Burnout reached new highs in the early days of remote work. Now, with established hybrid and remote models in place, have those issues gone away? Or are we simply entering a new phase of burnout?
Elevate brought together a panel of experts to discuss these questions and offer advice for leaders of growing teams. Moderator Emily Tisch Sussman, Host of the She Pivots podcast, was joined by:
- Jessa Messina, Founder, YoJo
- Stacy Sahagian, Director of People, Ovia Health
- Ciera Parks, Head of People, Vangst
- Samantha McKenna, Founder, #samsales
Watch their session on demand in the video below, or read on to find out what they had to say.
Have the burnout issues we experienced during the pandemic really gone away?
Jessa teaches workshops related to burnout, and her experience is that people are more burned out now than ever. “It makes a lot of sense because this is not what our nervous systems are built for. When lockdown ended, the unprecedented times did not. We all have whiplash and change fatigue.”
“People haven’t gotten the chance to rest and recover. When we’re burned out, our nerves are literally fried. We actually have neurological damage and this can be long lasting if we don’t get rest and recovery. When we are in a constant state of stress, we don’t get that type of rest,” she says.
To tackle this as the long-term issue that it is, we must fundamentally change our models of work. “What it requires is a lot of care. Self-care is not the answer, it’s a combination of self-care and community care, and figuring out what that looks like at an institutional level. I think it’s going to bring out better reciprocal exchange between employees and employers, and it’s asking all of us to be a better version of ourselves.”
Has your strategy for tackling burnout changed in the past two years?
Sam says burnout can look very different in today’s hybrid and remote work environments. “We don’t have the little breaks we had before. How many of us are back-to-back [in meetings] and sitting there for eight hours? Take a look at the calendars of the people who report to you. Are they back-to-back all day? When are you getting emails from them? Are you getting Slack messages at 11pm?”
She says leaders must proactively show empathy for burnout. “Having a leader who cares about you, who empathizes and asks about your personal life can go a long way to make you feel that you’re cared about and supported. Even if you work for a company where the culture isn’t like that, you as a leader can be that for your people. You can be the umbrella to form a team of empathy.”
What can leaders do to tackle burnout?
“Studies show that burnout happens when people feel they are being treated unfairly or not being supported by their managers,” says Stacy. She shared a number of practical strategies to counter this:
“It’s a really big misconception that we can’t ask people to take on a slightly higher workload than normal. We can, but you need to be really clear about why you are asking, how it ties to a business goal that’s really critical, and what the timeline is. People are really adaptable and they can take on more as long as they know why they are doing it and how long it will last.”
As one way to free up more time, she encourages leaders to be ruthless about deleting meetings that don’t add value. However, one-on-ones should be non-negotiable. “Burnout can occur from something that was really small to start with… Having a manager to talk through any frustration can prevent something small growing into a full scale burnout scenario.”
Finally, a little levity can go a long way. “It’s not about happy hours and team events after work – studies that show that can actually contribute to burnout. Find smaller ways throughout the day that are more natural, like sending something funny on a Slack channel… Even if you’re working really hard, if you have a manager or peer that you can laugh with, it does alleviate that short period of time where you have to do more.”
How can growing teams overcome burnout as businesses scale?
Ciera says she tends to see three major types of burnout as businesses scale. The first is overload, where an employee is overwhelmed with too much work on their plate. This can lead to neglect, where an employee has so much going on that they don’t know what their priorities are. In the middle, you have under-challenged people who are performing a lot of tasks, but their work isn’t stimulating enough to keep them motivated.
To tackle these types of burnout, Ciera’s first recommendation is to check in with your people. Don’t wait for them to approach you when they feel overwhelmed. “See how they’re doing, what they need, and let them know that you’re here for them. As a good leader, it’s important to say, and mean, ‘if you need help, I’m here.’”
Giving people the opportunity to be creative and work on passion projects can also help tackle burnout, as can clear progression and training plans. “If people know there is a next step and path planned out for them, even if they’re doing something that might seem monotonous today, they can then recognize there is another growth path or role that will open up in the organization for them.”
To prevent overload, you also need defined trigger points for when additional hiring is required. “After a certain point, one person can only do so many things, and that should trigger another hire.”
Finally, she reminds leaders to respect the basics. “Give people time off, honor work life balance as an organization, celebrate the wins… and allow time for meaningful connections.”
Sam added that leaders should focus on making the most of people’s talents and abilities. “We see people who are fantastic in front of clients, but still spend 50-60% of their time doing administrative tasks… We could get the same amount of hours out of somebody, but they’d be more fulfilled and less burned out because they are doing what capitalizes on their passions and what they’re great at.”
What are the consequences of ignoring burnout?
Ciera says many leaders hope burnout will resolve itself when the next project is completed or deadline is reached. “While you may say, ‘this will all be over in two weeks,’ employees are silently suffering. While they are suffering, trying to get to the end of the project, they are becoming more burned out and disgruntled.”
“People leave leaders. If my leader doesn’t notice that I’m burned out and suffering, then this is not the organization for me. People leave, attrition increases significantly, and one of your most dedicated employees could walk out the door.”
“This is a missed opportunity for you to review your talent properly. When people are burned out or overworked, this is a chance for you to recalibrate as an organization, restructure teams, hire new people, maybe promote someone. You need to really evaluate the people who are doing the things that matter to the business.”