Preventing Leadership Burnout

Did you know that today is National Workaholic Day? Raise your hand if you’re a workaholic. I suspect, even if your hand isn’t raised, many of you sneak in work at night, check emails on the weekend “just to get a head start on the week” and are likely struggling to balance work and home.

More and more, the word “burnout” is popping up in conversations with both leaders and L&D professionals. And, the pandemic has ratcheted everything up a notch or 10.  It seems like everyone is under pressure, over-stretched and oh-so-tired. Word on the street (and from research) shows that burnout is reaching record levels.

What is 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 three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

What are the Signs of Leadership Burnout?

The Mayo Clinic offers up these questions for self-assessment:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

Quite often what others will note in a  leader who may be experiencing burnout is a shorter fuse, finger-pointing and blaming others, as well as frequent complaining. Sadly, there’s a lot of this happening in our workplaces right now as people are stretched to their limits.

What Can Organizations Do?

According to one survey of over 600 senior HR leaders, nearly half (46 percent) say work burnout is responsible for between 20 to 50 percent of their annual workforce turnover.

Burnout is often thought of as an individual’s problem. However, often when we scratch the surface and dig a little deeper, it’s an organizational problem. The root issues go well beyond anything an employee has control over.

A survey of 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup found the top five reasons for burnout are:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

1. Create a Learning and Development Culture

For L&D professionals, this means the emphasis needs to be on creating a culture of learning to clearly show that you are invested in your leaders and high potentials. Investing in L&D opportunities for leaders is an anti-burnout strategy with a high return on investment, and it goes a long way towards deepening engagement amongst your key players. In fact, research has shown that, compared to their peers, employees who see good opportunities to learn and grow at their organization are:

  • 3.6 times more likely to report being happy;
  • 3.5 times more likely to report they believe their company can help them meet their career goals; and
  • 2.9 times more likely to report they expect they’ll still be with the company in two years.

2. Promote Individualization & Relevance

By allowing leaders to have a say in the learning materials, you not only foster accountability, but also allow them to develop relevant skills and behaviours to help them the most – reducing stress in their role. A learning and development plan that has an element of personalization also helps employees feel heard by the organization, increasing a feeling of psychological safety.

3. Support Collaborative Learning

It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. When leaders can learn together – and from one another – it helps them make connections with peers from across the organization. Social learning opportunities reduce stress and increase engagement.

Learning as a Stress-Buster

According to research by Bersin & Associates, organizations with a robust learning culture have:

  • 37% more productive employees
  • A 32% higher chance of being the first to market an innovative solution
  • A 26% increase in their ability to deliver quality products

Developing people capabilities not only engages your employees, but helps reduce stress levels by building needed skills, enhancing collaboration and communication, and builds competency, all which go a long way to diffuse feelings of stress and alienation.

If you’re curious about how The Roundtable can help develop your leaders let’s start a conversation.  And, be sure to download our 2022 L&D Trends Report for more insights into the issues affecting L&D professionals in the year ahead.