5 ways leaders can fight team burnout

These strategies can help leaders mitigate employee burnout, boost engagement, and strengthen organizational resiliency
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remote work fatigue - employee resting head on desk

Despite the uncertainty around COVID-19, the shift to remote work was, for many employees, a welcome departure from the in-office routine. However, as weeks turned into months, and months into a year, the downsides of remote work became clear for some people.

One example is the difficulty of delineating work from home life. With 24/7 connectivity and no commute, it can be challenging to separate the two. Many people find themselves working late into the evening and on weekends. Add in reduced staff and increased workloads, and burnout quickly becomes a reality: A Deloitte survey found that 77 percent of workers have experienced burnout.

How to fight burnout

The good news is burnout can be mitigated. One key factor: employee engagement. Engaged employees are happier and more productive. The organization also benefits from greater resiliency. However, it takes effective tools and consistent efforts to keep employees engaged, avoid burnout, and ensure all are aligned to move organizational goals forward.

These five steps can help mitigate burnout, boost employee engagement, and strengthen the resiliency of your organization.

1. Foster better communication

Communication is essential to understanding your employees’ mindsets, challenges, and organizational and managerial perceptions. It shouldn’t be reduced to an annual review. More frequency and consistency are especially important in a hybrid work environment, where it’s easier for employees to feel as though they are working in a vacuum. To avoid the mental health issues that can happen with isolation, communicate with employees, and ensure that staff members can connect with one another through all available channels.

Communication touchstones include one-on-ones focused on progress and goals as well as small chat groups and meet-ups like virtual lunchrooms or happy hours. They can foster camaraderie, provide an opportunity to unwind, reduce loneliness, and allow you to quickly identify those who may be struggling. This can help you address issues before they spiral out of control.

Another important consideration are individual personalities. Some will be extroverted and candid in any venue; others will be more honest and communicative on a one-on-one basis.

Keep strategies flexible to enable team members to be vulnerable and forthright.

[ Read also: Remote work exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]

2. Empathize and commit to mental well-being

Mental health is increasingly being recognized for the critical role it plays in individuals, groups, and society. Leaders who exhibit support through empathy are more likely to elicit honesty and authenticity from their employees. The Gartner 2020 Reimagine HR Employee Survey found when employers develop deeper relationships with their employees, there is a 23 percent and 17 percent increase in the number of employees reporting better mental and physical health, respectively. Employers who support their employees holistically see a 21 percent increase in high performers. Employees also tend to feel heard and validated, leading to a happier, more productive work culture.

Keep in mind that even if an employee is productive and successful, he or she may still be struggling internally. (Consider the recent stories of Olympic athletes and other sports figures who admitted to emotional struggles even in the midst of great success.) Signs to look for include working long hours, taking on extra projects, and exhibiting few personal interests or relationships.

A Robert Half survey noted that 49 percent of companies implemented general mental wellness programs, with 45 percent offering mental health resources due to the pandemic. These types of programs promote self-care – many provide counseling and encourage more paid time off (PTO).

Leaders who exhibit support through empathy are more likely to elicit honesty and authenticity from their employees.

3. Encourage downtime

The “great resignation” has left many organizations short-staffed. While it may be difficult to redistribute work and keep up with demand, it’s critical to build in downtime. Let employees know that they can and should take breaks, personal days, or vacation when necessary.

Clarify your organization’s standard work hours and encourage employees to put away the phone and laptop whenever possible when they are “off the clock.” If employees understand their right to delineate their professional and personal lives, they will be more likely to do so.

Many companies are adopting flexible PTO programs that enable employees to take time off according to their needs. Even a few mini-breaks throughout the day can significantly boost wellbeing and productivity. Make it clear that team members are not expected to check their email while taking vacation time. If they are essential, find someone to cover for them. They will return well-rested and ready to work.

4. Implement work environment flexibility

Though some workers are anxious to return to a physical office, many prefer to continue working remotely. The Gartner 2020 ReImagineHR Employee Survey found that when employees had flexibility over work frequency, location, and methods, 55 percent performed at high levels.

To implement what Gartner calls “radical flexibility,” it’s important to establish clear expectations and guidelines around hybrid work. More tenured employees might receive more latitude, while newer employees might benefit from a combination of in-office onboarding and fewer remote workdays.

5. Invest in tools that promote collaboration

“Employees don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad managers.” Engagement and strong communication are key to retention. Employees who fully understand expectations and are supported in their roles are more likely to be invested in the organization and its goals.

Employee engagement and performance management technologies support productivity, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. Engagement will bridge the perceived gap between in-office and remote employees since both will receive critical coaching and feedback, further aligning individual and team objectives to the organization’s most strategic priorities.

We can either optimize technology or allow it to rule us. Commit to mitigating employee burnout. These tips can help you maximize opportunities for employee engagement, enhanced mental health initiatives, and greater well-being for both your employees and your organization.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

Caitlin Collins is an Organizational Psychologist and Principal Implementation Consultant at Betterworks. Her career has been focused on building performance enablement programs for global organizations that drive individual and organizational performance.