Podcast: Recognizing Employee Burnout and Taking Action

18 minutes • May 14, 2021

🔥 "I'm Burned out." can mean so many different things...

  • "My workload is too much."

  • "I don't feel like my manager cares about me."

  • "I don't feel like I have any friendships on the team."

  • "I don't have the right tools or software to do my job."

  • "I have a skill gap that's stressing me out."

  • "My manager is micro-managing me."

  • "I don't have a healthy work/life balance."

  • ... you get the idea.

Each of these reasons for burnout requires its own action plan.

Ask the right questions to figure out  WHY behind what's causing burnout at your organization (here's a template for that)!

Other Things I mention:

Make me Smile Follow  Ernest Owusu on Linkedin! He's a great example of a leader who posts about wins, past failures, leadership, and family life. He's also a great person to  tell ALL of your sales folks to follow  because he has great insights and tips for the world of selling. 

Weekly Tip Encourage your leaders (and yourself!) try to show your team that you can still walk the walk and talk the talk.

  • Tell the CMO to design an ad or landing page.

  • Tell the VP of engineering to contribute some code on a secret pet project.

  • Tell the Head of Sales to make some cold calls (and record them so their team to listen!).

  • Tell the CEO to write a cold email campaign.

  • Tell the Head of Customer Success to check in on some clients.

You get the idea. 😉

Transcript

Today we are talking about burnout.

We're going to talk about what burnout is, common causes, some of the signs, and a couple of ways to manage it at your organization that really shows your employees that you're paying attention, that you care about their mental health, and that you want to help find a solution no matter what's causing their burnout.

At the time I'm recording this it's happening during the COVID pandemic, but a lot of these red flags and takeaways and the strategies for handling burnout will still serve your organization for years to come.

In a 2020 Gallup report that I'll link out to in the show notes, it found that employees who say that they very often or always experienced burnout at work are 63% more likely to take a sick day, 23% more likely to go to the emergency room and 2.6 times more likely to be job hunting. So, what that tells me is that when an employee's health suffers, then the organizational health suffers too. Whenever an employee leaves for a new job, you will then find yourself having to go through that time-consuming and expensive hiring process, so keeping your team and organization healthy starts with understanding what causes employee burnout in the first place.

Burnout is a very vague term that can mean lots of different adjectives that can indicate where your business or your company needs to spend more time on that part of the employee experience. Your people could be overworked, just not excited about the work, not feeling like they have good relationships.. Lots of things.

Burnout is also tricky because it doesn't normally happen overnight. On the surface your team, or a specific employee, or yourself, might seem fine. We'll get into some of the red flags of burnout in just a minute, but they're not always noticeable right away. The world health organization recently classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon and a hazard. They called it a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. The language that they use there puts the onus on the workplace.

Employees get burned out when there's some kind of mismatch between what they expect from the organization and what they experience when working at the organization, and here are some examples: Someone feeling like they don't have a lot of control, they're not being treated fairly, their workload level is too much, they don't have a sense of community, there are rewards being given out but not being given out fairly, and the organizational values as a whole maybe aren't being lived. It can be a combination of one or two or all of those things. Hopefully, it's not all but it could be! And what's funny is these are all organizational issues.

But we tend to make people think that it's their individual problem. We tell people, "go take care of yourself, you seem burned out." It's not just an employee problem, it's an organizational problem that requires the leaders at an organization and the mission of the organization to be part of the solution.

When it comes to recognizing burnout, it's tricky because it's such a combination of things that someone could be feeling and for very different reasons. It's important to recognize too that

Burnout doesn't mean that someone's just stressed, but stress does play a part in burnout.

Stress is the bodily response to some kind of pressure from a life experience or a situation.

