How Can Managers Identify Burnout?

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In the earlier posts in this series, we identified burnout as an organizational issue. Organizations, however, often categorize it as an individual issue. Managers are on the front lines of recognizing employees who are susceptible to or are in the midst of burnout. How can managers help their employees and their organization address the issues that result in burnout?

Are You Managing or Leading?

I recently talked with a new manager who was struggling with low productivity on his team. He was at a loss for what to do to increase output. My questions about the people on his team confused him. “You are asking me about their feelings. I don’t care. How do I make them get their work done?” As I dug a little deeper into that statement, we uncovered together that, as an employee, he had never had a supervisor who talked with him about how he felt. He acknowledged that sometimes as an employee he had struggled but he “tried not to bring that to work.”

Two years into the pandemic his fully remote team was isolated from each other and trying to meet their goals while struggling with the demands of living at work. This new manager had never considered how these factors might be impacting his team.

Managers that lead through fear and intimidation and/or see their teams as “task completers” only add to the problem of burnout. Think about your style of management. How did you learn to lead? Many learned leadership skills by watching their previous managers. What were your experiences as an employee with a manager that regarded you as a resource? Did you thrive? Did you feel respected? Did you feel you were doing your best work? If you are honest with yourself, was it a good experience?

If you are still unconvinced that modern management is about respecting and serving your team, look at the numbers. Employee wellness is a management metric. Stats like employee sick days used, unused PTO days, and turnover rates on a particular team are key indicators of dysfunction at the team level. They say people don’t quit companies. They quit bad managers. What do your stats indicate about wellness on your team?

Take Care of Yourself

This is your figurative air travel reminder to put your own mask on before you assist others with theirs. Simply put, we can’t serve others if we don’t give ourselves what we need. This means that you need to understand how you are doing and take steps to serve yourself first. Your team is depending on you to actively listen and remove roadblocks. If you are unable to do that, you cannot be there for them when they need you most. In fact, if you are struggling, you are more likely to impact the morale of your team.

Know Who is Most At Risk

Burnout can happen anywhere but 3 places where it is more common are healthcare, technology and education but, again, any organization can have stressors that lead to burnout. These professions are high pressure, high personal touch and focused on specific, positive outcomes. Most often, management in these professions is focused on delivering those outcomes at all costs.

Certain types of people are also more at risk for burnout. According to The Burnout Epidemic by Jennifer Moss, people who are more prone to burnout tend to be:

  • prone to anxiety or overthinking,
  • perfectionists,
  • introverted or shy

From my own experience, I’ll add another category:

  • those who are sensitive to change

Key indicators of organizational dysfunction, such as lack of control, lack of autonomy and lack of perceived fairness in treatment, can erode these groups’ sense of security much earlier than others. Knowing what to look for amongst those most at risk can be a leading indicator of burnout within an organization.

Stay Connected To Your Team

It goes without saying that managers have a responsibility to their team. This means not just leading your team but knowing your team members. One-on-one check-ins with each team member are essential ways to get to know your employees. These need to go beyond task and status conversations. Get to know each person. Ask them how they are doing and then listen actively. Are they engaged? Are they struggling? Ask questions to understand how they are feeling about what’s happening at work or at home. Work trouble can often be exacerbated by what’s happening at home and visa versa. Provide a safe, judgment-free space to talk about their whole selves.

Learn more about having a good one-on-one with this checklist.

Listening to your team is a key part of what managers can do to help their teams identify and address burnout. Managers have an equally important role in surfacing this information to the organization so it can take steps to address it.

Published by Susan Moore

Co-chair Charlotte Carolina Club - Carolina Club Ambassador - Former Chair Jacksonville (FL) Carolina Club - Former Carolina Alumni Admissions Program representative

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