IT leadership: How to defeat burnout

Here’s how Liberty Mutual’s core values help create a culture of engagement and productivity for all employees
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Over the last few years, people have had to contend with major life stressors – balancing health concerns, childcare challenges, and family issues while working from home – on top of ever-changing work environments and professional responsibilities. The risk of burnout at all levels of the organization remains high and can have a catastrophic impact on team culture.  

Helping teams navigate stress is critical to keep a healthy team environment in which all employees can thrive. At Liberty Mutual, we do this by focusing on three things: we live our values, we empower employees, and we focus our teams on outcomes for our customers over outputs.

Foundation matters: Living our values

We are grounded in five core values:

  • Being open, which means engaging with all people and possibilities
  • Keeping it simple by being clear and transparent
  • Putting people first by acting with dignity, empathy, and respect
  • Making things better by being proactive and challenging the status quo
  • Acting responsibly by doing what’s right and following through

These values are the foundation of our identity. As we think about helping our organization navigate the stresses of today’s world, these values help us respond in a way that supports our employees and serves our customers.

Empowering employees: Tooling our managers

When we think about how we can help our employees navigate through stress and avoid burnout, we also consider how we can empower each employee and provide tools that enable their managers to support a healthy work environment. With about 7,000 managers across 29 countries, it’s critical that we provide tools that can help employees at all stages of their career and address a wide range of variables. 

[ Also read Motivate your IT team using this leadership advice. ]

Several years ago, we launched a program called “Leading at Liberty” for all managers. Our goal was to deliver tools that help our managers and leaders develop skills that support their teams and provide psychological safety. 

Beyond Leading at Liberty, we have also launched several toolkits to help leaders lead through change. An empathy toolkit provides tips for fostering an empathetic culture; our resiliency toolkit helps strengthen the resilience of managers and their teams; and our inclusive leader toolkit helps managers think about those elements from a personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural change perspective.  

As a global hybrid organization, these toolkits have been key in helping managers navigate remote work and combat burnout. They’ve also helped leaders build trust during uncertain times. 

Outcomes, not outputs

What sets Liberty Mutual apart from other organizations is our purpose. We exist to help people embrace today and confidently pursue tomorrow. This is our North Star and helps define and guide everything we do. 

We also understand that combating burnout requires connecting work to outcome. To ensure that this happens, we spend time defining targeted outcomes – the realization of the expected benefit – versus output – for example, simply turning on a new feature in a system. 

Success is measured by producing results and realizing benefits. Outcome might be the ability to deploy capabilities faster than before, for example. The key word is ‘capabilities,’ which help us deliver better products and services to customers. An outcome is much bigger than an output such as simply turning on a technology. 

Strong leaders create clarity and help their teams focus on the outcomes that matter. They also bring together people who have the right information and skills to get the job done.

These nuances matter in the context of burnout. If you’re working on a project and you don’t know why you’re doing it or what the intended results are, you’re not connected to why it matters. When that happens, you’ll likely feel like you are doing a lot of work, but not toward anything meaningful. By focusing on outcomes over outputs, we’ve been able to alleviate that overwhelming feeling of burnout while prioritizing the results of our work. 

Strong leaders create clarity and help their teams focus on the outcomes that matter. They also bring together people who have the right information and skills to get the job done. For more insight on leadership, I recommend General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, which emphasizes the need to create “shared consciousness and context” across an organization.

Bringing it all together: Meaningful work with tools that enable progress

While we have values and a process that orients the teams to outcomes, burnout remains a discussion point across many work environments. This is due in part to employees’ need for a more frictionless workplace, along with technology advancements that require new skills. When people come to work, we want them to have the right tools to remove friction and help make their jobs more seamless. 

As we roll out new tools to improve the employee experience, we also recognize that employees have different levels of comfort with new technology. To address this, we focus heavily on training. We’re methodical about making sure our training will help employees develop new skills as their jobs become even more tech-enabled. Training is not just about checking boxes; we continuously strive to create the time, space, and mechanisms for our teams to learn new skills. 

From a tech employees’ perspective, we think about how we can provide training that enables our teams to grow. For example, we run a 32-week full stack engineer program that’s self-paced but also includes weekly instructor-led online sessions. This ensures that the skills our employees are learning connect with the outcomes we expect and the tooling we need. Our goal is to help our employees rise to meet our customers’ new needs. 

Burnout will likely continue to be a concern for the foreseeable future. At Liberty Mutual, we aim to create an environment where we put people first, support our teams, and deliver the right products and services for our customers. Our values guide us as we create new tools, new opportunities, and new ways to empower our teams and keep them engaged.

[ Learn how CIOs are speeding toward goals while preventing employee burnout in this report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services: Maintaining Momentum on Digital Transformation. ]

Monica Caldas is the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance, where she is responsible for the technology roadmap and driving alignment around the company’s investments in data and technology across the company’s three business units.