There are different types of stress. Acute stress is the most common type, it's your fight or flight response where your symptoms disappear as soon as the stressor is gone. It's like freaking out about your 40th birthday or giving a demo to your whole company. Episodic stress occurs when it's basically just acute stress, but it occurs regularly and the person doesn't have time to recover from the stress, which then gives you a very low overall tolerance to and just like increased sensitivity to stress. So for me, this was when my son, God love him, he wouldn't sleep for the first two years of his life but I figured, you know, he's going to grow up, he's going to grow out of this, so there was an end in sight. But it was something that we didn't always recover from to go right back into it the next day.

And then there's chronic stress. That's the long-term stress from situations where a person feels that he or she does not have control over the outcome, and it causes serious effects to the mental and physical health of that person. A recent example of this is how a lot of remote workers were given a return by date of just one month when the pandemic first hit, then it was pushed back another month. Then in May, big tech companies like Facebook and Google, extended working from home to the end of the year. But in the meantime, people were left to figure out their new work from home arrangements largely on their own, and there was no end in sight.

So what did we do to accidentally cause a lot of this burnout recently? Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.

Initially, we didn't give people control and flexibility. When the COVID pandemic first hit it brought lots of different challenges, childcare options were very limited and schools were closed. Grandparents were separated who might normally help with that situation. Parents were trying to homeschool while working from home and I can tell you from experience it's exhausting!

If you had anyone else under your roof, at some point you had to go to your manager and say, I'm tapped out today, or I'm going to miss this meeting, or I'm going to miss this deadline. And it was just a really abrupt adjustment to have your home life and your work life meshed together not seamlessly and very much so overnight. We also didn't really adjust people's workloads. Overwork was the most cited reason for burnout and decreased wellbeing in the pandemic.

Without regular check-ins or the solid relationship between employees and managers to really explain that maybe tasks and assignments aren't being distributed in a way that makes sense. That drove teams into the ground!

A lot of organizations also allowed way more meetings and unhealthy levels of screen time. Video calls are supposedly harder on us physically and mentally. The fact is our brains find it more challenging to process nonverbal cues like other people's body language and their facial expressions when they're talking, and it makes it really hard for us to stay relaxed during conversations.

Add to it slight delays and someone always on mute... that's always me.

The pandemic just really exaggerated a lot of burnout that was already there, but because the way that we work changed so quickly overnight it made it so obvious where organizations are falling short on behalf of their employees.

So what are some of the red flags that you or someone on your team might be burned out? Remember, it's not always an immediate change, so look for a gradual slip in any of these ways. A noticeable change in their quality of work, at one point, were contributing just fine and now suddenly they're missing deadlines and missing details and it's just not like their previous performance. Maybe they're becoming a little bit more cynical? And just generally more negative in their conversations with you or with others. Again, that just might be something really subtle that you have to listen for. They might seem bored in group meetings, or maybe you're having a one-on-one and they're just not really paying attention or they don't seem like they really care.

They might be irritable. All of a sudden one day they might snap at you for no reason and you're like "Whoa! What is going on?"

And if they haven't taken a day off in four to six months or longer, that's definitely a sign that something's brewing, and that just doesn't seem healthy to not take a break for that long.

So let's get into what you can do to see if your organization is suffering from burnout and then how to get to the why of what is causing the burnout. Make sure you're regularly sending employee satisfaction surveys. Employee burnout, like we said, it's just not always obvious, so you have to keep a constant pulse. It's not a once a year once a quarter even kind of thing. I think it's best practice and what I hear people say is at least monthly,

at least monthly, if not bi-monthly twice a month.

But the biggest mistake is to focus exclusively on exhaustion with this survey.

You don't want to ask a leading question. "Hey, are you burned out?" Cause they're like "Yeah kinda!"

It's kind of like asking "Are you a person?" And they're like, "Yeah. Okay. Cool. Now what." You need to ask more of the why. There are lots of reasons somebody could be burned out. In your survey, you asked questions, like, do you feel like your work is valued? Do you ever feel like you work harder than required?

Do you have what you need to get your job done?

