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7 Things To Do to Prevent Your Team Members From Burning Out

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Small white terrier in the foreground, small white spaniel cross dog in the background. Both dogs are running on a beach.
Doug loves a day at the beach.

I love this picture! It makes me smile every time I see it. This is a photo of my dogs, Doug and Murray, at the beach. The beach is Doug’s happy place.

Doug is a scrappy little terrier with 5” long legs. In spite of that, he chases sticks and swims in the ocean with the same gusto and athleticism as his longer-legged canine pals. No matter how many times I throw a stick into the water, and no matter how far, Doug will swim for it. And every time this puts a big grin on my face. How fun to see such a little dog do such big swims!

Last weekend was the first time this year Doug had been to the beach. Spring rains meant the water was high and the current was fast. Also, Doug is a year older and doesn’t move quite as quickly as he used to. That hasn’t stripped him, though, of his drive to play in the water and please me. Even though he was game to do more, I had to rein in Doug’s swimming a bit. He needed time to catch his breath between swims. If I hadn’t done that, he might have found himself in deep, fast water and without the strength to pull himself out of it. He’d be too fatigued to fetch that stick and deliver it back to me. And I might have injured him (or worse) had I pushed harder.

It strikes me our employees are, perhaps, experiencing something similar.

2020 has thrown a lot at us. Some of us are facing big change, others are facing a deluge of work, and we are all experiencing different environments to operate in. Many of us moved to working from home when the lockdown occurred. We thought it might be for a few weeks, or maybe a few months. However, it would appear this pandemic situation will be with us for a longer term, and our temporary bandaid solutions are not cutting it any longer.

Last week a friend told me his employer advised staff they will be working from home until at least March of 2021. By then, he will have worked in his “temporary” set-up for a year. This friend has struggled with working from home. He liked the camaraderie of the office environment. He also liked that he could leave his work at the office instead of bringing it home. The last five months have provided him with no separation of work and home life. And it’s weighing on him.

As work becomes more interlaced with home, the boundaries between personal and work time are blurred. It’s tempting to just continue working when the computer is right there, constantly in sight. It’s also tempting to skip vacations when there’s really nowhere to travel to, and it’s not much fun going out when entertainment places are so regulated and restrictive. With nothing much else to do, one may as well just work. But that’s leading to very real issues associated with overwork—virtual meeting fatigue, a sense of exclusion, and burnout.

The World Health Organization now recognizes employee burnout as an occupational phenomenon.

The World Health Organization now recognizes employee burnout as an occupational phenomenon. According to the WHO, burnout is a syndrome that is characterized by three dimensions:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  2. Increased mental distance from the job or negative feelings toward the job

  3. Reduced professional efficacy

Burnout became a recognized syndrome in 2018, and things have not improved with the pandemic. It seems like burnout is now just part of the job. However, that way of thinking isn’t good for anyone. According to Gallup, the organizational cost of burnout is substantial. Burned out employees are:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick day

  • 2.6 times as likely to look for another job

  • Have 13% lower confidence in their performance

  • 50% less likely to discuss performance goals with their manager

What’s even scarier is that burned out employees are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room!

There is good news, though. Managers can help prevent, and even reverse, burnout by how they lead their team members. If you are a manager who is concerned about your team members burning out, here are 7 things you can do:

  1. Treat team members fairly and equitably. Unfair treatment can include favouritism, bias, or mistreatment of a coworker. Be sure to allocate work responsibilities equitably and be the kind of manager an employee can trust.

  2. Help employees keep their workload in control. High-performing employees take on a lot of work, but they can quickly shift to burnout if they’re drowning in an unmanageable workload.

  3. Ensure your team members know what is expected of them. Discuss responsibilities and performance goals with them. Make sure expectations on both sides of the conversation are aligned with those goals.

  4. Communicate frequently and consistently and offer support. Employees who feel their manager supports them are 70% less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.

  5. Give them a reasonable amount of time to complete their deliverables. Unreasonable deadlines and pressure can have a snowball effect, and can jeopardize timelines on other projects as well, as workers shift their priorities back and forth.

  6. Encourage breaks. Allow your team members to work according to the schedule they need. If this means they need to take an hour away to play with their kids, let them. You know they’ll make up the time later.

  7. Encourage vacations too. There may not be travel options available as before, but people still need some time away from work to rest and recharge. Check in with your team members to ensure they’ve booked vacation time. And discourage them from working during that period.

Don’t forget, you need some TLC too. Examine your own work habits to ensure you’re not burning out as well.

With a little rest between swims, and some time spent relaxing after the day at the beach, my little dog is raring to get back to his happy place. When we do, I’ll be concentrating on #2, 4, 5, and 6 of the list above. As his “manager”, I’ll be controlling how often Doug jumps into the water after a stick. I’ll be cheering him on and encouraging him to deliver the stick to me, will let him swim at his own pace and will watch him carefully to ensure he’s not swept away by a strong current, and I’ll make sure he takes as many breaks as he needs. That way a day at the beach will always be fun, and he’ll always be happy to fetch that stick for me.

While work may not be “a day at the beach” we can learn a lot from how my dog enthusiastically jumps in the water to fetch that stick and deliver it to me. People want to be productive, to do good work, and to please their bosses. They want to be challenged, work hard, and deliver the goods. Be the kind of manager who recognizes the effort and supports it, who can be relied upon to help in times of challenge, and who doesn’t push team members to the point of burnout.


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