Unaddressed, burnout can lead to long-term physical health consequences and severe mental health effects. Sometimes, it’s even what leads people to quit their jobs. So, when you’re a manger, it’s vital to recognize burnout, understand that it’s not sustainable, and take steps to counteract it in your employees.
Why managers should be thinking about burnout
2021 statistics from Forbes reveal that 52% of respondents experienced burnout–a rise from pre-pandemic numbers that will likely only increase over time. After all, the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey found that 79% of respondents experienced work-related stress, which causes burnout when not addressed in a timely manner.
Almost 3 in 5 workers report unfavorable impacts of work-related stress, such as lack of motivation, interest, effort, or energy. 32% report emotional exhaustion, and 44% report physical fatigue–both common consequences of stress that can snowball into severe burnout.
If you’re in a leadership position, what can you do to prevent these outcomes and their eventual progression to burnout? In this article, we’ll discuss the ways in which burnout affects the workplace–and what you can do to help prevent burnout in the people you manage.
What does burnout look like, and how does it affect the workplace?
If you or your workers experience burnout, what might that look like, and how might it affect the workplace?
In simple terms, workplace burnout is a result of ongoing, job-related stress. Sometimes it’s hard to see the signs of this stress until they progress to burnout. But as a manager, you’ll want to catch this pattern sooner rather than later.
While these aren’t the only impacts one might endure, common signs of brewing burnout include:
- Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
- Sleeping too much but still feeling unrested
- Showing up to work late, especially if that’s out of character
- Feelings of mental exhaustion
- Loss of energy for things you once loved
- Feelings of depression or anxiety
- Negative or cynical feelings toward one’s job
- Reduced workplace performance
- Trouble with concentration or focus
- “Going blank” when trying to complete a task
- Inability to complete even the simplest or most rewarding tasks
- Diminished creativity
- Becoming easily annoyed by minor events
- Hollow emotional expression or “flat affect”
- Reduced cameraderie with coworkers
- Less resilience when things go wrong, giving up more easily
Persistent stress of any kind can lead to impaired functioning and burnout. It’s also important to note that you may notice the effects of burnout in employees, even when the source of stress is not work–for instance, it could be from school, social settings, or one’s home life. Regardless, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances of burnout amongst your direct reports.
8 ways to prevent burnout as a manager
As a manager, you play a special role. What can you do to prevent burnout in your workers? Here are nine things to consider:
1. Stay flexible when possible.
Staying flexible as a manager can go a long way in preventing burnout. Of course, workplace needs will determine the ways in which you can be flexible.
If you manage employees with deadlines, set them early when possible, to allow for unpredictable human needs. If you manage a retail space, consider getting creative based on employees’ needs. For instance, if someone is having a hard time with family stress, allow them to work a less crowded section of the floor that day.
In general, look for ways to minimize tension between workers’ human needs and what needs to get done.
2. Look at the possibilities instead of the status quo.
On the note of flexibility, are there any opportunities to improve upon the status quo? How does your company or organization function currently? How could things be changed so that stress is minimized?
If you make the employee work schedule, have you spoken to employees about the schedule they prefer? For example, if you work in retail, have you checked in with people lately to determine if some prefer mornings, afternoons, or evenings? Long shifts or short ones? You don’t have to give everyone exactly what they want all the time, but effort on your part can help prevent employee burnout.
What do you require of employees outside of work hours? Are there any opportunities for you to help employees keep work and home life separate?
Sometimes, it seems that things simply “are the way they are,” or we might be tempted to keep them “as they always have been.” However, if there’s a way to make the job more sustainable and healthy for your workers, it’s worth the leap to make a change.
3. Make kind communication the standard.
Lead by example to make your company culture kind and authentic. When you’re on the job, speak to employees with kindness, authenticity, and respect. Re-examine behaviors like nitpicking, look for healthy ways to give critical feedback, and consider providing extra support when you know an employee is going through personal hardship.
4. Remember that reducing stress is a win-win.
Research shows that employees who experience less stress work more efficiently, whereas higher stress levels are affiliated with lower productivity. This benefits the goals of your workplace just as much as it benefits the health of your workers.
Often, what’s best for workers is also best for managers and the business as a whole. For example, providing employees as much autonomy as possible means you, the manager, spend less time micromanaging and more time on important tasks. On the flipside, if employees feel in control and can work in a way where their needs are met, it’s more likely that they’ll be happy with their job and will do a better job.
5. Reward honesty.
If an employee speaks up about what they need for their mental or physical health, because burnout can affect both, be attentive and see what you can do. Work with them and make an effort to listen. Even if not all of it is in your control, if you can show this worker compassion, it will make a difference in the workplace. According to experts, an emotional connection with employees (which can be achieved through validation, compassion, and honest, helpful conversation) leads to higher productivity, better health, an increase in job satisfaction, and heightened levels of job retention.
6. Talk about mental health with your higher-ups.
Unfortunately, statistics show that many employers still have an outdated view on mental health. Managerial positions vary, and they don’t always mean that you have the final say, but they do often mean that you have more of a say than those who you manage. Show them the research on the impacts of workplace stress, talk about why it’s mutually beneficial to care about employee mental health (IE, worker retention and a boost in performance), and present them with ways to support employee mental health. The easier you make it to implement changes, the better. It also helps if you have someone else on your side, so consider if anyone else in your workplace might show interest in the topic and ask them to present these ideas with you.
7. Make it safe for employees to come to you.
On top of the workplace environment, one of the most important things you can do as a manager is to make it safe for employees to come to you. Open up the conversation about mental health in the workplace, whether that’s in an email or at a meeting. Make sure not just to talk about the importance of mental health and self-care options, but also, what you can offer as an employer – such as extensions, schedule changes, and work-from-home opportunities.
What to do if you experience burnout as a manager
What if you are in a leadership position and notice the signs of burnout in yourself? Here are some of the things you can do:
- Take a break. If you have the privilege to take a break, you may choose to do so. Then, you can look at how to prevent future burnout.
- Look at your work-life balance. If there’s no balance and most of your life is dedicated to work, what can you change? Sometimes, this will mean that you grow more mindful of when you start to think about work outside of your job so that you can reframe your thoughts and re-focus. It can also mean that you take less on at work, set boundaries with yourself about when you look at your work email, and so on.
- See what you can (and need to) change. In addition to changes that relate to work-life balance, what changes do you want to see in your life? More time with family, more time for art, more time for friends, etc.? Burnout can lead to depression symptoms such as a loss of interest in activities or a low mood, which can make us lose sight of what we want. Ideally and realistically, think about what you want your life to look like.
- Make a self-care plan. We all have different self-care needs and varying levels of time to dedicate to self-care. What does self-care mean to you, and are there areas that lack self-care right now? How can you better take care of yourself, especially when stress levels start to spike in the future?
- Use your knowledge. You can use your knowledge and empathy to connect with and better understand your employees. You know what it’s like, and you may have some ideas as to what led up to burnout for you personally. Some of it may be unique to your workplace or field in some way. Use this experience to think of how your workplace can prevent burnout across the board and how you can use it to help the people you manage.
We all need a safe space to talk
Managers are often used to others coming to them, but if you’re in a leadership position, you also need somewhere to turn. It’s important to have someone to talk to, and that’s where peer support comes in. Supportiv is an anonymous peer support network that’s available 24/7. It’s easy to get started, and it’s a safe place to discuss what’s on your mind. Click here to try it, or read our FAQs to learn more.