Those are just some very basic examples. And I will give you an example employee satisfaction survey in the show notes that you can download and use as a starting place. but, you have to find a way to figure it out.

Where on the burnout spectrum, your people are falling. . It could mean after they take the survey that there are categories

So if a lot of people are feeling ineffective, then maybe. There's some managerial training that needs to happen because the frontline employees don't have any autonomy to do their job and make decisions.

If people are feeling overextended. Then maybe again there should be some managerial training on how do you plan for projects how are you scoping out things for your team to be successful I'll tell you more about that in a minute

If people are just feeling like their work doesn't matter. Then there might need to be some serious work done on the relationships at the company and finding ways to make everybody feel like a community.

Someone could even feel unconfident in their abilities

Is unconfident word?

Let me Google it. Uh, oh, yeah. Unconfident. Why did I think that wasn't a word.

Well, anyway. They might just need some really basic extra training, either outside courses or revisiting something that they just don't feel proficient in. Maybe the onboarding wasn't good.

And each of these organizational issues that could be causing burnout will have its own distinct course of action. so. Regularly be sending your employee satisfaction surveys and then figure out as a whole. Where is your organization leaning? Are people more disengaged? Are they more overextended? Are they all feeling ineffective? Do they have any trust in the senior leadership or the direction of the company? Those are all very different things.

Something to teach your managers to do in their one-on-one meetings, which one-on-ones are very important. So that's a whole other episode one-on-ones should be happening at your organization with the employee and the person they report to. It's really important for relationship building. And I can teach you why soon. But in the one-on-one make sure you teach your managers to ask non-work-related questions.

And the reason for this is to show the employee that their manager cares about them outside of what they can contribute to work, but they really care about them as a person. And that's the foundational part of what makes them a great asset as an employee, to the company. I'll give you some examples of these.

Managers can ask their employees questions like, what's something you wish you had time for right now, or a hobby you'd pursue in your personal life, but you haven't had time for it. Or tell me about a time you felt stressed recently.

Or even what's your least favorite part about your day? I also talked about leaders maybe not even recognizing that they themselves are burned out. So something to keep in mind is to make sure that the reporting structure at all levels of your organization. Whether it's the CEO to the VP or, you know, a manager to a specialist, everyone needs to be asked these non-work-related questions, make it part of how you all grow together.

also make sure your managers are thinking about how they can give everyone a flex schedule. Every organization has some kind of frontline team member or for us, it's our amazing help team who has to be available during certain hours.

But one thing that one of ours amazing managers Colin has done is make sure that his people have time to work on projects that they think will move the business forward. So there are always people available to talk to the customers who are writing in and have questions. And our team is still responding as fast as possible with solutions,

But he makes sure that every person has time for projects. And sometimes he's even the one stepping in as the leader who's willing to get on the frontline? And it's a really cool leadership thing that he does he steps in so one of his people can step back and do something different for a minute

And with my own boss, he knows that I just get up really early with my kids. And it's easier for me to get them on the bus. Go get some exercise. And then I start my Workday and he doesn't slack me out of my business hours because he knows that that would be a distraction from my foundation, which is my family and my, my time at home, that does not work.

So there, there should be a way for everyone

No matter if they're on the front lines or if there is some kind of other individual contributors. Work with them to find a way to give them some control either offer them some flexibility on when they start or give them some time to be autonomous and work on something different for the business just give them a choice let them be part of the process and figure it out with their manager.

Here's another thing. Educate managers that it's okay to tell people to step away for a day.

Sometimes you can just tell that someone's having an off day, whether you can read their body language in a meeting, or they're just telling you that they didn't sleep well last night, or they've got something else going on or, you know, their air conditioner went out or. I don't know.

A good manager can kind of sense, like, Hey, maybe today's not the day.

