Years ago, my father told me he fired a woman because she had regular migraines. The reason he gave was that it just wasn't working out. He couldn't deal with her chronic illness and ended someone who could show up regularly. Workplaces used to be where we stifled all our personal issues and focused on the work to be done.
We can no longer ignore how our team or we feel. We now recognize the important role that emotions and stress play in our ability to perform. If you want to maximize the performance of your people, you need to start by recognizing that they are human. Recognize that stress levels, emotions, and personal issues directly impact your employees' performance. However, by opening up to our humanity, we also open the doors to true creativity and potential beyond our wildest dreams.
What does burnout look like for my team (or me)?
According to the Mayo Clinic, long-term stress shows up as:
Muscle tension and pain
Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke
Memory and concentration impairment
I don't know if my father was causing his employee's headaches, but it is clear in looking at this list that performance will be impacted by burnout and workplace stressors.
Why do I need to address burnout in the workplace?
Burnout is officially chronic stress caused by a work environment. Most workplaces in the US operate under constant high pressure. Just peruse the job descriptions on any given day and see how many include the phrase, "must be able to handle high-pressure environment." We hold this as a badge of honor and think that anyone who can't handle it isn't good enough for the position.
My father's solution was to get rid of people who couldn't pass muster. Consider the increased stress that pressure places on employees. Now they are stressed trying to reach a high bar. That stress causes them to perform poorly, possibly miss days from work and perhaps even quit (and then we lose time and money to replace them). My father was correct that we need employees who will show up, but when our people are burned out, they can't show up in a way that will benefit our organizations.
By addressing burnout in the workplace, we get to the root source of burnout. We also empower our employees actually to work better. Rather than focusing on the tasks, let's focus on the humans and enabling them to perform. We will increase engagement and retention, which will allow us to increase our KPIs more effectively. Your humans are your solution, not your problem.
How can I make sure my humans aren't burning out?
1. Keep a pulse on your people
Ideally, you are having weekly one-on-ones with your team to check in. These meetings should be used to listen and get a pulse on how people are handling their workloads. It is also a chance to make sure you are not overburdening them and to look for systems or expectations that need adapting. Use these meetings as opportunities to gain feedback rather than focusing on giving feedback.
2. Be Human
Maybe AI is taking over the workplace, but we are humans, and we need to appreciate what is unique about our humanity. Part of being human is making mistakes and having emotions. Let's embrace these uniquely human traits rather than trying to be robots. Celebrate our humanity by being authentic with your team, getting to know them on a personal level, and being flexible to work around personal issues that arise. When we acknowledge our human-ness, our humans can bring greater creativity than any robot!
3. Grow your humans
Create an impactful learning culture where everyone in your organization sees challenges as an opportunity to learn something new. Encourage your humans to research and try new solutions. Allow daily time for them to learn new things. Allow them to decide what they need to learn and to share what they learn with their teams. Celebrate when your humans try solutions - whether they work or not! Giving your humans the environment to learn new solutions constantly will give them a sense of agency which increases engagement and decreases burnout - a win for you and them!
Take an audit of your humans to determine if they are at risk for burnout. I recommend using Maslach's Burnout Toolkit, which will measure both:
your humans' risk of burnout, and
your organization's workplace attributes that contribute to burnout.
Want help preventing burnout?
Visit Lindow Learning to join my 90-Day group coaching program to beat burnout by becoming a better human who lives a balanced life.