📚 10 min read 📚
Feeling tired, overwhelmed and stressed? What about nervous, frustrated, irritable or forgetful? Feel like no matter what you do, how much sleep you get, you can’t quite recharge? If you’re nodding along to these and saying “yep, yep, yep”, you might be on the unpleasant path to becoming a member of the burnout club.
I’m a working mom with a demanding job that I love. My days start early with email, making breakfast, packing lunch, and hustling kids out the door. And after a full day of work, I end the day busy with pick up, shuttling to soccer or gymnastics, doing homework, making dinner, and finishing up my work/personal to do list. It’s exhausting but it’s not uncommon for many of us.
Recently, I found myself crying on my drive home after school drop off almost daily. Literally just crying for 15 minutes for no clear reason. I would pull into my driveway, listen to a song, give myself a pep talk, and then get to work. Clearly, I was struggling. Rather than take time off, I kept pushing through because I had deadlines, projects, a team counting on me...the list goes on. One morning I woke up covered in hives. When you try to parent like you don’t have a job and try to work like you don’t have kids, your body will let you know that it’s time to take a break.
Although I knew it’d be a pain to step away, I knew that unplugging would be better for the team than trying to push beyond my limits. When you’re burned out or nearing burnout, you’re not the best version of yourself (at home or at work). You can’t just push through— believe me, I have tried. You have to rest in order to recover. You need a variety of different rest:
Physical Rest: Sleep, naps, stretching, massages
Mental Rest: Meditation, write down to do’s, take breaks from problem solving
Sensory Rest: Shut off notifications, limit video meetings, listen to soothing music
Social Rest: Spend time with people who give you energy, spend time alone if you’re introverted
Emotional Rest: Speak with a therapist, spend time with people you can be your most authentic self around
Creative Rest: Take a nature walk, read a book, appreciate a sunset, visit a museum
What is burnout?
Burnout is often downplayed or confused with stress; however, it is not something to take lightly. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. It involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. The (WHO) just recently officially classified burnout as a medical diagnosis, defining it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Why is burnout is on the rise?
A from Slack found that burnout is on the rise globally, most significantly in the U.S., where 43% of middle managers reported burnout—more than any other worker group. What the hell is going on?!
I’ve talked to friends, colleagues from past roles, and a variety of clients (past and present) across a variety of industries and the common theme is that workloads are still too high. Employees are now overextended trying to pick up laid off colleagues work, and generally doing more with less manpower. On top of that, there’s a lack of acknowledgement for a job well done, incommensurate pay, and not enough resources to support the heavier workloads.
What’s the cause?
Gallup's employee burnout show that the number of hours people work each week is a factor, with burnout risk increasing significantly when employees exceed 50 hours and climbing even higher after 60 hours. But how people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than hours worked.
How can I identify burnout in my team?
There’s no one size fits all when it comes to burnout. The better you know your team, the easier it is to spot any differences in their behavior.
Team members constantly raising their hand for things in an effort to prove themselves Team members have dropped their boundaries and are frequently neglecting their own needs for work (ie. late nights, early mornings, weekends, holidays) They’re not performing at the same level they have been (more than an off week) e.g. productivity has dropped, not engaging as they normally do on calls, missing deadlines, etc. Apparent frustration. They’re communicating negatively or not communicating, making comments under their breath, etc. Isolating. Canceling meetings, not showing up to meetings.
As a manager, I’m constantly trying to balance hitting goals (ie. performance), coaching my team, and helping them develop professionally. But, I’m also concerned about their physical and mental wellbeing and I have worked hard to create a safe place for them to be their most authentic selves. When I see something concerning, I will encourage them to take time off or take advantage of our employee resources and benefits.
How do effective and empathetic leaders prevent burnout?
Gallup lists the primary causes of burnout at work as: unfair treatment, an unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity and a lack of communication and support from a manager. suggests that the quality of a manager sets the foundation for all the other causes. Here are a few things I’ve done as a manager to try and prevent burnout:
⚡Critically review your team’s charter and vision to ensure it’s clear for your team and larger organization
The only constant is change (especially in startups) and that often means your team’s day to day responsibilities will shift. It’s critical to ensure that when this happens, the revised expectations you have for your team are well documented (not just for them but for the entire organization). On our team, we use a “” as our single source of truth. Our CSM hub houses our vision, values, playbooks, documentation, meetings, and is the place where anyone in our company can/should got to understand “What Customer Success is/does” at Coda. It enables our team to collaborate more efficiently and effectively.
😷 Make well-being part of your team meetings and career development conversations.
Ask how your team is and give them a safe place to answer honestly. This can take some time to develop because you need to earn the trust of your team but when you lead by example and truly listen and care about your team, they will tell you how they really are and what support they need. By using a sentiment tracker during our team meetings, the team is able to communicate how they’re really doing, what they’re struggling with, and what they’re excited about. It also helps me understand where they’re at with their well being. I read them all and leave notes or add a topic to discuss 1:1 to ensure the team is getting the support they need.
Here’s an example of what our sentiment looks like in our weekly meeting. The “If this week were a gif” is my favorite part and truly tells me everything I need to know most weeks. Highly recommend you try this out in your next team meeting!
What are your biggest challenges?
What do you need support with?
😍 Ensure showing appreciation and recognizing work are part of your teams rituals
Whether it’s acknowledging an outcome, the work itself, a milestone, a baby announcement, a new idea, someone going above and beyond— acknowledging and praising your team can go a long way in helping them feel seen and supported. We recently had a team meeting where we asked everyone to submit a “Warm Fuzzy” for any or all of their teammates. It was truly the BEST part of the meeting getting to see all the awesome things people had to say about others. The praise covered such a wide spectrum of areas: personality, work ethic, product expertise, the list goes on. Highly recommend bringing this ritual to your team hub.
💬 Avoid excessive communication
Collaboration and communication are critical for the success of any team and company. However, there are times when it can get a bit out of control. When extra meetings or too many slacks/email notifications are the norm, it stops being helpful and starts interfering with your teams productivity. Constant communication takes a lot of emotional energy and mental space which can lead to stress and burnout. Take a critical look at which meetings are really necessary and bringing value and cancel where they’re not. On our team, we’ve also added a weekly Monday “What’s happening in Customer Success” Slack message and email to ensure everyone is aligned on the priorities and communicate any changes/updates in one place.
❌ Encourage your team to say “No” and enforce boundaries
Boundaries come in many forms. Whether that be saying “no” to a new project you don’t have time for or blocking off your calendar, setting boundaries is critical to ensure you’re protecting your energy.
Block your calendar for personal needs and focus time, turn off notifications out of work hours, remove email/slack on time off, etc. I have blocks on my calendar for kid drop off, my therapy appointments, time I need to focus or eat. I do not check slack/email on the weekend because that is my protected family time. It’s important for leaders to lead by example. As leaders, our teams often assume that our habits are the “correct” way to work. When we set healthy boundaries, our teams are empowered to do the same.
🏖️ Encourage time off and communicate employee benefits available
I’m fortunate to work for a company that has a great PTO policy and awesome employee benefits that support my emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. Make sure your team understands what’s available to them and lead by example by taking time off and using the benefits that are offered.
Stress is something many (if not all) of us have navigated at work and/or in our personal lives. When that stress builds up over time it can lead to burnout.
Burnout is a very real part of every worker’s life and with macroeconomic trends, it’s definitely not going away anytime soon. Use these tips to understand which signs to look out for and prevent burnout on your team.