You need to focus on yourself and maybe come back tomorrow and you'll feel better or you'll be ready. And it's not even a condemning thing. It's a human thing. Like, Hey, go take care of yourself for today. It's okay. We can cover for you. You seem like maybe you just need some time to take care of yourself. So go do that. We'll be here when you get back

If your organization doesn't encourage that. I'd be curious why, but people are important and their mental health is critical. They're the asset. That your organization needs to go forward so if you don't take care of your people it's like not getting an oil change and then wondering why your car breaks down.

And also just make sure your leaders know. Not to assume that this is just a matter of. Okay. So-and-so's just not very resilient. Especially right now experiencing burnout is in no way, an implication of someone's personal shortcomings.

Now it's just a really great time for you to encourage the managers at your company to collaborate and talk about (Respectfully) anyone who might be experiencing burnout, compare notes about what kind of burnout it is, what you've done to help them.

What you've tried, that is, or isn't working and rely on the other people at the organization who are people managers to help come up with creative solutions to help these people.

You all should really take a look at people's PTO. you know, time off too. Maybe you have unlimited vacation. In that case. The company I work for Pingboard we have a status tool so that you can still track unlimited vacation because people put a status about where they're at and when they'll be back.

Tell people even just to take a week and be home. I know we can't go a lot of places right now, but. People need to step away.

Another thing we've done at Pingboard to manage our workloads, which I love. We operate in sprints and seasons. We know exactly what to work on. And when on my team. We take an entire week of planning to collaborate on what will happen in the next sprint. We scope out projects to every possible detail and a week might sound like a long time, but when you've thought about all of the pitfalls and all of the things that happen on each individual project and the check-in points and the milestones, and what are all the templates and attachments we need to get organized and get started.

We take that week to just build all that out. So then when my sprint starts, I'm ready to go and I know what to work on. It's not perfect. And sometimes I don't finish every project in my sprint, but, um, then my manager and I will talk about workload and say, okay, we took on too much. Where did we go wrong?

How can we adjust this and make small improvements for the next time? Our managers at Pingboard really distribute our workloads very carefully. For the sake of turning things in on time or hitting our OKR, then they're very flexible with us.

If someone doesn't hit their OKR or they don't turn a project in on time, there's no huge slap on the wrist.

It's a real partnership and the managers will work with us to figure it out okay. What did the organization contribute to, to cause this to fall short, what's happening in your life? I want to work with you to figure it out. How we overbooked you or like what projects you spent too much time on.

And I feel like I have a supportive sense of community with my stakeholders that I commonly work with on projects and my manager to figure out how we work at a reasonable pace, but still grow the company really fast.

I've worked at organizations where it's just like, go, go, go, go, go, go, go!!! And then it's the end of the year. And then the next year starts and it's like, go, go, go, go, go, go!!!

Planning makes the workloads more manageable.

Can you create a mental health resource page and just list some local outreach programs and mental health practitioners that are. Maybe even crisis-specific, but give employees a resource. If I was feeling depressed, I'm actually not sure what I would do. I would probably go into Google and search for depression and spiral downward into trying to find someone who could help me. So.

Spend the time and think about all the types of resources your people might need so that if they're having a very weak moment, they can use this resource quickly.

You also might consider a peer-to-peer outreach program. So.

You could train a couple of people in mental health who can be activated as a support system for staff. If there's a crisis,

that way there are people in your organization who have been trained to basically just be a steadfast leader. And give sound advice and kind of rally the troops and make sure everyone feels comforted and feels heard. And that the organization stands behind them.

Employees also need to feel inspired. So make sure that your career mapping, what the journey is for every employee at your organization. That's probably another podcast episode that I'd be happy to cover, but employees need a roadmap to understand what hoops to jump through and what things they need to accomplish in order to grow to the next level.

That might be part of what's making them feel. Hopeless or like their wheels are spinning.

