Burnout is the state of emotional physical exhaustion, coupled with a pervasive cynicism against any hope for a better future. Gallup research indicates that 23% of full-time workers experience feeling burnout "very often or always" and another 40% frequently. We can do better than having 2/3 of our workforce burned out.
As easily as you might think of burnout as an issue that affects an individual, its roots are always organizational. Think of burnout as a canary in the coalmine - if the canary falls ill, you don't blame the bird, you realize the environment of the mine is unhealthy.
As leaders, it's our unique responsibility to focus on organizational health in such a way that takes thoughtful assessment of the environment our team works within. In the end, we can't control the outcomes, but we can do everything we can to create the environment where the outcomes we want are likely to occur.
Here are three actionable steps towards a more healthy environment that can act as a buffer against burnout:
1) Make your decision making process transparent. The perception of unfair treatment is the leading cause of burnout. When trust is broken between you and your team, it severs the bond that makes work meaningful. Of course, you'll never be able to make everyone happy, but a transparent decision-making process allows everyone to see what decision is being made, based on what data, with the intent to accomplish specific business objectives.
So the next time you make a change, announce the change in advance, and take a moment to explain why you're moving this direction and the factors informing the decision. It'll seem slow (and it is) but you'll more than make up for it with the level of trust you develop.
2) Balance workload with autonomy. Employees wants to work hard, accomplish big goals, and bring their best to work everyday. But there's always going to be more work than humanly possible. An unmanageable workload is the 2nd leading cause of burnout.
As a leader, help your team maps their individual contributions onto broader company objectives, and allow them a degree of autonomy in selecting the tasks in front of them. You'll reserve the right to veto and redirect, but the time spent investing into your team and shaping their strategic decision-making will help them both crush their targets and have agency in how they go about their work.
3) Establish and reinforce off-hours protocol. Burnout accelerates when our work starts occupying our most valuable mental real estate 24/7. Communicate with your team about what constitutes an after-hour work item that demand a rapid response (make that bar very high) and what doesn't. That way they'll understand that your 11:47pm email binges don't require immediate response.
Most job don't involve saving lives. Don't create an unnecessary tax on your people by pretending everything is urgent all the time.
Burnout is costly to the individual affected, to their families, and to the organizations they serve. Thankfully, it's within our power as leaders to shape an environment where the leading causes of burnout are mitigated.
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