How to Protect Your Team From Burnout

By looking after the well-being of your colleagues, you’ll be looking after the bottom line as well.

Drazen_ / Getty Images
Drazen_ / Getty Images

Burnout is a growing epidemic in our workplaces, and it’s affecting not just employee well-being, but the corporate bottom line. Consider The Great Resignation, in which we’ve seen workers leaving jobs at unprecedented rates, many citing overstress and burnout. When we experience persistent negative stress that we feel we can’t control — that’s when burnout can set in. No matter where your employees are clocking in, leaders need to build in ways to protect our teams from burnout. 

Try these steps to embed well-being into the fabric of the daily work experience:

Manage the whole human

Your direct reports don’t work in a vacuum, so when stressors start to affect their performance and morale, it’s all the more important for you as their manager to understand how they perceive their workload — or as researchers from Harvard Business School call it, their “inner work lives.” “Our research suggests that most managers are not in tune with the inner work lives of their people; nor do they appreciate how pervasive the effects of inner work life can be on performance,” researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer wrote about their study published in The Harvard Business Review. Set aside your own expectations of what you think their workload should be; instead, ask them how you can make their physical and emotional experience of the workday better. Consider allowing some more breathing room for certain deliverables to alleviate unnecessary time pressure, or let them take a few hours or a day off after a sprint of working long hours (we call this Thrive Time) to rest and recharge.

Realign your team’s expectations — and your own — through compassionate directness

Many stressed out employees feel that too much is expected from them on too short a time frame. Even worse, only 60% of workers say they know what is expected of them at work, Gallup found in their 2017 State of the American Workplace report. This ambiguity and uncertainty can contribute to a lack of control and predictability over their jobs, both major risk factors for chronic stress, as Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores in his HBO documentary, “One Nation Under Stress.” The best way to approach this as a manager is to check in with your direct reports with compassionate directness. A warm, open dialogue can help recalibrate expectations on both sides, course-correct any standstills, and encourage solutions to help keep the workload on track while safeguarding your colleagues’ well-being.

Help your team detach in the evening — and reattach in the morning

Because of smartphones, employees are attached to email 24/7 and may feel obliged to be on call whenever work pings. But mentally detaching from work during non-work hours fosters higher life satisfaction and lower burnout. Encourage your staffers to take the Thrive Microstep of calling an end to their workday and staying offline after that point in the evening. Just as important as detaching from work at the end of the day is reattaching the next morning: A 2019 study from Portland State University found that employees who take the time to mentally reattach to their work before diving into the day’s duties are more engaged and energized throughout the day. These positive qualities lead to higher productivity and satisfaction, so build some dedicated focus time into your mornings so your colleagues can prioritize their workload and mentally center themselves for the day ahead.

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