The new year comes with a clean slate, and an ability to establish new practices, workflows and rhythms that support your team.
A recent study of professionals revealed that 64% are frequently stressed out, and 70% say their employers are not doing enough about it. The data from this and other surveys the last couple of years is clear - employee burnout represents a massive organizational risk.
Given this context, it's mission critical that managers build their skillsets around how to lead for sustainable high-performance.
If I was a leader who wanted to lead for both results, and wellbeing, I’d start with this list:
[And if I were a leader feeling overwhelmed by this list, I would pick the ONE most impactful thing, try it and keep iterating.]
Educate all people managers about the 6 areas of work that impact burnout and how their leadership can impact these areas. Most of the information about burnout focuses on workload – this is an important component, but not the only component of a much more complex puzzle. Setting aside the hype, if we look to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a scientifically validated burnout assessment tool, we learn that burnout is actually driven by 6 primary areas of our work life: workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values.
How an employee experiences these 6 areas of work life is often via their direct manager, so people managers have a big role to play in the burnout conversation.
Create buffer in your staffing/capacity planning - Many organizations do capacity planning as if conditions are perfect - i.e.: there won’t be unexpected turnover, new demands and change that derails original plans. I have never seen a year in the corporate world that goes “as planned”. Organizations would reduce time and money wasted if their staffing plans included a reasonable buffer. A good rule of thumb is plan for staff to be at 80% capacity and provide 20% buffer. That way you are not perpetuating a cycle of people being in a constant state of overwhelm and workload that is too much.
Reduce the number of goals and focus on MITs (most important things) - With the best of intentions, many leaders create goal lists that are simply too big. Set the tone for disciplined goal-setting by choosing a smaller number of really meaningful goals that will move the need for your team, department or organization. Imagine what is possible when we focus our collective energy on the most meaningful goals, vs spreading ourselves thin across goals that may or may not matter in the big picture.
Shift from annual to quarterly planning sprints - A lot of teams are still doing their planning on an annual basis. The world of business moves too quickly for annual planning - by the time you are reviewing your goals and progress, so much has changed that your original goals are irrelevant. Change your planning cycles so you work in sprints by quarter or trimester - you will have a much better pulse on what is actually happening, you’ll be able to respond that much more nimbly and you’ll celebrate more frequently (key to keeping up motivation).
Coach employees to continuously re-prioritize, ask for help and set boundaries- it can be really hard for employees to say no and set boundaries. It's easy enough to say employees should be able to, but the reality is saying no to your boss can feel - at best - like you’re not performing to expectations and at worst - come with fear around job security. Managers can empower people to set healthy boundaries by asking questions like “what do you need to adjust in order to take this on?”, “how do we need to move other deadlines if you lead this project?, “what resources will you need to make this work on this deadline?”
Check yourself - what are you modelling as a leader? - You send implicit messages to your team based on how you work. Sure, as a leader, you may have expectations that are different than those of your teams. But there are still ways for you to signal that wellbeing is a priority. Consider: do you take vacation, say no, shift your priorities based on changing contexts, take micro-breaks to energize yourself, work in alignment with strengths and values, have a life and interests outside of work and engage professional supports like a therapist or a coach?
None of this is simple or easy.
But with burnout hurting people and costing businesses tremendously, this work is necessary and worthwhile.
If you need help discussing strategies for your organization, let’s connect at email@example.com.