep.com/