5 Steps That Leaders Can Take to Prevent Burnout in Their Organization

In 2019, the World Health Organization formally included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases. They defined it as: “A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

That last part, “…not been successfully managed,” is worth paying attention to because it reminds us that burnout isn’t inevitable, unavoidable, or untreatable. With mindfulness, empathy, and few strategic tools and interventions, the effects of burnout can be alleviated and the causes mitigated.

Here are five practical steps to achieving that important goal:

1. Provide Flexibility

Employees are finding the challenge of juggling their work and personal lives more hectic than ever before, especially those with young kids. With limited access to daycare and many schools having gone remote, they are forced to be parents, teachers, and employees simultaneously.

Loosening up company restrictions as to where and when they get their work done goes a very long way in not only removing some of the stress in their lives, but enhancing productivity.

2. Communicate Priorities

Something as simple as letting subordinates know which projects are critical and which can be put on the back burner helps them manage their workloads with less anxiety and put their focus where it needs to be.

3. Schedule Fewer Meetings

The first days of Zoom were chaotic as millions had to learn a new videoconferencing app for the first time. The first weeks were fun and exciting and marked by Zoom happy hours and other virtual get togethers.

Months into the pandemic, Zoom fatigue has set in, as has a growing distaste for endless meetings of any sort. Yet, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number of meetings taking place at businesses is up 13-percent in the pandemic.

Encourage teams to use email or chat rooms instead of a physical or virtual meeting when possible, or choose audio only meetings instead of video, and only require attendance from people who absolutely need to be there.

4. Promote a Mission and a Purpose

HBR’s workplace survey found that a sense of purpose in the workplace was inversely correlated to burnout. Of individuals reporting a strong sense of purpose, 25-percent said they hadn’t experienced any burnout at all.

Every organization has core values, a mission, and vision for getting there. Don’t let them be mere words on a page, demonstrate them with action and imbue your workplace with the meaning behind your mission.

5. Nurture a Culture of Openness and Empathy

There was a time in corporate America where talking about mental health issues was taboo. That stigma has mostly fallen away, but in many places, employees are still reluctant to reveal their personal issues at work, either to colleagues or managers for fear of a negative response.

“With mindfulness, empathy, and few strategic tools and interventions, the effects of burnout can be alleviated and the causes mitigated.”

HBR reported that fully half of their respondents felt that way, and of those that did, 65-percent said they experience burnout “often or always.” Instead of sweeping mental health under the rug, tackle it head on, advocate for treatment, and encourage employees to let others know when they are struggling.

Peer-to-peer outreach, access to counselors, and even a simple check-in from managers to see how their people are doing all signal a culture that protects and supports everyone — and where employees can feel comfortable exposing their vulnerabilities to get help.