8 Steps Leaders Can Take to Support Employees with Burnout
By John J. Murphy, guest contributor
According to a recent Gallup study, 48% of American workers say they are actively looking for other job opportunities, and the United States has reached record highs in quit rates and unfilled positions. The study also reveals that 74% of employees are experiencing some degree of burnout. Given these statistics and the daily challenges of running a business, what is a mindful leader to do, especially when so many factors seem out of control? How can we cultivate an environment where employees feel inspired, enthusiastic, and engaged?
1. Empathize and Seek to Understand
The first thing we can do is seek to understand the situation without fear, resistance, pre-judgement, and defensiveness. Simply start with the facts. Ask your team how they are feeling. What concerns do they have? What obstacles are in their way? What do they feel they need? Open the lines of communication by demonstrating interest, empathy, and compassion. These are unprecedented times and working virtually requires a different level of support – especially for teams conditioned to working together in the same space.
2. Understand more deeply
Once you have a clear understanding of the current state – good, bad, and ugly – look for the root causes to any undesirable effects. Find out why employees feel the way they do. Not everyone feels burned out. In fact, Gallup discovered that there are some employees who appear to be immune to burnout. Imagine that. What does it take to be so centered, confident, and at peace, especially when there is so much uncertainty in the world? The answer to this question can be quite revealing.
3. Articulate Purpose and Acknowledge Value
One of the most important factors contributing to employee well-being is having a clear sense of purpose, engagement, and acknowledged value. These employees feel recognized and important. They believe they are part of a team that plays to their strengths, nurtures continuous growth, and celebrates their contribution. As a result, they are eager and enthusiastic to join virtual meetings with the video on, collaborate with their peers, and speak up with ideas and relevant information. They are very mission-focused and passionate about the mission they are on because the leadership is demonstrating the same level of commitment and accountability.
4. Assist with Work-life Assimilation and Integration
Recognize that many people are struggling with work-life integration because they no longer have a geographic barrier separating their personal life from their professional life. This challenges us to go beyond work-life balance to work-life assimilation and integration. Now we need to get our work done in a very different environment. We may have increased at-home responsibilities during the day with our children, our pets, or our parents that we did not have before. We may feel more compelled to take a midday break for some exercise, family time, or meditation. Our work routine has changed, and this can cause higher levels of anxiety, disruption, and stress.
Note that not all burnout comes from being overworked, though. In many cases, the busier a person is the more focused and at ease they are. They feel good when they have a full plate, and they thrive in an environment where they have multiple things to coordinate and complete. Check in with these folks. Do they have enough to do? Are they really burned out, or are they bored?
5. Be Mindful of Personality Differences
Mindful leaders pay attention to personality differences, too. For example, people who are introverted typically feel more energized when working alone, without interruption. They may be more hesitant to speak up and compete for “air space” when in group meetings. Tune into their needs and create a psychologically safe environment where they can contribute and thrive. People who are more extroverted flourish in a different environment. They typically seek action and interaction and can feel “drained” when working alone. Check in on them often, even if just to let them talk or vent.
It is also important to recognize that we as human beings are both introverted and extroverted with one orientation typically dominating the other. Mindful leaders do not label and stereotype these tendencies. Think of these personality differences as being right-handed and left-handed. Most people have and use both hands skillfully. One simply dominates the other. In fact, it is wise to practice using both, listening (introverting), for example, and speaking up (extroverting). To paraphrase Epictetus, “We have two ears and one mouth. It is wise to use them proportionately.”
6. Communicate Proactively
Another important factor to boosting employee well-being and engagement is proactive communication. Check in on people at random. Show genuine interest and authentic support. Be mindful of the communication and collaboration challenges employees are dealing with. Ask what you can do to help, and demonstrate you hear them by giving them proof. Be proactive.
7. Be Mindful of the Work Culture
At the end of the day, stop and reflect on the work environment – the work culture – you are offering to your employees. Is it a culture where they can thrive? Is it an environment, a “field of energy,” where they can flow with inspiration, meaning, and purpose? Do they feel like they are part of something great – a clear and compelling mission? Do they feel like they are their “best self,” personally and professionally? Do you know how they feel about the example you are setting as a leader? Do they witness your composure and grace? Do they feel you have their best interests in mind? How do they know you care about them – beyond the job?
Some team members disengage when they are not feeling seen, heard, and understood at an emotional level. When they feel management “doesn’t get it” or has become tone-deaf to what they are feeling and experiencing, they tune out and disengage. This can happen after a prolonged period of working in uncertainty or difficult conditions over which management has no control - like working remotely during a pandemic, while still being expected to sustain pre-pandemic performance levels.
Can you ensure that your team members feel (not believe) that you understand their feelings – even if you can’t directly change the working dynamics? Have you opened and shared from the heart how some of these challenges have affected you personally? How has the COVID pandemic impacted you, and what are you doing to navigate these challenges?
8. There is No Better Time to Be Mindful
The world is indeed changing. The global pandemic has challenged us to learn new skills and play by different rules and norms. Amazon and Microsoft have now announced that working virtually will continue indefinitely as a new policy for many of their employees. British Parliament, Google, and many other organizations have adopted mindfulness training and meditation to help members experience more inner peace and well-being amidst these challenging times. Some organizations have provided training in emotional intelligence competency development. Stop and consider what you can offer your employees to boost their sense of well-being, engagement, and commitment to your organization. Add some value-add to your next virtual meeting, like inspirational stories and examples, that employees can relate to and benefit from, personally and professionally. Give them a reason to be grateful for attending, and a heartfelt desire to attend the next one.
We “wow” people not by giving them what they expect, but by giving them something valuable beyond expectation. There is no better time than the present to get creative and make sure your employees feel valued and important. Use your next meeting to give them something helpful and meaningful – something positive and unexpected. Teach them mindfulness by being mindful of their innate values and needs. Prove you understand and hear them, not with “rah rah” speeches and rhetoric, but with honest heartfelt, empathy, compassion, and acknowledgment of the challenges they face.
How do you recommend supporting employees with burnout? Please share below!
John J. Murphy is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, and coach and has been for over 30 years. He has traveled as many as 51 weeks out of 52, teaching in dozens of countries around the world, with languages and cultures he knew little about.
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