How leaders can help teams fight fatigue: 7 practical tips

Many people have learned tough lessons about approaching burnout and protecting employees during the past two years. Here, leaders share strategies you can use
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We’ve all realized by now that burnout has played a major role in workplaces in 2021: The pandemic has been unrelenting. Burnout rose by almost 9 percent between April and July 2021, according to the Glint Employee Well-Being Report, a 12 percent increase from the prior July. In large part, this is due to the “always-on” work culture that many companies reinforced in 2020.

While this topic has certainly been explored thoroughly, many leaders remain hungry for next-level advice with regard to preventing, recognizing, and dealing with burnout.

Additionally, more employers are now taking responsibility for their role in helping individuals manage burnout - and trying fresh approaches. Maybe you gave advice at the start of the pandemic that rang true, or, possibly, turned out to be bad? What would you as a leader change about the advice you previously gave and what would you keep the same? Did you ask specific questions to assess burnout on an individual or team basis? Did you go beyond encouraging people to take PTO to ensure it was being taken? What was the outside-of-the-box solution that worked for your team?

As Matt Cronin, Founding Partner of House of Kaizen shared, "There was a moment when our information sharing seemed to be too much. When the world was out of control, a sense of steadiness, control, and regularity at work provided some respite to the team and the discussion of pandemic preparations was contributing to feeling overwhelmed for some. Finding a better balance with that information sharing would be something I think we could have done differently."

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Here, leaders weigh in on how they approached burnout and fatigue with their employees and provide tips for protecting teams from the worst effects. Consider these seven tips:

1. Get ahead of burnout 

Matt Cronin, Founding Partner, House of KaizenPerhaps the most novel idea is to get ahead of it, name it and point to it as a thing that people should be on the lookout for – managers in particular – and encourage the known efforts of prevention before it becomes a problem that needs to be solved. More importantly, encourage everyone to look out for each other, because caring for others is proven to help stave off your own burnout. We coach people to look for the signs, not necessarily to ask about them – it can be hard for people to self-diagnose burnout, but easier for others to observe changes in their behaviors. We look for cynicism, dissatisfaction, lack of motivation, irritability, impatience, and tiredness. We ask questions about how they've experienced changes in their feeling, thinking, and behaving and even if they're aware of what the known signs of burnout are.

When the earliest signs are spotted, we want to get ahead of it with overt encouragement. We use team-wide Slack conversations to demonstrate and celebrate self-care in order to remove the stigma and the sense that it needs to be offline or undisclosed use of time. We want everyone to look beyond their immediate challenges and be reminded of the bigger picture and purpose, to recognize that it's a marathon and that we're looking for people to bring their best self to the table, not simply to be at the table for the most hours.” 

2. Consider peer-to-peer recognition

Andrew Gurbaxani, Chief Information Officer, Vensure Employer Services: "To prevent burnout and improve morale, we introduced an internal rewards program. This is a peer-to-peer recognition and rewards application where all employees are given “points” at the beginning of the month and can award them to other team members to thank them and recognize their contributions. You can make short comments relevant to the award, and apply hashtags like #innovation or #teamwork. It is fun and uplifting!”

3. Serve your community

Jenai Marinkovic, vCISO/CTO, Tiro Security and member, ISACA Emerging Trends Working Group: "The most critical action I took to help deal with burnout and cope with the physical and emotional toll of the pandemic was to find a way to be of greater service to our community. All of our achievements were uplifted and amplified through the kindness of others. Whether it is to mentor, train, or volunteer—there is no better way to demonstrate our eternal gratitude than to help support others. A grateful heart forges a strong mind. There are several actions I took with my team and organization to help identify, diagnose, and address burnout. Here are a few: 

  • Daily check-ins. At the top of each meeting, we open by practicing exercises in gratefulness. Every meeting each person discusses the things for which they are grateful as a mental and emotional exercise to help our brains release dopamine and serotonin and combat the stress hormones that take a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing. 
  • Practicing what we preach. As leaders, we must demystify any stigma of mental health self-care through practiced transparency. If we make clear the importance of mental healthcare by taking the time ourselves and sharing with our teams our own personal experiences and learnings, we can help reduce the stress, anxiety, or mental barriers that our teams may have in truly taking time to focus on themselves and disconnect—not just taking time off, showing as out of office in Slack and then spending eight hours catching up on work.”

