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Are You The Reason Your Employees Are Burnt Out?

Written by: Katie Hill

Today’s workforce is on fire, but not in a good way.

Tied to increasing stress and high demand, burnout is rampant. Worse, even as burnout balloons, 70% of professionals think their leaders aren’t doing enough to fix the problem. Workplace stress has a $300 billion price tag, with costs coming from turnover, health concerns, and decreased productivity.

If your team is suffering from burnout, it’s time to hold up a mirror. More often than not, it can be traced back to leadership.

That’s hard to hear because sometimes the reason you don’t spot burnout in your team—or understand it fully—is because you’re suffering from it yourself.

With the expectations heaped upon you and your team, that’s hardly a surprise.

The Signs Of Employee Burnout

Your focus is on growth in a competitive sector. 

The company places high expectations on you—and you demand excellence from yourself. However, it’s hard to move proverbial mountains when key players on your team can’t seem to pull their weight.

You may notice this in how cynical your Director of Business Development talks about your feature roadmap. Or that a key analyst declined to take on a new project. Or that your a lead engineer has hair-trigger emotions and uncharacteristically blew up at last week’s retrospective. 

The issues may even be more pervasive, with someone seeming exhausted, dejected, or lackadaisical.

The knee-jerk tendency is to treat employee burnout as a talent problem, that employees lack passion about their work. And so it feels like death by a thousand papercuts as KPIs are missed, deadlines come and go, and attitudes droop.

Any or all of those things can certainly pile on more stress or lead to burnout. They can be part of the problem if you have an actual poor-fit employee. But lackluster leadership creates those same problems, too.

Leaders who micromanage, blame employees to avoid accountability, are absent, or impose overly aggressive goals destroy their team. It’s easy to understand how bad leaders will always create employee burnout.

6 Ways Good Leaders Can Cause Employee Burnout

But even a good leader can create employee burnout without being aware of it. Consider these potential pitfalls:

  • You might be a bottleneck. You don’t respond in a timely manner, don’t show up on time, and don’t empower your people to move forward until you do.
  • You don’t empower. You worry about the bottom line and don’t provide the tools or staff to help leaders be productive. In this, you weakened your top talent by miring them in trivial details or busy work.
  • You collaborate excessively. You thought you were building team culture and helping people share the workload, but you added stress to your most talented people. Excessive collaboration can cause burnout by forcing your team to make too many decisions while wasting time.
  • You model 24/7 connectedness. Your work-life balance is a shambles, and employees see it as an expectation.
  • You chase shiny objects. You ask everyone to pour themselves into the latest and greatest until something new comes along and you suddenly shift gears and toss all that effort aside. Organizational whiplash ensues—and burnout along with it.
  • You’re unorganized. Your lack of planning creates chaos for your leaders. Much of their time is spent regrouping instead of managing.

Now, perhaps you’ve fallen into some of the pitfalls above—or have at least brushed with a few of them. The path to restored productivity, invigorated culture, and mitigated burnout is to change how you lead.

After all, if burnout is a leadership issue, it requires a leadership solution.

How To Mitigate Employee Burnout

Setting aside the obvious problem of poor employees and bad leaders, what can you do to mitigate employee burnout in your great team?

Look for choke points.

Frustration leads to stress. Anything that wastes time frustrates employees; their input on what those choke points are is valuable. This may include the tools, systems, and hierarchies you require your employees to use.

Your team may know these better than you do. An easy question to ask is simply, “What can I do to unblock your work or project?”

Help with time management.

Feeling overworked sometimes comes from poor time management, not workload.

Not everyone is gifted with time management and that leads to overwork. Provide training or tools to reduce wasted time so employees don’t end up working 10 hours instead of 8.

Take care of your team.

When you take care of your team, they can take care of your clients.

Provide a buffer from unreasonable or unnecessary stress. Carefully choose what clients, projects, or workload you pass on. Your most engaged and productive employees may always say yes, but keep in mind that 20% of your most engaged employees are burned out. They are high performers, and if you let them, they’ll burn out quickly.

Respect and encourage downtime. Require that your team (and you!) use PTO. Your benefits and KPIs should not be at war with this. 

At Boldly, we’ve started scheduling Slack and email messages so they appear during business hours only. 

We also avoid sending messages when someone is on vacation so they aren’t tempted to check. And the first day back after vacation is re-entry day, a chance to catch up instead of being bombarded.

Relieve your team of admin work.

Imagine a typical day for your best-performing analyst. It’s 5:30 pm, and the clock seems to be speeding up while his energy is slowing down. He’s been in back-to-back meetings, and his inbox is full of unanswered emails – some critical, some low priority. HR is nagging him to file his expense report.

He’d planned to close his laptop in time to have dinner with the family, but it looks like it’ll be another late night.

With just an hour or two of help with the admin work from an executive assistant, it’d be a different story. Your analyst could quickly respond to critical emails and be done for the day. That’s what premium fractional executive assistants do – help their clients be productive by proactively managing inboxes and calendars, filing expenses, and more. 

Take care of yourself.

This may be disheartening to hear. But here’s what may be behind it all: You may be suffering from burnout, too.

Executive burnout is a serious problem. 

In a 2016 survey, half of respondents felt their CEO was burned out. Everyone expects everything from you. But you’re human, not a superhero, and a 70-hour work week takes a toll. So, make sure you aren’t burning out yourself.

Efforts to curb employee burnout sometimes feed the problem, unless you take the right approach. There’s no need to be overwhelmed. It’s not a badge of honor. It’s hard on you and it’s hard on your team. 

Great Leaders Ensure Their Best People Thrive

When it comes to burnout, it’s easy to point the finger at bad leadership.

But the best senior executives aren’t looking for excuses, they’re looking for innovative ways to empower and energize their leadership and team — even if that means taking a hard look at their own work and management styles.

See the opportunity, set the course, and set the example. The changes may be small but the payoff will be huge.

Updated on October 12th, 2023

About the author: Katie Hill is a Content Writer at Boldly, which offers Premium Subscription Staffing for demanding executives and founders. When she isn't writing about remote work or productivity, she can be found adventuring in Colorado's backcountry.