The World Health Organization is worried about burnout, and you should be, too. They define burnout, as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” And research shows that 59% of American workers are experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout.
Burnout isn’t over-work!
These are some of the symptoms identified by the Mayo Clinic -
- Dissatisfaction and
- Negative thinking
- and Sleeplessness
This is how medical doctors diagnose burnout, but a Manager may misdiagnose these symptoms as a typical “bad attitude”.
Burnout is a primary cause of employee disengagement, cross-functional conflict, and resistance to change.
If someone's burning out, they don't need time off! In fact, time off can make things even worse, and here's why. Hard work doesn't cause burnout! The compounding effects of “stressful thoughts” is what causes burnout, and a few days off won't cure stressful thinking. In fact, the time away often leads to even more stressful thinking.
Burnout is a psychological condition and it's a coping mechanism. Your mind tries to protect you from prolonged exposure to stressful thinking by signaling to your body that it's exhausted, by encouraging you to disengage, and not care as much. It even triggers a cynical point of view.
If someone is burning out, they need a safe space, a place where they can voice their stressful thoughts without fear of judgment or retribution. People need to talk out their stressful thoughts, and you're a good person to do that with because they report to you, they're accountable to you, and you can have a big impact on their “stress-relief valve”.
You need people to open up. And to do that, they must trust you. And the only way they're going to trust you is if they think you care about them. You have to show a genuine, consistent interest in their well-being, and you start by being empathetic. Empathy encourages people to open up, and that's the only way you're going to find their stressful thoughts.
Stressful thoughts are usually based on flawed assumptions. There’s a misconception, misperception or misunderstanding that’s causing their negative emotional reaction. But when people share their thoughts with you, these flawed assumptions are easy to spot and correct.
Stressful thoughts multiply and begin to compound. One misunderstanding can lead to multiple negative assumptions, and people will keep recycling those negative thoughts over and over.
You can help people replace these flawed, negative thoughts with more rational and useful thoughts, but it will take a heightened level of engagement with that employee. You’re not a therapist, and sometimes people need professional counseling. But as their boss, you can help people think about their job differently.
If someone is burned out, they need more of you - not less. A little time off might be useful, but that won’t change their stressful thinking. Nor will pep-talks. Positive thinking and encouragement won’t fix their stressful thinking. If someone is burned out, they need help stabilizing to a more neutral, non-emotional mindset.
- When you’re non-judgmental - people will feel safe.
- When you empathize - they’ll open up.
- When you listen - you’ll hear flawed assumptions.
Now you can open their stress release valve.
Address their flawed assumptions, and help them downshift into a more neutral mindset. They don’t need positive thinking. They need a healthier way to think about their job, and that’s where you come in!