4. Empower employees to be transparent

-Leah Weyandt, Chief People Officer, Bounteous: "Burnout impacts team members across locations, ages, and roles. The COVID crisis increased pressure to juggle professional and personal responsibilities under a single roof and led to a spike in demand for digital talent. We've launched a number of new initiatives around company communication and transparency, employee feedback and touchpoints, and continual education, learning, and support programming to help us identify and mitigate risks early.

To better pinpoint team member challenges, we instituted weekly survey "pulse checks" and invested in additional time management tools and processes to identify projects, teams, or individuals who are running hot or at risk. When we are in tune to recurring concerns, uncovering personal challenges through weekly one-on-one meetings, or spotting a workload surge, we are able to act quickly to offer support, whether it's providing additional hands to help, tapping into time-off programming, or surprising and delighting through unexpected reward and recognition. 

With a host of support programming options, including unlimited PTO, flexible work scheduling, free mental health counseling, training, and learning opportunities, our goal is to continually educate and advocate for their use. But more essential than any program is the ability to instill trust and empower employees to raise their hands if and when they need help. When we are open to listening to the challenges an individual is facing, then we are better able to solve for a solution together.”

5. Celebrate PTO

Jordan Peace, CEO and Co-founder of Fringe: "To prevent burnout, people need to take time off – it’s as simple as that. Leaders must understand that it’s not enough to ask people to take time off, or to call their company a “PTO-positive workplace.” To get people to actually take time for themselves, leaders must incentivize and celebrate PTO. Compensate employees for taking time away from the office – by offering employees a fixed sum of money as a reward, or by baking in offerings like travel and vacation programs into your company’s benefits package.

Provide positive reinforcement for PTO both inside and outside the company by creating a PTO-specific Slack channel in your company’s workspace (or other collaboration tools) where employees can share time-off plans, ideas, or tips with colleagues, and proactively share (with the employee’s permission) non-work experiences on your company’s social channels.”

6. Host virtual events for the team to have fun

Farooqui Mohammed Yousufuddin, Chief Transformation Officer, East, Altimetrik: "As we are all going through unprecedented times, focusing on physical and mental health is of utmost importance. As an organization we have maintained constant contact with our employees, educating them on various programs available to them that they can reach out to for assistance. We have also had several virtual events involving our employees and their families where we play games, take quizzes, etc., which serves as a stress reliever. One very important initiative as a leader I have taken is to personally track how much time our associates are putting in: are they getting breaks and are they utilizing their time-off? Some of the aspects I personally focused on with my team apart from encouraging them to take time off:

  • Talking to them about the importance of taking short breaks in between work
  • Eating in a timely manner (as we are working from home, that discipline might have been disturbed)
  • Ensuring no late meetings in the name of WFH
  • Encouraging people to listen to motivational speakers rather than binge on video streaming
  • Talk to them about planning their days and stick to discipline while working from home." 

7. Set meaningful goals and recognize each step taken to achieve them

Ian Cook, VP of Analytics, Visier: "Identifying burnout is one thing. Enabling employees to work through being burned out is not as simple as a single practice or piece of technology. Each employee responds differently to different stressors. Stress is reduced when you perceive your work to have meaning, and you have control over how the work gets done.

Providing wellness guidance is a useful step, as is engaging with employees to set clear and meaningful goals/objectives that the employee sees as attainable and realistic. And then communicating success, even the smallest step forward, as it relates to the work people do. When the recognition for a hard day's work is personal, relevant, and regular, the stresses of work are reduced. When all that is demanded is more effort, with no sense of progress or recognition, then work becomes stress that employees will want to move away from.”

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

Katie Sanders
Katie Sanders is Content Manager for The Enterprisers Project, seeking contributors with expertise that can be shared with CIOs and IT leaders. She is eager to find the best voices to provide quality thought leadership and insights and leave readers with actionable takeaways.

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