Work burnout — are you expecting too much of your teams?
29 December 2020
What’s your management approach when it comes to work burnout? Some leaders believe the best talent will give 150% of themselves to work, 100% of the time. Others protect their teams from sources of stress. But which way is right?
Balancing stress and stretch to avoid work burnout
A CEO’s LinkedIn post gained lots of engagement recently: 450+ comments and 5,000+ reactions. In it, he explained how he’d “fired” a client because they were threatening employee well-being.
Some people applauded him: “Now this is leadership!”.
Others disagreed: “[It] may feel empowering but you lose an opportunity to grow, adapt, and evolve with it”.
What’s your take?
At the risk of sitting on the fence, we’d say: “It depends”. After all, a little temporary stress can improve mental and physical health — we’re told that in TED talks and academic studies alike. That’s when we’re in our “stretch zone”.
The situation described by this CEO could have been highly stressful for his team. It might not have been for someone else’s. It’s a manager’s role to know their team’s limits, then base their expectations around that.
The difference between stress and stretch
When stretched, teams feel invigorated and motivated to achieve a difficult goal. The challenge encourages creative thinking and novel problem-solving solutions. Ultimately, producing work that everyone involved is proud of.
Chronic stress is a much more negative experience. Maybe they feel pushed to go above and beyond for every single client; answering Slack notifications 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. Perhaps they’re too wired to take vacation days — worried that there simply isn’t time to “switch off”.
Being in the stress zone for a long period of time leads to a wide array of health issues. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmunity issues, and an assortment of mental health disorders have all been linked to stress. Stress also reduces creativity at work.
When does stretch become stress, and stress become burnout?
So at what point does healthy, invigorating stress become too much? And what’s an HR manager’s responsibility in pre-empting that shift?
If your teams are spending more time in the stress zone than they are anywhere else, it’s time to make some changes. Look at how your team responds to a new challenge. A team in the stress zone will look anxious and exhausted. One that’s got the energy to spare will appear excited and enthused.
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The value of well-being at work (and the true cost of burnout)
In his post, the writer says: “I could not — and would not — put a price on my team’s psychological well-being or a culture of mutual respect”. And he’s absolutely right.
No number of zeros on an invoice should convince us to ‘sell’ an employee’s downtime or to put them in the firing line. As managers, it’s our job to balance the expectations of our clients with the needs of the team.
Because while you can’t put a price on well-being, health and happiness can be given a value. Happy employees can be as much as 31% more productive than their peers — exhibiting more creativity at work and securing 37% more sales.
Unhappy employees cost a business millions
Workplace stress has been blamed for staff errors, missed deadlines, and issues with team dynamics. So while managers may think they’re encouraging their team to step up to a challenge, to win over a new client, or to hit an ambitious revenue figure… it can all be a false economy.
“Stress-producing bosses are literally bad for the heart”
— HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
That’s especially true if “discretionary” effort is more of an organization expectation than an individual choice.
Stress costs US organizations $300 billion a year. Surely that’s not money well spent?
People want to work in exciting teams — not exhausted ones
By protecting your workforce’s well-being, you help them perform and succeed. You appear more attractive to future recruits, too.
Companies with happy, engaged staff receive 100% more job applications than other organizations. And employee well-being schemes are a particularly salient pull for newer members of the workforce.
76% of Generation Z (also known as ‘early talent’) want their employers to champion mental health and well-being at work. With Gen Z soon to make up 40% of job seekers, are you doing enough to future-proof your recruitment strategy?
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What does healthy stress look like for your team?
HR managers have a dual role to perform; to fulfill management expectations and to create an environment in which employees can thrive. These goals are complementary — not competing.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing burnout. Talk to your teams. Find out what makes them excited, and what risks pushing them over the edge. Explore their values and their interpretations of stress and stretch.
And engage your C-Suite and team leaders, too. If your existing workforce is burning out, maybe it’s time to hire some extra hands? Most employees are happy to put in additional effort every now and then — but let them tell you what they’re willing to give.
As interesting as the LinkedIn post was, the comments were even more telling. The only right management style is the one that works for your team. Do you know what it is?
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