Burnout?  You Can Manage the Symptoms

I came home nearly in tears.  Without a word, my husband came around the kitchen counter and gave me a hug.  A deep, safe, loving hug. I had had it with work.  I was tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, and couldn’t come up with any new coping skills.  And I was tired of hiding my feelings and pretending that everything was okay.

I most certainly was experiencing something, yet in years past, “burnout” was not a commonly used phrase to describe what the World Health Organization now defines as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Here’s the thing… I was tired of learning new “coping” skills.  Coping meant that I was not addressing the root causes nor was I being fair to myself and my family.  As an executive leader in a large organization who was personally feeling the now-defined burnout, I realized that I had to take care of myself before I could aid my team, which was also experiencing energy depletion and exhaustion, and feelings of cynicism toward their jobs and the organization as a whole, not to mention the performance issues (not meeting their usual standard of excellence).  

The path of burnout recovery is a long one, but taking small steps makes the journey doable, enjoyable even. My goal was two-fold: 1) leading my team and myself out of the stress rut we were mired in, and 2) developing a plan to identify and address burnout long before its tentacles could again grab hold of me or my staff.  Remember that burnout was not defined then; therefore, we didn’t realize there were root causes or ways to address things before they got too serious.  But I was determined to stop coping and start changing. 

Change started with me.  And first things first.  I started getting more, and better, sleep.  I started taking breaks throughout the workday: I actually put these 5–10-minute breaks on my calendar.  I also got into a habit of physically pushing away from my desk a few times an hour, standing up, and stretching, oftentimes looking out the window to enjoy the view.  These five second breaks helped to realign my mindset, and I noticed I was more productive.  

The team implemented a few small changes too.  One unique thing we did was to implement a “rule”: we had to smile when we greeted each other.  Even a fake smile would cause the other person to smile which in turn made the fake smile break into a real one.  It’s a silly way to lighten a mood and engage in a more meaningful conversation.

As leaders of departments and organizations, there are some other ways to help your team stay away from burnout, and these can be implemented immediately:  

  1. Listen to work-related problems. Don’t dismiss someone’s perspective on things. They may have less visibility into the situation than you do. Be understanding even when you cannot share the full picture.
  2. Encourage teamwork. How can your team (whether in-person or virtual) work together on projects and tasks without getting you involved?
  3. Make everyone’s opinion count. Ensure that you engage all teammates in meetings by asking questions.
  4. Make work purposeful. Share the “why” behind the work and connect it to the heart of your employees.
  5. Focus on strength-based feedback and development. When employees work within their “zone of genius”, great things happen.

When I started focusing on those things that I could control and empowered my team to do the same, great things did happen. We were happier at work, smiling more often even during stressful projects; we shared in each other’s trials and celebrated our successes; and we deepened our commitment to keeping each other healthy by opening deeper lines of communication without fear of hurting someone’s feelings. How?  We met as a team and identified what we wanted from each other; how to engage in safe, confidential, and compassionate discussions; and how to hold each other accountable to this agreement. It was one of the greatest work environments I’ve been part of, despite the challenges throughout the rest of the organization. 

Don’t take burnout lightly.  Every one of us has the responsibility to recognize burnout. But more importantly, we must realize the effects of these root causes.  Each one of these is avoidable or at least manageable. 

How are you identifying, engaging with, and addressing burnout in your organization?  What can you do differently to lead your team through the challenges of modern-day work?  Our workplaces are going to remain fast-paced, complex, and demanding.  Our workloads are going to feel overwhelming due to competing demands and conflicting expectations.  And technology, with its long and deep tentacles, will continue to blur the lines between home life and work life.  Taking action now will safeguard you, and your team, from burnout in the future.

If you’re seeing, or feeling, burnout, let’s chat.  During a 30-minute discussion, we’ll unpack some of your pain points (like not getting the results from your strategy, failing to meet deadlines, discontent within a team, lack of collaboration between or among departments, productivity challenges) and work on a few things you can do immediately to address the pain.  The investment is just 30-minutes of your time and a commitment of taking the next step.

Let’s chat.


P.S: As a reference, in the last two posts we looked at what burnout is, as well as the root causes that trigger it.

P.P.S.  Book a Complimentary Strategy Session so we can get you moving in the right direction; click on my Complimentary Strategy Session calendar link here and let’s book a time together so you can get started today!

P.P.P.S. With over three decades of professional experience in corporate operations and executive human resources, I am a proven results-driven leader. My expertise includes strategy, change management, talent management and organizational development, employee relations, and executive and leadership coaching. I am a highly effective communicator and team leader with demonstrated ability to build long-term relationships across internal and external customer environments built with integrity, confidence, authenticity, and trust.