Since the beginning of the pandemic, little has changed — and that’s
part of the problem. While the experience of work has varied from one
person to another, one thing is true: those that are overworked are at
a risk of burning out. Many of us have enjoyed not having the daily
commute. Yet, the commute acted as the transition into and out of our
‘work persona’. Now, with the commute gone, it has become incredibly
easy to over work.
Every year, burnout costs the US economy $125 to $190 billion and the UK economy
upwards of £45 billion. The pandemic has created fertile conditions for
burnout which means that team leaders need to be vigilant for its
signs, in both
themselves and their teams.
The consequences of burnout on a team
According to the
results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully
managed. It is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, increased mental
distance, feelings of negativity and reduced professional efficacy. It
also brings with it a score of physical health problems including
fatigue, headaches, heartburn, gastrointestinal issues and the potential
for food, drug and alcohol abuse.
While there are a lot of articles that talk about burnout, what is often not
discussed is the effect burnout has on the surviving team — especially
if the burned-out person is the team leader. Humans are naturally good
at picking up on the stress of others, and the feelings of burnout can
spread quickly through a team as stress levels increase.
It can also create a toxic microculture within organizations which can
spread to other microcultures and teams. Burned out teams will feel they
aren’t achieving anything because they’re confused about assignments or
objectives. They may feel micro-managed or unappreciated, as priorities
shift due to erratic behaviour. As a result, collaboration decreases,
communication breaks down, and team members get more stressed.
Creativity effectively vanishes.
It’s not about going on holiday, it’s about taking a break
It’s pointless to take a holiday because there’s nowhere we can
This is a valid complaint, and one that many employees and managers use
during this time. With social distancing and strict travel rules in
place, staycations are one of the only viable options. Understandably,
they’re not appealing. Who wants to stay home for a holiday when you’ve
already spent the last few months at home?
If there is only one takeaway from this article it’s this: it’s not
about going on holiday, it’s about taking a break.
Taking a break is about having the psychological freedom to wander into
other things and not your inbox. It’s a restorative process that is
similar to sleep. In the way dreams are a way of processing the day’s
activities, taking a break provides mental clarity and the increased
capacity to deal with stress down the line. A change of pace helps boost
creativity too — mixing up your routine helps you see things differently
and arrive at new solutions.
It can also improve productivity, enhance focus, provide balance and improve relationships.
However, the key to getting these benefits is actually taking time off —
unplugging completely without compulsively checking your phone or
Good leaders protect their team’s time
A leader’s role is to look out for their people, and that means
establishing clear boundaries —including how much they work. It’s
natural to take what people give, and work will take everything (and
more) from an employee if they’re willing to give it. So, a leader must
set clear boundaries about how much work is acceptable.
A good leader needs to protect time off by respecting it. Give
people space — if they’re off from work, don’t expect them to respond to
emails. The truth is, people will appreciate this and repay you with
increased efforts if their holidays are respected.
Today, being a leader is about being human and finding out how your
people are really doing beyond the small talk. People tend to override
talking about the negative in their lives unless something catastrophic
is happening. But, by asking, “How are you really doing?” you can
encourage them to share their real thoughts and feelings. The pandemic
is about leadership, not management. That means sharing a sympathetic
Speak up if you believe that someone is burning out. If they’re being
increasingly difficult, the mood change could have its origins in
burnout. Instead of reprimanding, take time to find out what isn’t
working for them.
What leaders can do in the wake of burnout
Burned out people need time away to recover — it’s not a three-day
weekend cure. A leader can help by reassigning their workload until
further notice. Recovery can take weeks, if not months. During this
time, check in with them and review their bad work habits to help
determine how they can adopt a healthier approach to work.
It’s just as important to be flexible and plan how teams will adjust.
Here’s how you can support the survivors:
**Listen to your team
**Your surviving team will probably be a little dysfunctional after a
team member has burned out. They will have been coping with someone who
hasn’t been at their best for some time and they may have mixed feelings
— concern for their colleague coupled with a sense of relief that the
situation is resolving.
One thing you can do to deescalate the situation is to listen to them.
The goal is to understand their struggles and difficulties. Don’t accept
a “it’s fine” response. It will likely be a difficult period for them
without their teammate or leader, but it can also be an opportunity to
reset as a team. Helping them do this should be the number one
**Empower, don’t abandon
**Re-establishing structure and procedures are some of the best things a
leader can do. Determine reporting channels and help figure out a new
process. Equally, It’s important to step back and give the team a chance
to reflect and assess how best to collaborate again.
**Model good behaviour
**It’s one thing to talk about taking time off, yet it’s another to put
it into action. Leaders need to model good behaviour. When people see
leaders practicing self-care, they are more likely to do it as well. So,
book a week off and trust your colleagues to do just fine in your
**When it’s time for the burned-out person to reintegrate into the team,
give them time and space to adjust but keep communicating with the wider
group. Ideally, in their absence, the team has grown and healed as well,
creating a positive space for everyone. This can potentially be a
delicate situation. However, it is also a genuine opportunity for the
returning colleague to ensure that old bad habits don’t return.
Ultimately, if this can’t be achieved that it is time to mix things up
and reassign roles.
How Friday Pulse can help you and your team
During this pandemic period, we are committed to helping businesses
maintain and improve team morale, and prevent employee burnout. That’s
why we are continuing to offer companies and teams (50 – 1,000
employees) free access to our Friday Pulse people platform for 12 weeks.
The Friday Pulse platform allows leaders to keep track of happiness
scores across teams and identify the groups that may be approaching
burnout. It can also monitor teams that are trying to work with
recuperating individuals and help track their progress.
For more information on how we can help and support your organization
through the crisis please contact my colleague Clive Steer