Leadership burnout is a common phenomenon in today’s working world. It can be crippling for leaders leading to increased stress levels and poor decision-making. Unfortunately, it’s easier than we think for leaders to reach a state of sustained exhaustion that leads to burnout. But don’t worry, there are ways we can prevent it! In this blog post, we’ll explore common misconceptions around leadership burnout and discuss strategies you can use to avoid sliding down that slippery slope towards complete mental exhaustion. So let’s dive in!
Leaders often approach burnout as something that happens outside of leadership teams. However, the reality is burnout within an organization is a reflection of what has already occurred within the leaders. Leaders struggle to recognize burnout within themselves because work culture may continue to view admittance of burnout as “weakness” or “failure.” When a leader is experiencing burnout but is unable to seek support, the leader subconsciously burns out their direct reports. In very little time a ripple effect flows through the organization.
However, the reality is burnout within an organization is a reflection of what has already occurred within the leadership teams.
All leaders are at risk for burnout. The World Health Organization defines burnout as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by increased exhaustion, increased cynicism and decreased professional efficacy. Risk for burnout is determined by individual risk factors and organizational factors related to poor boundaries, workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values.
When a leader is experiencing burnout but is unable to seek support, the leader subconsciously burns out their direct reports and a ripple effect ensues throughout the organization.
Leadership burnout does not follow a consistent downward trajectory along the burnout spectrum. Within a single year, they may oscillate between different burnout profiles: Engaged, Ineffective, Overextended, Disengaged, Burnout. For example, in most industries Q3 and Q4 present unique stressors that may elevate stress levels more than in Q1 and Q2. The change in stress levels between Q4 and Q1 can cause a leader to develop the false sense of “recovering” from burnout only to plunge back down the spectrum in Q3. It is important to be aware of the fluctuations and provide leaders with tools to anticipate and consistently manage their stress throughout the year.
The top 3 most effective strategies that I use with clients to avoid slipping down the slippery slope of burnout are:
Three: Learn the pattern
Life exists as a series of patterns most of the time. Leaders know what times throughout the year feel more overwhelming than others. Take time to identify the time of year, tasks, interactions, and projects that cause the most overwhelm. There is power in predictability. Identifying the times of year when stress levels are more likely to be higher can empower leaders to implement support measures during those times.
Two: Plan your breaks
Many leaders do not take all of their planned vacation days. Our minds and bodies need regular breaks from work to rest and reset. Planning breaks for the entire year gives leaders something to look forward to and increases the likelihood that they will honor their rest periods. Taking longer breaks (at least 5 consecutive days) right before and right after intense periods as well as short breaks (half day to 2 days) during intense periods can be very helpful in managing stress.
One: Triage your energy
About 3 years ago, I shifted from coaching on time management to coaching on energy management. My reason is that no one has enough time. But we can control what we give our energy to and how we replenish it. Triaging energy requires leaders to sort and allocate urgent tasks based on resources available to them that will maximize chances of achieving their goals. In keeping in line with identifying patterns, there are two ways Leaders can triage their energy.
The first approach involves reviewing work habits and selecting which activities give the greatest return and which activities are energy wasters (commonly known as “busy work”). Then reduce the amount of energy wasters by no longer completing them or delegating them.
The second approach involves recognizing peak productivity hours. Knowing what time of day leaders are at their sharpest (energized, most focused, and most creative) and plan activities that require high energy and high effort to be completed during that time. This allows leaders to align tasks with their natural rhythms.
Leadership burnout is real and can have a disastrous ripple effect on businesses if left unchecked. By understanding their root causes of burnout, leaders can begin to implement preventative measures to keep themselves and ultimately their teams healthy and productive. While no one strategy will work for everyone, taking the time to identify energy drains and creating systems to protect against them is a great place to start. So take a moment to reflect on your work habits over the last year and make a commitment to avoid burning out yourself and your team. What is one strategy you will implement in order to avoid leadership burnout?