The cost of employee burnout
Burnout is a genuine and increasing concern for many leaders I’m working with today. Now their focus of interest regarding burnout is their staff. However, my observation is that there is also an increase in burnout among the leaders. It’s a kind of slow, creeping death. In fact, in some cases, I’d go as far as to say that because the leader is experiencing some burnout, they can’t see it in their staff. Who they genuinely care about. It’s like becoming blind to what is.
Burnt out staff are more likely to seek alternative employment, take sick leave, have accidents, make avoidable mistakes or errors in decision making. All these have their costs to the business.
Route one – Clarity of Expectation
Have you checked that your expectations of what’s involved in their role, or what the deliverables are, match with their expectation and understanding? Many times there is a mismatch here, which comes to light at a review.
If you’re lucky it’s a monthly or quarterly discussion and there is plenty of time to get things back on track. If you’re unlucky it’s the annual performance review, and by that time there is a lot of water under the bridge and getting back on track is even harder. This is not just because their performance didn’t match your expectation. But because they’re now disappointed, doubting either themselves or you or both. I sometimes describe this as a year of ‘whacking lemmings’. A lot of effort has been put into the year, but no fruits are reaped.
Route two – Balanced Workload
Obviously, in an ideal world, the workload would be consistently perfect. In reality, we get peaks and troughs, or what can happen is we have peaks and lesser peaks. The troughs – i.e. rest points, disappear.
As work becomes more dynamic, then what’s required of us changes and fluctuates. What we can’t do is keep taking more on without taking time to reflect and ditch what’s no longer needed or working.
Covering for a colleague for two weeks is possible while doing our job. Covering their role and ours for six months is unrealistic and unworkable. Yet I’ve seen people do this. Not because at the beginning they knew it was six months but hey “they like a challenge so let’s try doing two jobs for the pay of 1”. Instead, it was a temporary thing that kept on going, and they didn’t want to let anyone down. On top of this either their bosses were too busy on other matters to address this or didn’t see the person was starting to drown.
When we begin to experience overwhelm in our workload, however, it is caused, we need our leaders to help us prioritise better. That way we have a better idea of what to let go of, what to put on hold. We also get insights into where we need to develop and strengthen, so we’re less likely to experience the overwhelm.
Route 3 – Discipline Disconnecting
We’re always on, connected to the world, carrying it around in our pocket. Email, phone, messaging. We look around at our colleagues and leaders and see how they respond to these and then react the same. In a meeting, if the person’s phone rings do they instantly answer it and put that meeting on hold? At night do they send out a bunch of emails and what’s more do they expect a reply outside of regular working hours?
Say Hello to my phone
Firstly lets look at the phone.. When you sit down and put it on the table, instantly you signal to the other person that should anything happen ‘on this device ‘I’m responding. Which means the phone is more important than this conversation. Just looking at whatever pops up is an interruption, a distraction, a response, yes choosing to ignore it is a response, just as choosing to answer it is one. At that moment it breaks the connection you have with the other person. Now in some meetings that doesn’t matter and in other conversations it most certainly does.
Emotionally intelligent leaders keep their phone out of sight. If there is something serious going down, they explain that they might need to take the call. However, this isn’t the introduction to every meeting as a way of sneakily making it OK to use their phone. My experience has been that 98% of the time they show up and keep their phone away. Out of all the times they’ve ever said anything only 1 has a call come in.
What are weekends for?
Secondly, let’s look at evenings and weekends and holiday – do you still respond and keep in touch? Where is the cut off point for you? What’s your expectations of your team and their behaviour during these periods?
Taking time away from our phone, email and messaging allows our brain valuable space for it to process, file, defrag, recharge and rejuvenate. Which, in turn, reduces our stress levels, which means we’re less likely to burnout.
Of course, if we can do something pleasurable when we’re disconnected, then that’s even more beneficial and therapeutic. It’s also been shown to make us more creative and productive back at work. Win-win.
The key to disconnecting though is discipline. Set yourself boundaries and stick to them. Increase them over time. Disconnecting too much too quickly can lead to anxiety. As you get more disciplined you’ll become aware of what causes you to break your boundaries, also useful information in terms of your development.
Incremental steps make a big difference
Just starting with one of the routes mentioned above will begin to make a difference. You’ll know right now which one is the most feasible for you. Then build on that. As you change your behaviours, your team will probably shift theirs. And if they don’t well you can have a conversation with them from a perspective of the difference it’s made to you, rather than do as I say and not as I do. You can also download your copy of our free report on ways to increase your resilience too, which will give you more tools to reduce burnout.