What can leaders do to avoid employee burnout?
It's been nearly six months since the coronavirus pandemic started to disrupt most Americans’ lives and work. Millions have lost jobs. Those who are still employed have been struggling to work from home or stay safe on the job. Social distancing leaves everyone feeling isolated, and homeschooling ratchets up the pressure.
If that wasn’t enough, we’re facing a new wave of crises on top of the pandemic and economic crash: blazing racial tensions, hurricane season, fire season, another semester of online learning, the upcoming national elections, flu season and a possible second wave of COVID-19. Stress is mounting to historic levels.
If you are in a leadership position, it’s more important (and more difficult) than ever to stay connected with your employees and team members. Not just a quick "how ya' doing?" on a Monday. You’ve got to work to have sincere conversations to understand what stressors employees and coworkers might be dealing with. There are many to choose from.
"Zoom fatigue" is a real thing. When the shutdown started, it seemed as though our whole lives became one giant Zoom meeting. Some employers required people on camera, adding stress and pressure with kids and animals popping in and out of the screen. Virtual happy hours with friends and family provide an occasional break. Still, for many people, the lines between work time and personal time have blurred, with meetings and work hours extending into the night and increasing employee burnout.
Psychologists agree that virtual meetings can be taxing. According to Psychology Today, "Zoom zaps our energy and our brains, but it also beats down our bodies."
How does a leader recognize the signs of mental stress and employee burnout, and what can be done?
We had a great conversation with Dan Goldin, retired NASA Administrator, about how leaders can deal with stress and burnout. He’s a hard driver himself, and one of his most challenging leadership lessons came from blowback he received due to pushing his teams too hard. Dan now says, "To have a high performing organization, I believe, people need to know you care."
Empathy and compassion for your employees are vital in helping them feel safe, settled, and focused. As a leader, you will need to watch for signs of burnout, including:
- Mood swings and increasing irritability
- Missing work
- Low levels of engagement
- Unfinished tasks and assignments
These should be warning signs of employees who used to thrive are now struggling to be productive. Checking-in with them weekly, or even more often, and allowing them to discuss what is going on in their lives beyond work can help you better understand the challenges they are facing.
Dan Goldin says making a real human connection is essential to leading an organization or project. Here are some quick tips that can help.
- Try not to go overboard with video conferencing. Try mixing it up with the old fashioned way of communicating (the telephone).
- Make a wellness program for your team or organization. Make a competition for your team to participate in their wellness weekly, that can be from exercising, getting outside, or reading a book.
- If possible, plan a social distance activity (lunch or Happy hour) outside so you can see each other and talk about something other than work and get that human interaction.
- Provide flexible work hours
- Give more time to employees to complete work
- Encourage employees to take vacation time. Restricted travel caused many people to cancel vacation plans -- but they still need a break.
Teams that feel cared for and who share clearly defined goals and objectives are more productive and healthy. This is better for everyone.
For more inspiration and lessons from our other renowned leaders, check out more videos on “leading a successful team.”