Burnout; a word that most of us will have heard of but not necessarily experienced in the past. Now, after the extraordinary events of the last 10-12 months, far more people have first-hand knowledge of burnout.
I have seen the impact of extreme burnout. From a heart attack, to someone collapsing in the office, through to someone having a complete breakdown and requiring hospitalisation.
It’s real. It’s scary. And, it’s happening more than ever before.
However, there are clear strategies to alleviate it and stop it happening in the first place.
Obviously, the pandemic has shocked everyone. This time last year, it would have been quite a leap to imagine us all working from home (WFH), while also schooling our children and being banned from non-essential travel. When coronavirus restrictions began to ease last summer, it seemed we would soon be back in the office.
So, in fairness, hardly any of us were prepared for what has transpired. However, most companies have missed the impact WFH has had on employees’ workload – the increase in the number of hours people are working.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review really hit the nail on the head when it comes to the main causes of burnout and how to address it. It argued that having a sense of purpose to your business “defends against burnout at work”. When you know what you’re trying to achieve this helps identify what to prioritise, how to overcome, plan and, finally, take action. Research also suggests that a manageable workload helps with reducing burnout.
That all may seem rather obvious but a manageable workload is very subjective. What is achieveable for one person may not be for another. Add in the wildcard of a global pandemic and the picture becomes even more complex. Working parents are trying to juggle their office tasks with schooling their kids. Other face, and feel, the huge lack of social stimulation that is missing during lockdown. This all adds to our stress levels and can limit our output.
What might have been manageable a year ago most certainly is not manageable now. For some people, all they have right now is work. With freedoms restricted, it’s hard to put away the laptop and easier to just keep scrolling through emails. But does that mean your workload is manageable?
From my experience of working with certain types of leaders, when they feel out of control they put pressure on others. They don’t recognise how their own behaviours manifest and impact on their team. What I am seeing at the moment is behaviour based on fear. It’s understandable that people are fearful when there are no clear answers, when they themselves don’t know what the future holds.
What happens is this leader loses their sense of purpose or they may not be able to recognise what the priorities are. And this causes burnout, not only for themselves but also for their teams.
So, how does a leader overcome this?
Stop and take a moment to look up. Take time out to refocus on your purpose, your priorities. Include your team in those discussions. Where are you heading? There might continue to be unknowns along the way but what is it that you’re trying to achieve and how can you take your team with you?
Maybe the workload isn’t manageable, and you need to add resources but at least if you know where you’re heading, and what you need to get there, it will reduce that feeling of being overwhelmed, not only for you but also your team.
Importantly, be sure to check in and find out how people are. Be the leader and prioritise your own wellbeing so that others feel that it’s ok to switch off from work. Focusing on outcomes rather than output will also help people to recognise how what they’re doing aligns to the overall purpose of the business. This is the long game rather than the short game, being overly productive now has a finite limit for any of us.
If you feel like you and your team could benefit from a workshop on purpose and wellbeing, please get in touch email@example.com.