There’s a simple litmus test for burnout. It involves understanding how each person in your team feels about going to work – physically or virtually – when they wake up each morning. Unless they are bouncing out of bed and looking forward to the day, you could have a very big problem brewing.
If your team struggles with burnout, you’re not alone. The Productivity Commission’s recent report found that Australian productivity growth is at its lowest rate in 60 years. A co-authored Beyond Blue report on mental health in the workplace found 92% of serious mental health concerns in the workplace are caused by work-related stressors. In turn, these cost businesses approximately $10.9 billion annually, including $146 million in compensation claims and a whopping $4.7 billion in absenteeism. With these sorts of statistics, it’s no wonder that Workcover is increasing its onus on employers to ensure mentally safe workplaces and the Victorian Government has proposed new Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations.
There are well-documented causes of burnout, including feelings of loss of control, lack of role clarity, poor work cultures, poor work-life balance and over engagement. The good news is that there are three things you can do as a leader to effectively reduce burnout in your business – starting today.
Demonstrate compassionate leadership
Compassionate leadership involves three key skills: noticing, feeling and acting. Like any attribute, good compassionate leadership takes training and practice. However, done well, it can be one of the most powerful factors in addressing burnout and its consequences.
Compassionate leadership starts with becoming attuned to what’s going on with your team members’ emotional and psychological health. When you notice changes in mood and behaviour, it’s important to feel empathetic. This can only happen when you understand what is happening for that person. And you can only do that if you have developed a trust-based relationship with them and they feel safe to be vulnerable in your presence.
The hardest skill in compassionate leadership is acting effectively and appropriately. As a leader, you have access to power and resources that the people in your team do not, so it is your responsibility to pull the right levers to help. This can be complicated, as emotional and psychological health is a layered issue and some of the causes of stress may not be in the workplace. As a leader, it’s not your place to fix issues outside of work. But you can encourage your team member to seek support through external resources, such as an EAP service, and work actively to remove any stigma within the workplace associated with doing so.
Hard work is not always a good thing. When people are overextending themselves, it can lead to burnout. As a leader, it’s important to understand people’s capabilities and match those to the role they perform. If capability is mismatched, it often leads to capacity issues. For example, if someone working remotely chooses to work disjointed hours to accommodate their personal needs they may end up working late. For people with the right capability and infrastructure, that won’t be a problem. But for others, it can be unsustainable. For leaders, remote working can add a layer of challenge to ensure team members are efficient, productive and performing well without feeling distress.
Encourage the use of emerging tools
As a leader, you should encourage people to lean into tech to become more efficient and reduce the pressures on their time. Generative AI tools can help reduce workloads and improve efficiencies and performance. For example, Chat GPT can provide some great starting points for ideas about meeting agendas, business proposals and marketing content.
Similarly, voluminous and rich online content and tools can be used for motivated learning. This is where people take responsibility for their own learning, which can also create capacity gains.
JOST&Co can help address burnout issues by:
- reviewing the operating model to check that there is structural capacity and capability
- providing compassionate leadership development programs for leaders
- offering a Thrive at Work program, which looks at improving systems and work design
- conducting a cultural diagnostic review and evaluating for compassionate culture, and
- individually coaching and developing leaders.