How the Best Leaders Are Handling Burnout

How the Best Leaders Are Handling Burnout

John Eades 12/10/2022
How the Best Leaders Are Handling Burnout

Nothing makes burnout worse than acting like it's not happening.

Unfortunately, many organizations are oblivious or don't seem to care that their employees are struggling. Conversely, front-line leaders are experiencing team members at their breaking point and are unsure how to help their team and themselves. 

Take Paige, an experienced Regional Vice President, as an example. For two decades, her teams experienced high engagement, consistent growth, and low voluntary turnover. Then the combination of the Covid-19 Pandemic, constant pressure from her management team for double-digit growth, and a shaky economy had her team working around the clock with no end in sight. At first, she acted like it was no big deal, expecting it to be a short season of hard work. But no relief came; eight quarters later, the problem is more significant than ever. What started like a rock making a small crack in a windshield has now grown into long cracks moving in all different directions.

For the first time in her career, she had double-digit voluntary turnover, open positions with no candidates to fill them, and stress levels that caused a short stay in the hospital. 

In a recent coaching session, she asked a simple question, "John, how do I make things easier?" My answer was simple, "Instead of wanting things to be easy, prepare for them to be hard." I continued, "There is nothing easy about leadership, which is why most people don't do it. However, your leadership is needed most in uncertain and difficult times."  

Instead of wanting things to be easy, prepare for them to be hard.

Burnout is a Real Problem

Before we go any further, let's clarify what burnout is. The Mayo Clinic describes it as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. 

In a survey of over 1000 respondents by Deloitte, 77% say they have experienced burnout at their current job. 91% say that unmanageable stress or frustration impacts the quality of their work, and 83% say burnout can negatively impact personal relationships.

Achieving anything meaningful requires a relentless work ethic and a willingness to consistently do what the ordinary person does occasionally. However, burnout goes beyond this kind of effort. Burnout isn't a badge of honor; it's the start of your life unwinding.  

Burnout isn't a badge of honor; it's the start of your life unwinding.

What starts as a bit of stress can quickly become health problems, severed personal relationships, and the pursuit of a meaningless life. So admitting you or your team is burned out isn't a weakness; it's a strength. 

Top Causes of Burnout

Research by McKinsey Health Institute found toxic workplace behavior is the single largest predictor of negative employee outcomes, including burnout symptoms. Here are some examples of toxic workplace behavior:

  • Unrelenting Leadership Communication - Managers and executives who communicate at night and on weekends expecting immediate responses

  • Unrealistic Expectations - Unsustainable activity or performance levels.

  • Consistent Micromanagement - Inability for professionals to be empowered to do their best work.

  • Lack of Community and Relationships - Sustained periods of loneliness or lack of support.

  • Sole Focus of Monetary Gain - Primary objective is profit above all else. 

If you didn't notice, leadership is the common denominator in all the top causes of burnout.  

Why Solving Burnout is Essential

No one desires stress, anxiety, depression, or the like. However, eliminating work or retiring isn't the answer to burnout. The late great psychiatrist Victor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, said, "People can find meaning in one of three places; work, love, and courage." Former CEO of Best Buy Hubert Joly wrote in his book The Heart of Business, "Work, love, and courage often converge at work because doing something significant often involves caring for others and overcoming adversity."

Work isn't the enemy. Not only does it provide financial means, but it can create meaning, purpose, and community. 

Simple Ways to Unleash Change

There is no silver bullet or a one size fits all approach to unleashing the kind of change necessary to solve burnout in your team or organization. However, here are a few of my favorites:

1. Focus on a Deeper Purpose

People work harder and overcome adversity much easier when they know their effort is for a meaningful cause. Study after study shows that people who are connected to a meaningful purpose behind their work are more engaged. The best leaders recognize that even a tiny dose of meaning makes a significant difference in reducing burnout.  

Even a tiny dose of meaning makes a significant difference in reducing burnout.

It doesn't matter what you do. There is some more profound purpose behind the work you or your team does, and it's your job to be connected to it. 

2. Enable Personal Growth

Evidence suggests that personal growth, development programs, and learning opportunities effectively tackle burnout and engage and retain employees. However, new research by KPMG suggests the vast majority of CEOs (91%) are expecting a recession within the next year, with about a third anticipating it to be mild and short. This means layoffs and budget cuts around training development are likely.

However, companies and specifically Human Resource or Learning & Development Executives, that commit to investing in their employees will make meaningful contributions to people and business metrics. 

Companies committed to investing in employees will make meaningful contributions to people and business metrics. 

Want to empower your employees to achieve their goals and ignite their personal growth? Check out the new Catalyst for Growth Program.  

3. Hold Yourself or Managers Accountable

Almost all roads of burnout lead to executive management teams and managers in the organization. However, many organizations measure their leaders based on one thing, and that's results. So I would like to suggest an alternative approach, one that looks at both results and culture. You can see the impact of effective leadership in more ways than one.  

The best organizations hold managers accountable for results and the culture they create.

Which would you rather have; 

Manager 1: Delivers double-digit revenue growth yearly but has an 80% turnover rate and a highly dysfunctional team.

Manager 2: Consistently delivers single-digit revenue growth, but has low turnover, develops talent, and a highly engaged team.

Your answer to this question should show you a lot about how you are holding managers accountable.

Closing

It's time to bring burnout from the shadows into the light because nothing is worse than acting like burnout isn't happening. Focusing on a deeper purpose, enabling personal growth, and holding managers accountable won't solve the problem, but they will reduce it. When it comes to burnout, helping even one professional reconnect and find meaning at work is worth it. 

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

   

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