Work Smarter//

How to Protect Your Team From Burnout

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

Courtesy of Jess Rodrigues / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Jess Rodrigues / Shutterstock

Burnout is a growing epidemic in our workplaces, and it’s affecting not just employee well-being, but the corporate bottom line. Forty-four percent of full-time workers in the U.S. say they feel burned out at work at least sometimes — if not very often or always — according to a recent Gallup report. This contributes to an estimated annual loss of nearly $2,000 per employee from lack of sleep alone, as one study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine determined.

As burnout continues to pervade our workplaces, managers must act to ensure their teams are protected from its harmful effects. Managing a burned out team can be challenging even for the most experienced leaders, but if you find yourself in this position, there’s more within your power than you might realize. Here’s how you can help look after your colleagues’ productivity and well-being.

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 a Thrive day) 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 percent 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 new 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 recent 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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