Let’s Talk Burnout.
Not crash and burn, but the slow fade burnout that happens over time; sneaking up on us, catching us off guard, and leaving us surprised at our lack of resilience in moments that historically would have been, at worst, tolerable, and at best, an opportunity to practice inspired leadership.
Burnout is in the ethos. And even if you feel exempt from it, you’re not.
How so? Let’s pretend for a moment that you are personally insulated from burnout. Unless you are a solopreneur who has figured out how to animate your great work while also living a hermitic life isolated from other humans, your impact is impacted by a system.
Because you are part of a human system.
A company. A team. A family. A circle of yoga-loving, outdoors addicts who share a passion for nerding out on how to make the world a better place. (Oh wait… that’s me). But you get the point.
And in case my point sailed over your feet while in a headstand on your mat, let’s tease it out succinctly. Our impact is alchemized with the impact of others. Our best? Blended with the best of others. Our big, audacious goals? Well… this thing we call work is a team sport.
Let’s weave in our original topic: burnout.
Gallup reported in June of 2021 that 74% of folks reported experiencing burnout currently or in recent memory.
Quick napkin math: If you lead a team or own a company, multiply the total number of people in your sphere of influence by .74. Compare that number to the number of people who have talked to you about their burnout.
My safe bet guess is less than 10%. Why? Because burnout feels clinical, weak, and an ailment of poor performers so people bury it. And leaders typically aren’t intentional about creating the spaciousness and intimacy required for someone to speak truthfully about what scares, worries, or exposes them.
When do we learn about a colleague’s burnout? When it’s reached the peak stage of the crash and burn.
But if 74% are experiencing some level of burnout and almost 1 in 2 report they are looking for new job opportunities, what might we extrapolate about the passion, creativity, and drive on our team? The napkin math on that equals YIKES.
Here are 6 things you can do to support your colleagues (I know, I know… you’re asking for “a friend.”)
- Create time: Intentionally create the environment that fosters people feeling safe and supported enough to express how they are truly feeling. Avoid pushing, filling the silence, and giving advice.
- Model vulnerability: Share your experience and/or stories of when you’ve personally struggled.
- Surpass The Typical: Acknowledge how they feel without fixing, and compassionately remind people why their work matters, what is special and unique about what they bring to the table, and how much you appreciate them.
- Clear their barriers: Dig deep to understand what frustrates them, makes their work draining, or creates a disconnect for them. Do something about what they say in a timely manner and check back in. This is a tight cycle: think 2 weeks max.
- Get tactical: Look at the specific factors contributing to their burnout (schedule, kids homeschooling, overzoomed, lack of connection) and collectively with them, engineer new solutions. Again: Prioritize Doing Something.
- Run An Experiment: What’s one thing your colleague would like more of? (sometimes discovered by articulating what they can no longer handle and flipping the coin over). Help them craft a behavioral experiment to groove this desire as a new habit. Examples might be daily meditation or turning off all pings, dings, and rings on devices.
The Grand Teacher of the Pandemic has taught us that there is no “leave your baggage at the door,” “work/life balance,” or “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”
And if you think you’ve mastered impermeability as a strength, it might be time to revisit the qualities of a leader that cultivate peak performance. If I’ve learned any lesson the hard way it’s that no one truly thrives and has authentic breakthroughs working with someone who doesn’t create space for their humanness by owning their own humanness.
A final caveat: I’m speaking about burnout that drains us; not burnout that cripples us. There are situations in which our best next step is to support someone finding professional support. As leaders, we are not trained or equipped to be therapists, and the greatest gift we can give is to acknowledge our limitations and empower someone to seek out the support they most need.
By the way: Let’s say for a moment that you aren’t asking about handling burnout “for a friend,” and you’re comfortable acknowledging you’re part of the 74% majority…. Go easy on yourself and apply 1 – 6 above to you.
Pema Chodron says that the definition of self-confidence is self gentleness. What a beautiful adage to experiment with.