Guest post from Eileen McDargh:
In May 2019, the World Health Organization placed burnout in its International Classification of Diseases diagnostic manual. While not calling it an “illness,” it classified burnout as an occupational hazard.
Indeed, the global statistics in 2019 were enough to consider burnout a global pandemic. From massive stress-related losses in North America ranging between $120 to $300 billion; to European countries revealing high burnout rates among health professionals and educators; to Chinese media reporting that about 600,000 Chinese citizens a year die from working too hard; to Australia reporting some $34 billion being spent on burnout incidents. The list is almost endless.
And then COVID-19. Everything we thought we knew about workplace engagement, stress management, and on-site health and wellness programs vanished. In its place, leaders now struggle with managing remote teams, developing widely different strategies for disrupted marketplaces, and dealing with uncertain economics.
Ironically, the oft-reported desire to have some flexibility to work on occasion from home has been smashed. Employees are feeling more burnout than they did prior to COVID-19. Lines are blurred between work time and home time. Output to prove productivity has skyrocketed, leaving employees exhausted and tense. A feeling of being estranged from the organization and team members results in loneliness. Job uncertainty haunts many dreams.
The process of moving from burnout into the breakthrough that allows employees to recharge and handle these emotions can be greatly aided by a wise, compassionate manager who employs these practices:
- Be a more-than-clear communicator about expectations and accountabilities. Then, step back to ask team members where these expectations are unrealistic or need to be broken down into smaller achievable goals. Are resources needed? Are some of the “normal” workplace systems now outdated? It’s a great time to streamline and adapt.
- Be human. From children at home to caring for an aging parent, everyone’s world is very different. Ask each team member what constraints they have and when are the best worktimes. Share that information. Without creating Zoom overload, bring all team members together — as much as possible — to check in on a personal level FIRST, not a productive level.
- Avoid email diarrhea. Email can stand for escalation and error. Have people talk in real time with each other with the leader as a facilitator.
- Beware of micromanaging. Let people know you trust them and that working 12 hours a day is not expected unless there is some emergency. (Don’t create that emergency either!)
- Express appreciation. There’s no need to wait until some project is completed 100%. Say thank you along the way. As I have always told my clients: “An inch is a cinch. A mile takes a while.” We need encouragement for the inches. Let employees know the difference their work is making for the team, the customers and the business.
- Help employees create work/life boundaries. Even before COVID-19, The Boston Consulting Group had a standard practice that NO email was to be answered on the weekend.
- Create a best-practice free-for-all. In a virtual gathering, encourage everyone to share something that is working for them (personal or professional) in this new world of work. Have a way of celebrating each report.
- Encourage and support physical activity through the workday. Getting away from the desk and computer is essential for well-being. Prioritize time off. Ask each team member how they are doing with this.
- Provide ongoing virtual training in resiliency skills, mindfulness, communication and technology (if the latter is needed).
- Laugh! Laughter is the shortest distance between people. When we laugh together, we bond. We create a community. Whether sharing funny signs , animal videos, parodies, whatever — allow people to laugh.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The single thread that consistently runs through these actions is that a leader has empathy, a keen ability to listen deeply, a desire to help their team grow and flourish amid disruptive times. The leader themself acknowledges their own journey and insights in moving from burnout to breakthrough. In these more-than-crazy times, the burnout flame will come again. But with practice, it will no longer be a massive bonfire but rather a spark from a match.
Eileen McDargh has been called a hope merchant although she says she has been put on earth for comic relief. She’s an internationally recognized keynote speaker, master facilitator, and award-winning author with expertise in resiliency and leadership. In 2020 Global Gurus International, a British-based provider of resources for leadership, communication and sales training, also ranked her 5th of the World’s Top 30 COMMUNICATION Gurus following a global survey of 22,000 business professionals. Her articles have appeared in countless publications and two of her seven books have been awarded national recognition. Her latest book, Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters, launches in August 2020. To learn more Eileen, you can visit her website here.