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Fire Up, Don't Burn Out

leadership transition Jun 15, 2021

- By Sophie Pinkoski

After spending so long working from home, on one thing we can all agree: the pandemic is wearing us down. While we’re in a constant state of see-sawing between good news and bad, there’s no denying we’re all exhausted. Now, the unpredictable and tenuous nature of current reopening plans could lead to bigger problems down the line.

According to Mental Health America, by October 2020, 75% of people in the US experienced burnout at work and 2/3rds of American employers are bracing for a mental health crisis within the next three years as a direct result of the pandemic.

When we do return to the office, we can’t expect to do so to pre-pandemic conditions. Mental health must be a priority to ensure a successful transition back to work sympathetic to everyone’s emotional states.

A big part of working through the pandemic right now is handling burnout, caused by the pressure we put on ourselves to work as hard as possible to achieve results. This pressure is further expounded upon by being in survival mode for so long on both an individual and organizational level. But it’s often difficult to identify the signs of burnout until you’re already deep in it. Fortunately, burnout can be easily broken down by three main symptoms:

Exhaustion – Energy loss, depletion, debilitation, fatigue, and a general sense of being worn out are a common response to high demand and heavy workloads, especially when faced with a lack of resources. When sleep, exercise, and nutrition fall by the wayside to accommodate overwork, exhaustion sets in.

Cynicism – When experiencing burnout, you become less invested in your work, emotionally detaching yourself from your projects. Because this invites negative thought processes in, cynicism can erode your relationships with your team, support network, and even clients. This stage of burnout often tests your alignment with your organization’s values, which makes you question why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Lack of accomplishment – If you feel that you’re receiving less acknowledgement validating your work, your motivation will go down, leading to low morale and reduced productivity. Without this validation, you might wonder why you’re working so hard at something without any progress or reward in sight.

When it comes to burnout, you’re forced to spend all your energy on combating your latest stressors, rather than the projects you need to focus on. This often creates a barrier you may feel is impossible to overcome, so this pressure builds up the more work you have on your plate. In order to prevent and manage burnout when returning to work, it’s your responsibility as a leader to do so with empathy. Doing so will be your greatest asset in fostering a safe working environment where your team feels comfortable enough to address their needs and concerns with you. In short, nurturing engagement will be your way through burnout:

Manageable workloads – If overwork leads to burnout, be more attentive to what your individual team members can handle at one time. Encourage them to set clear boundaries and be sure to respect and adhere to them, especially when they need to step back.

Regular validation – Everyone processes validation differently. Find out what type of positive reinforcement motivates your team members and remind them regularly when they’re doing a good job, especially when it comes to challenging projects.

Support networks – Building emotional connections between team members is crucial to both a healthy working environment and coming out of the isolation of remote work. When one person becomes overwhelmed, that tension can easily ripple through the rest of the team, causing further problems. A strong positive sense of community should be knitted into the framework of your team culture. One of the biggest aspects of this is allowing open conversations about mental health.

Remember: it only takes one person to speak out and break the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace.

As a leader, this can start with you. Be the internal support your team needs. If you’re concerned a team member is suffering from burnout, put the necessary steps in place to help activate avenues for external support as well.

At the end of the day, a positive, supportive environment leads to greater engagement and will help prevent burnout. It’s going to take some time for your team to adjust to coming back to work, so be flexible to their capacities.


Further Reading

How to Deal With Covid-19 Burnout At Work - Forbes

The Hidden Toll of Remote Work - The Atlantic

The Cure for Burnout (Hint: It Isn’t Self-Care); Emily & Amelia Nagoski: How to Deal With Difficult Feelings - TED

The Pandemic Has Created a New Kind of Burnout - Forbes

Wellbeing–Engagement Paradox of 2020 - Gallup

Workers Look to Their Bosses For Mental Health Support. Many Aren’t Getting It - LA Times

Understanding the Burnout Experience: Recent Research and its Implications for Psychiatry - World Psychiatry




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