 

Also, if you haven't, your organization needs to decide whether you guys are going to stay fully remote. Or go back in person with an adjusted footprint that's safe six feet, you know, All the recommendations are being met. Um, or some kind of hybrid model. Give your employees that light at the end of the tunnel to end the chronic stress that's underlying.

If they don't know the answer to what the future is, that's stressful. Also for the sake of just realize, things have changed. Obviously, over the last year, people had to get creative and come up with new ways of doing their jobs. That might be more efficient. Post pandemic, for example.

We found at Pingboard that we could have a lot of meetings asynchronously in slack. It was a lot more efficient Some tasks that maybe didn't get done during the shutdown may not need to be done in the future.

Don't go backward or make the team feel like you didn't notice, or that you don't care that they found a better way to do something. Don't be scared of embracing some of this change that they created and found on their own.

So as we head out of the COVID era, remember that people might seem okay on the outside. Might not be okay. Make sure you're taking the time to figure out the why behind everyone's burnout and come up with specific action plans to create a better more effective work environment that's the empathetic employee experience that your people will remember and tell others about

Okay. So for my next segment called, make me smile.

I'm going to tell you guys about someone you should follow on LinkedIn his name is Ernest Owusu.  Ernest, I'm so sorry. We've never spoken for real. So I'm so sorry if I said your last name, wrong.

He works at a company called six sense, and, he's one of those people that can balance sharing about his family and sharing about his failures and sharing about his wins in a way that doesn't feel showy or in your face. Ernest about a year ago posted on LinkedIn that he had triplets!! And it was right when the pandemic hit and his posts are a mix of.

His posts always crack me up and he just has a really human way of giving really inspirational entertainment. And I just love it when he's in my feet and I love to see how he's encouraging his people and. How he's leveraged his experience as an NFL athlete. To then being a sales development leader.

So I'll link out to his profile, but he just made me smile when his triplets are bored. And he was like, oh, This just happened.

So if your organization has SDRs, AEs or BDRs, you know, sales development, representatives, account executives, business development representatives. Ernest is a great person for them to follow I'll link out to his profile in the show notes.

He's great at giving advice to people early in their sales career. And he loves to just give tips and tricks and drop knowledge on the hustle of the cold calling and repetition of people in the field of sales. So he's just a good person for the salespeople in your organization. To look up to and to have in their network on Linkedin so you should tell them to go follow him

And this last segment is called my 2 cents. And it's where I give you a quick tip on how to be a better leader to your people. My tip this week. Came to me because my own boss, Cameron did it.

As a leader, try to find a way where you can jump in and get some street cred with your people. You've probably had a long career and you've likely done the job that they're doing in some capacity so they'll really respect it. if you can jump in and do a part of the job

last week I had to send an email, but we hadn't planned for it. But Cameron just jumped in and did it because he knows HubSpot. And that was just a boss move and it just makes me respect that he can walk the walk and talk the talk. So.

Don't take someone's work and not tell them you're going to do it because that would be frustrating, but find a way to contribute secretly that nobody was planning on doing the work, or just jump in and ask where you can help and ask your team to delegate to you.

Think about how you could take this back to your organization. How can you tell your sales leader, Hey, jump in and make some cold calls and let your team listen and record them if you want? I'm sure they'd love to hear how you use to do cold calls. Tell your head of engineering? Can you write some code? Can you jump in on a project and show your team? I mean, maybe they sometimes do, but. Push your leaders to maybe have a pet project or something they can do to show their team that they've still got it

So that's it for today's episode, remember, burnout can take lots of forms. And it's really important for you to have a layer of empathy and training with your management team to recognize what's going on and figure out the best path forward for all the different things that your employees are experiencing.

If you would like to be on the, make me smile segment, please email me. You can send an email to host@pingboard.com. Remember Pingboard is the company that brings you the podcast. I'd love to hear from you guys on LinkedIn. And please tell everyone, you know, about this podcast. If you think they'd get value from it! I'll talk to you soon!!!