As businesses continue to push for higher levels of quality, service, and overall business agility, the pressure on individuals at the managerial level is on the rise. Managers are deluged with sets of competing demands, challenged with leading teams made up of different personalities, and ordered to do more with less. As a result, they find themselves working longer hours and become more prone to experiencing work burnout.
A recent survey conducted by Gallup found that out of 7,500 full-time employees, nearly 23 percent reported feeling burned out at work often, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing managers and employees to struggle with the transition to working from home, keeping workspaces healthy and virus-free, job insecurity, and a list of other concerns. As a result, managers may find themselves experiencing feelings of isolation, exhaustion, or resentment.
Even the most resilient managers who began their careers with zest and drive can succumb to burnout due to a variety of challenges and stresses. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte, 77% of professionals have experienced burnout at their current job due to factors such as lack of support and recognition, unrealistic expectations and deadlines, as well as working long hours.
When managers hit their limits, it’s almost impossible to support team members or help them avoid their own burnout. Recognizing burnout symptoms early is crucial for managers, not only for their own well-being but also for the well-being of their employees.
Burnout Vs. Stress: Which One Is It?
If the pressure at work is mounting and you know something is making you unhappy, you might not take the time to consider if you are experiencing temporary stress or more serious burnout. It will be helpful for you to know the difference and be able to identify when you’re veering toward burnout so you can take steps to stop it in its tracks. But how can you tell the difference?
Work-related stress, in short bursts, can actually drive job performance if you know how to manage and direct it properly. Examples of everyday job stressors include starting a new project, handling an emergency, working through employee behavior issues, and receiving a promotion. When we experience stress at work, we might feel anxious and overwhelmed with uncertainty or too many demands, but still maintain a sense of control and an overall feeling that things will get better.
On the other hand, burnout is a gradual process that builds over time. While the signs and symptoms can be minimal at first, starting as work stress, it can become worse if left ignored, leading to excessive levels of stress over time and feelings of fatigue, lack of motivation, apathy, and helplessness, devoid of any positive outlook that things will get better. Burnout symptoms can spill over into your personal life, affecting a range of areas, including sleep, energy level, and patience.
“My main indicator that burnout is creeping into my life will first present itself in my personal life,” said Kevin Venza, who oversees a team at Inova Payroll as the VP of HCM Operations. “While subtle, my sleep and patience are leading indicators that something needs to be adjusted. Am I waking up multiple times at night? Am I less patient with my family? If I see any of these, I acknowledge it and work to make adjustments.”
Recognizing your own behaviors that signal work burnout and mitigating them before they have a negative impact will allow you to regain control. Once you’ve become aware that you are indeed experiencing burnout, you must take steps toward recovery.
“Everyone experiences trying, and sometimes overwhelming, obstacles,” said Venza. “Moderation is good; excess is not. An excess of negative experiences leads to burnout. It sounds straightforward because it is. How you overcome that, and replenish your positive experience bucket, is the difficult part.”
While your experience recovering from work burnout and what you uncover along the way will be unique, the following are positive steps you can take to begin to get your life back into balance.
1. Rely on a Strong Support Network
One of the most effective ways to start the recovery from burnout is to reach out to others. Connecting with those who are closest to you, such as friends, family, or a mentor, can relieve stress and be a calming place to turn to for advice and a listening ear.
Connecting with a career coach is another option to help you rediscover your motivation. Many professional coaches specialize in areas of stress management and burnout prevention and can begin the process with a simple consultation to determine which strategy or approach will best assist you in identifying the cause of your burnout and help develop a road map for recovery.
Within the workplace, take a look at how you are delegating tasks. If you lean toward perfectionist tendencies, you may resist handing off tasks and end up with an unrealistic workload, often a major cause of burnout.
“I think many managers find it very difficult to ask for help or delegate,” Venza explains. “I can feel alone at times with issues and default to not ask for help because I view it as placing my burden on someone else. Overcoming this is important to avoiding burnout. The more I delegate, the more I find that others want to help, and gain joy in doing so.”
Delegating is a great way to not only lighten a project load that may be contributing to burnout but also enhance team performance. Thoughtfully delegating work gives employees a chance to tackle complex projects, know that you trust and value their contributions, and learn and grow professionally.
2. Prioritize Your Time and Commitments
Modern mobile technology provides the ability for us to stay connected to work long after we’ve left the office, and it has contributed to overwhelming workloads. Managers become stretched to their limits juggling too many requests while also managing their team’s workload and productivity. It’s easy to become distracted when demands for your expertise and time seem endless.
“[When it comes to burnout] at work, I become scattered and find it difficult to focus on the completion of a single task,” Venza said. “Instead, I find myself devoting time to multiple items and never fully completing a single task. I turn into a jack of all trades, master of none.”
Prioritization is key when it comes to avoiding burnout because it allows you to take control of your time and commitments. To avoid becoming scattered, refocusing on the important things first is important. There are some simple adjustments you can make to prioritize the things that matter to you:
- Make room in your workweek for organization and prioritization. Make a list of the top five items that must be completed that week and keep it in a highly visible location so that you will be reminded of those goals. As much as you might be tempted to go beyond five items, keeping the list short prevents you from creating an unrealistic workload and setting yourself up for failure – which will only add to your stress level.
