Health & Wellness

Leadership Stress: Tips to Avoid Burnout

By Judith Mewhort on November, 9 2021
4 minute read

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There is light at the end of the tunnel. As vaccination rates increase, people are returning to the office, enjoying sporting events, and dining out. So why do we feel so tired? While it may seem counterintuitive, the end of a crisis is the time when people feel the worst. 

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During the challenges of the last twenty months, many of us, especially those of us in leadership positions, have found ways to cope. And it's only now that life is starting to return to the pre-pandemic normal that we are letting ourselves feel the exhaustion and bone-tiredness that no amount of sleep seems to alleviate. We often feel unmotivated, as though we are pushing the same rock up the same hill over and over again. We might find that we are short-tempered or just feeling negative about everything.

So what’s happening? We are experiencing burnout. 

Leaders are strongly motivated to drive results. Over the last twenty-plus months, our world has been turned upside down. For some it has presented new opportunities, for others, it has meant trying to find a way to survive. And through it all, we have encountered resistance. Much of the resistance has been external and beyond our control but some of it has come from our organizations and its people. Those in our care have struggled to cope with all the change and we have had to find ways to support them throughout the pandemic. But who has been supporting the leaders?

As leaders, we are guilty of poor mental hygiene. We spend much of our time worrying, ruminating on negatives, and overthinking each situation. We are overwhelmed by our need to be digitally connected. We overcommit and have difficulty saying “no’. We are perfectionists. We have been subject to and guilty of poor communication due to a rapidly changing environment in which expectations and parameters change and all the effort we or our people have put into developing a new idea ends up wasted. We are being pulled away from critical areas to spend time on tangential tasks such as administration. And we are coping with personal situations such as family illness, and caring for young children or elderly parents

What can leaders do on a personal level to avoid burnout?

Experts advise that avoiding burnout requires a regular routine of self-care. Sounds good but what does that actually mean?

Practically it means changing your approach to reaching your business goals from a sprint to a marathon. It means setting a slower pace so that you can be around for the long haul. It’s the classic tortoise versus the hare. 

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Specific steps that can be taken include:

  1. The seven to seven rule. No work, including sending emails or checking other digital channels from 7 pm to 7 am each workday.
  2. Not routinely working on the weekend.
  3. Exercising on a regular basis
  4. Give yourself “thinking time”. Periods in a day or week when you are just reflecting. The best ideas or solutions to problems often come when your mind is not actively thinking about said problem
  5. Leading versus managing: Give your people the tools and support they need to do their job. Let them fail and learn from their mistakes. Seek and implement their feedback. Don’t try to do their job for them
  6. Prioritize: You can’t do everything and that’s okay. Give yourself permission to place some items on the back burner or lengthen the timeline on others
  7. Delegate: Sometimes this means passing work along to others within your firm. Sometimes this means seeking outside help. And sometimes it means investing in software or other tools to do the job more efficiently
  8. Communicate differently: Keep messages short and frequent. 
  9. Learn to be adaptable; Let go of the old way of doing things and embrace the new. Help those in your organizations to do the same. 
  10. Resilience: work on changing thinking patterns. Being grateful and focusing on the positive is not just “new age”. Moving from the negative to the positive and changing our neural pathways is possible. If you haven’t tried meditation, ten minutes a day can really help. 

How can the organization help?

According to a recent study, burnout symptoms among employees who had poor employer support were twice as high as those who felt protected., In addition, 91 percent of employees who felt strongly supported by their employer were more engaged with the company’s mission and vision, while 66 percent were more connected to their job, 52 percent were less likely to be considering quitting their job, and 27 percent were less worried about balancing work and family.

Organizational mental wellness starts at the top. Leaders must model the behaviours that they wish to see throughout the company. Such behaviours include taking vacation and disconnecting. Respecting personal time and not sending communications or expecting answers outside of working hours. Being a role model for work-life balance; picking kids up from school, exercising during the day, and taking a lunch break.

It also includes providing necessary training, support, and communication. 

  1. Leadership mental health first aid training for front-line managers. 
  2. Providing a continuum of mental health programs beginning with wellness programs such as resilience training
  3. Offering a robust Employee Assistance Program
  4. Financial support for longer-term counselling in a variety of formats: in-person, telephonic, video 
  5. Return to work programs for those who have been absent due to a disability. Including the cultural support within the organization to welcome back those that have been ill or injured.

Conclusion

As leaders, the health of our organization is dependent upon our physical and emotional wellness. A leader with no gas left in the tank does not have the energy and motivation to help their organization and its people to grow. Learning to take a step back, prioritize your own health and wellness, and utilize the support provided by your benefits plan will go a long way to preventing burnout and healing any existing challenges.

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Mental health in the workplace is a top priority for organizations. Learn how a psychologically safe workplace helps businesses. 

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