May is mental health awareness month, so it feels like the perfect time to discuss what burnout and self-care can look like in the workplace.  

The topic of burnout is becoming a major focus for many organizations. It’s encouraging to see workplaces raise awareness of the dangers of burnout and the importance of self-care and acknowledge the significant impact of workplace stress and long hours on employee health.

But this is still an area where many leaders need to deepen their understanding of burnout and self-care – putting in the time and energy to truly care for their employees and team members.

What exactly is burnout?

Burnout is defined as Chronic workplace stress not successfully managed by employers or employees.

One important thing to note here is that the opposite of burnout is not an absence of stress, but rather the successful management of stress. Leading successful teams will always carry some stress, but if we can learn how to use self-care to appropriately handle our job responsibilities – and teach our teams to do the same – we can avoid the dangerous repercussions of severe burnout.

How does burnout show up in the workplace?

Here’s what we know is true: Teams are burnt out – it’s a global health condition at this point.

According to Gallup, workplace stress costs $300B per year and 44% of workers regularly experience burnout and exhaustion. 

These stats show us that, as leaders, we are acutely responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of our people. We must be aware of what can happen when we ignore the signs of burnout, push our teams too far, and don’t make space for proper self-care. 

I started thinking more about burnout – specifically who is to blame when it happens – after I was asked to speak about the benefits of self-care (and the negative impact of burnout). I personally experienced a serious health scare due to the burnout I suffered, which ultimately led me to make huge changes in my lifestyle and career. And I really wanted to know – whose fault is it? 

Was it my leaders’ fault for not seeing the signs and creating an unhealthy environment?

Was it my organization’s fault for creating a toxic culture and having outsized expectations?

Or was it my fault – for letting things get so bad before I made any personal changes?

As I thought about who to blame, I realized something: The better question is what can be done about burnout and self-care in the workplace?

We have all played a part in letting things get so out of hand, and I think our energy should be spent on finding solutions and creating positive change within our realm of influence.

Before we can find feasible solutions, we need to understand how burnout occurs, even in businesses that don’t intend to work their employees into an unhealthy state.

What contributes to burnout and self-care?

The world is changing at an exhaustive rate. We are always on. We have competing priorities to keep up with and everyone expects instantaneous gratification. We can always be reached. Everything is urgent

And while it’s convenient to blame COVID, this burnout culture existed long before the global pandemic. COVID simply accelerated and exacerbated the issue.

For organizations who thrived during COVID, it was game on to capitalize on the opportunity to experience exponential growth in a new segment, new category, or new industry.

For organizations who struggled during COVID, it was game on to keep the business afloat, rethink, reinvent and emerge on the other side so they could rebuild what once was.

Employees on either side of the coin were overworked with blurred lines between work and home, anxiously facing sleepless nights, worried about their job, or worried they wouldn’t appear as productive as they needed to be to save themselves if they had to.

The demands of our busy lives, coupled with the performance cultures we face in our jobs, wear us down and make burnout a real experience.

Burnout is caused by:

And these are all things that destroy performance while harming individuals.

How do we treat burnout and self-care in the workplace?

When speaking to a local news channel about burnout in 2019, I gave a suggestion to “get 7 hours of sleep” as an effective way to combat burnout. This simple suggestion garnered a snicker from the anchor – you can watch the clip here. It just shows how far we have to come, and how embedded the burnout culture truly is. 

So what are we, as leaders, supposed to do?

The solution for burnout isn’t “self-care” – and it isn’t lowering performance expectations. 

Solving burnout in the workplace requires a co-created space between employees and the company that includes ambition, drive, results, and time to rest and recharge.

Hard work should be met by equal rest. The most ambitious of your people need to be praised for recharging the same way they are praised for meeting big goals. We must remove the stigma of “laziness” and reframe genuine rest and recharging as essential components of success.

Whether you’re a leader looking for better ways to support your employee's overall well-being or an employee teetering on the edge, looking for ways to avoid burnout – here are 3 strategies to try:

  1. Get clear on expectations. Only 60% of workers know what is expected of them at work. This causes conflict between manager and employee and creates internal conflict for the employee when they place unrealistic expectations on themselves.
  2. Get comfortable disconnecting. A vacation is a great option and many employers are offering unlimited PTO, but employees aren’t taking it. Leaders need to encourage it and even consider more unconventional options, like sabbaticals. At a minimum, leaders must be aware when employees eat at their desks and answer emails in the evenings. As a leader, discourage this behavior. As an employee, stop doing these things.
  3. Get serious about a People First Culture. When an employee is able to be their best self at work, the company gets the best outcome. Employees should know what things give them energy, and be encouraged to share these with their leaders without guilt. As a leader, show you care, and ask them how you can support them in this without making them feel they have to get the company’s buy-in.

Need one-on-one help navigating burnout and self-care as a leader?

My work is centered around helping leaders become more effective while also leading more fulfilling lives. If you’re interested in working together to avoid burnout, recover from existing burnout, help your employees avoid burnout, or learn how to implement a self-care practice that prioritizes success and recharging – I’d love to chat with you.

You can contact me here to get started. 

Tricia Manning © 2022 All Rights Reserved.
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