If Your Boss Doesn't Do These 7 Things, They're Setting You Up to Burn Out

Coworkers stressed at work

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Michele Weldon
Michele Weldon
Not to get all cheerleader-like, but there are times when the team you lead may need a boost.
The loss of zip may go beyond simple ennui and could signal a lack of focus for the mission and the project. So here are specific suggestions for getting everyone on the team reinvigorated.
Whether you are leading a team or are part of a team that is treading water and showing signs of exhaustion and depletion, it is necessary to notice the signs, address expectations and fix the team dynamics. And no, a team retreat to the beach or the mountains will not alone fix what ails the team.
“Tools that build deeper understanding between people add value to teams of any kind, from universities to traditional businesses to sports teams,” Jennifer Dulski, the head of groups and community at Facebook and author of Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Starter?, writes in Fortune.
“It is common in social organizing for people to start by learning about each other and building deep and authentic relationships that help the group navigate challenges together. This is starting to happen in more and more organizations, from schools to companies,” Dulski writes.
If your team is burning out due to chaos or controversy, Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead, suggests you use your power to change the dynamic by embracing the controversy. As she explains in her Leadership Power Tool # 4, "It gives you a platform. Nudges you to clarity. It’s your teacher, your source of strength, your friend, especially if you are trying to make a change."

1. Call for a meeting to address concerns.

“Burnout affects everyone at some point, but when the whole team is in a slump, there is frequently a systemic or underlying problem. Get the group talking openly and safely about what’s going on with a campfire chat. Pull chairs in a circle, ask for someone to raise an issue and go around the room allowing anyone to comment,” writes Sarah Beth Aubrey, CEO of A.C.T. Aubrey Coaching & Training, in Forbes.

2. Brainstorm to come up with a set of agreements.

“Team leaders expect workers to be on time, to do their jobs, to meet deadlines, to produce results, and to get along with each other. Team leaders and workers alike tend to get frustrated, stressed, and even burned out when these expectations aren’t met,” writes Andrew Wittman in Harvard Business Review. “Forging agreements together takes courage, time, and effort; however, the results are a high-performing team that thrives, especially under pressure. A team that is committed to resolving conflict instead of escalating it can flourish in a climate that defeats the negative effects of stress, and banishes burnout,” Wittman writes.

3. Listen to your team members and make them feel their contributions are welcome.

“The best thing a manager can do to inspire and excite an unmotivated team is to take time to listen to ideas they have on becoming motivated. Oftentimes, employees who are unmotivated don't feel valued. Therefore, to change this negative into a positive, managers should try to implement as many employee ideas as possible. When employees feel valued, their work productivity is at an all-time high,” writes Nicole K. Webb, CEO of NK Webb Group LLC, in Forbes.

4. Schedule breaks and rewards.

“’Crunch times’ are inevitable for most businesses. For accountants, it's the first couple months of the year. A beach resort would be busiest during the summer. Retailers experience it during the holiday season. Sometimes, this isn’t bad; this intensity can help your team kick it into high gear. But you can’t expect your employees to fire on all cylinders 24/7. They're human. They need time to relax, destress and recover,” John Rampton writes in Entrepreneur.

5. Minimize change for change sake.

“To the extent they’re able, leaders need to be judicious about which changes to make when: What’s absolutely necessary, and what’s incidental or can wait?  A stressed-out team won’t be very effective at implementing the changes you need them to. When your team begins to burn out, you put the outcome of the change at risk, so try not to lose sight of that end goal. Be thoughtful about how much change you’re introducing at once, and be sure to support the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of your team–which is only as strong as its most stressed-out member,” writes Suzan Bond in Fast Company.

6. Encourage creative thinking.

“One important but often overlooked skill to nurture is associative thinking—making connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Developing this skill can spur high-potential employees to become more creative and innovation-minded,” according to Kellogg Insight. “When Carter Cast, now a clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship,  was the CEO of Walmart.com, he had an interesting exercise to get his high-potential employees thinking creatively. The first twenty minutes at Monday senior leadership meetings were devoted to a simple question: What did you see over the weekend that struck you? People then had to explain how the company might act on these new trends or observations.”

7. Pay attention to the workload and offer time management techniques and tips.

“When you notice that someone is doing less work than they used to, you have to catch the moment before a complete burnout. You can also encourage them to develop their routines and share your own experience with this to further reinforce such ideas on them. If, for example, you’re used to a quick morning stretch, healthy breakfast, and working during your activity peaks, explain how that routine affects your productivity. You can teach them how to make priorities as well. Procrastination is the ultimate risk as it leads to a burnout since they are leaving too much work to complete shortly before the deadline. When they have a system of priorities and follow a schedule, they will avoid that pitfall,” writes Eva Winslow in Born2Invest.
Every team in every sport gets a day off now and then from practice and competition. That does not mean as a team leader to avoid burnout you need to schedule a day at the amusement park now and again in order to restore team dynamics. These strategies will help in avoiding or alleviating team burnout, but so will paying attention to balance.
“’Work hard, play hard’ has become an overused mantra and it shouldn’t be assumed that all employees will share this principle. Some might want to work hard, then relax. Others will talk about working smart instead of hard. Businesses need to understand that the ideal work-life balance is different for everyone and however they envision this, it should be supported,” writes Samantha Caine, client services director at Business Linked Team, in Real Business.
“This means recognizing when employees are striking a poor balance and ensuring they get the downtime they need to maintain personal happiness alongside productivity in the workplace.”
Michele Weldon is an author, editorial director at Take The Lead and senior leader at The OpEd Project. Her latest book is Escape Points. @micheleweldon