Leaders should encourage vacation, lunches, and time outside
“If I can just make it until there’s a vaccine.” “We’re not taking a vacation, because where would we even go?”
If you are like me, you’ve heard staff say something along these lines in the last few months. Many try to remain positive and stay focused while planning a well-deserved break later this year. Unfortunately, despite our best positive thinking and energy around future plans, the majority of us are already feeling the depleting effects of burnout.
Research shows burnout impacts most of us to some extent, especially given the circumstances of the last year. The good news is that the same research indicates that it is largely preventable when we focus on the right factors. For most of us, it’s hard to distinguish burnout from the occasional but sometimes unavoidable frustration of day-to-day work.
While frustration comes and goes, real burnout can cost companies in terms of interpersonal relationships, job satisfaction, and mental health. As leaders, it is crucial to ensure staff are educated about the warning signs of burnout and encouraged to take preventive action.
These signs include:
Feeling physically depleted: The effects of burnout go beyond having a bad day at work. According to Gallup, people who are experiencing burnout are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day and 23 percent more likely to visit the emergency room.
Losing interest and confidence: Experts say one key sign of burnout is losing self-confidence and feeling ineffective at work.
Getting caught in the cycle of cynicism: Being sarcastic is one thing, but when cynicism rears its head, it can turn to detachment. This is not only personally unhealthy but can quickly impact company culture.
All of these signs are bad for us personally and professionally, creating stress on our work relationships that can cost us not only our job satisfaction but our actual employment. As leaders, especially now, it is important to communicate resources available to employees, such as employee assistance programs, and mental health support (including company-paid memberships to helpful apps like Calm or Headspace).Remind employees that breaks are important, no matter if it’s a fifteen minute lunch or a longer period of vacation time.
Leaders should encourage the following actions within their teams to normalize taking care of ourselves through everyday life, and especially during times of stress.
Reassess options: Many companies have looked into ways they can be more supportive of employees during the last year. Everything from how often we meet (virtually) as a company, to socially distant events, to the benefits provided to support health and wellness has been a larger topic of conversation. Changes have been made. But employees feeling burnt out might not remember the new options available to them. After new options are rolled out, it’s important to communicate them across different channels.
Communicate clearly: According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, only 60 percent of workers can strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. In an ideal world, managers would communicate clearly and help people manage their workload, set priorities, and reasonable deadlines. However, imagine what work feels like for the 40 percent of employees who don’t know what’s expected at work.
Leaders should speak with teams regularly and be open to questions, even when the answers aren’t clear. Leverage the support and guidance of the human resources team to ensure all employees know what is available. Keep in mind, those experiencing burnout are less likely to talk with managers or leaders about it, so ensuring the company has an open-door policy and leaders bring up the topic is important so employees can get help when they need it the most.
Set an example: A friend owns an organization that offers a paid sabbatical after five years. Employees were encouraged to use their time and, for the first few years, everything worked well. Then, a senior leader at the company publicly celebrated their five-year mark and also very publicly stated that taking a sabbatical was impossible for them. The impact this had on the rest of the staff was predictable, with no one asking about the benefit when they passed their five-year mark. Luckily, the leadership team and HR intervened and the policy was rebuilt. The senior leader was also able to address workload issues and take their sabbatical.
The example we set as leaders ripples throughout the company. These days, if we set the precedent of an “always-on” workplace mentality because we’re working from home, our companies will change, and we will lose talent. It can be hard to model self-care, but the rewards of an open culture and an engaged workforce are worth the efforts.
Finally, I think that professional development and learning opportunities should continue throughout the organization. Finding things that help staff refresh their skills is a good way to keep teams focused and energized. Until we can all be together again, finding ways to encourage learning and connection should be a top priority. Equally important, communicating clearly about ways for employees to disconnect and recharge, and modeling those actions is a responsibility leaders should embrace in order to support workplace wellbeing.