- Implement time management strategies for projects, such as blocking time on your calendar for specific projects. Track how long it takes you to complete key tasks and allocate enough time for them going forward. When your calendar is booked and new requests come in, you can set proper expectations with yourself and others about when you will be able to complete the project. If the incoming request has a high priority and a tight timeline, then you must identify a currently planned task or project to move back and make room for the new project. Saying yes to a request and trying to squeeze it into a calendar filled with commitments just creates more stress.
- Set boundaries at work. Close your email for periods of time so that you can focus on priority projects, communicate your limits to your team clearly (i.e., what hours they can contact you), and create an agenda for meetings to keep discussions on track. One boundary tool everyone has at their immediate disposal is the word no. Learn how to say no to low priority projects and protect the ones you know will have the most return for your time and for the organization’s investment.
3. Consider Your Environment
Your environment can significantly impact your experience at work and can be a potential cause of burnout. Excessive noises, extreme temperatures, and other unfavorable working conditions can contribute to stress at work. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, where many managers are working from home in an environment that blurs work and downtime. It can be challenging to find ways to successfully engage a remote team while dealing with distractions at home like pets and children who need attention or assistance.
Perhaps there is a dysfunctional work dynamic between you and a coworker or even your own boss. Culture in a workplace can either promote or prevent burnout. An online survey conducted by Robert Half found that half of American professionals left their job due to poor upper management, a negative employee, or poor work culture.
Take inventory of what or who it is that may be contributing to your burnout. Transition conversations with coworkers from what is wrong to potential ways of fixing the issue. Build a work culture and team that are supportive, respectful, and positive. If there is an individual whose toxic behavior is affecting the culture of the organization and the work experience for you and others, it’s important to address it following HR best practices.
4. Establish a Healthy Balance Between Work and Life
Managers tend to feel pressure to be “on” every minute of the workday – whether they’re at the office or at home. Practicing a healthy work-life balance is crucial in preventing burnout and maintaining your emotional health.
Set restrictions if working remotely. Instead of working endless hours at a time, take short breaks to walk around, eat lunch, or exercise. Avoid checking your email on your way to make coffee at 6:30 a.m. and instead enjoy some personal time before jumping into work. Restrict the number of hours you’ll work to a normal workday, if possible. To help you limit excessive work hours, set an alarm in a room outside of your workstation so you’ll have to get up to turn it off.
In addition to ensuring your work hours don’t get out of control, you may need to “unplug” for a while and cut ties with the world of work. Venza finds that taking time for himself outside of work is one of the most important ways he can relax. “I make sure I have a healthy mix of hobbies that provide physical (exercise, sport) and mental (books, podcasts, music, family, friends) relief.”
Planning a vacation or time off can give a much-needed break and the opportunity to experience a new place, or enjoy a hobby that makes you happy, or perhaps even volunteer for a cause you are passionate about. Focusing on others is a great way to improve your outlook. It will also give you one-on-one time with family and allow you to give your full attention to those you love without work being a distraction.
5. Reframe the Way You Look at Work
Reframing your perception of your current work role is a positive coping technique that can help you transform a stressful situation into a positive one. You can choose to shift your mindset from a focus on what’s not working to one focused on solutions and opportunities to learn, grow, and make a difference.
“I routinely step back when I find myself neck-deep in a particularly trying time, and view the issue with a fresh perspective,” Venza said. “Sometimes, it is as easy as just getting out of the weeds and asking how I would approach the situation if I started over. Other times, I will listen to external material of others that have or are tackling an issue. Even if it is completely unrelated to my issue, the themes are almost always the same, and I gain a perspective that can be applied to the issue causing me burnout.”
Turning to external sources, such as business and leadership books or podcasts, can help reframe the way you view work and shift your perspective toward solutions and positive transformation. This will help restore your satisfaction with your current role and find meaning that might have once been missing. Perhaps you can share the techniques that contributed to your shift in mindset with your team, providing tools for renewing their sense of purpose as well.
Another tool for reframing your current work experience is to turn inward and reassess your professional goals and determine where they align with your current role or situation. Spend some time away from your day-to-day tasks and write down your goals. Chances are good that you will at least find some level of alignment and potentially identify projects that will allow you to gain knowledge and skills to move you closer to your goals. And if you do not see how your current role will contribute to your growth, it may be time for you to move on to a new chapter in your career.
Take Care of Yourself, Then Take Care of Others
As a manager, you have a lot of people depending on you. Your boss trusts you to manage your department and team in a way that effectively meets organizational goals. Your team members rely on you for guidance and leadership and to assist them when they face challenges at work. You can’t do any of that if you’re not taking care of yourself first.
Burnout has the potential to make you miserable at work, and honestly, make those around you miserable as well. So, watch for signs that you’re experiencing more than just short-term stress. If you find yourself mired in cynicism, resentment, or exhaustion, it’s time to put a burnout plan into action: lean on others, protect your priorities, upgrade your environment, improve work-life balance, and reframe your situation.
Burnout can happen to anyone at any stage of their career, but it doesn’t have to become a barrier to success or happiness. For more information on how to recognize and treat burnout, we recommend these sources:
Job burnout: How to spot it and take action, Mayo Clinic
How to Move on From job Burnout, Thrive Global