In Burnout, Intensified Times, How to Have Calm Difficult Conversations

Hi, It’s Nicola, the People Mentor. 

Today I want to talk to you about burnout in the workplace

There you are standing strong in the face of challenging times.  

Tough conversations are tricky on the best of days, but in these burnout-intensified times, they feel like navigating a maze blindfolded at times

So, what’s all this discussion about burnout all about? 

These days, there is a lot of never-ending stress, emotional drain, and that gnawing feeling of getting nowhere, no matter how hard you try. 

Often, it springs from an unforgiving pace, fuzzy expectations, or simply feeling disconnected from the end goal of your toil.

And let’s not forget the all-important work-life balance. 

Too often, we find the scales skewed dangerously in favour of work, and therefore, there is very little downtime. 

Do you feel there are so many demands on you? 

Burnout’s sneaky. It creeps up on you, little by little, until it feels like you’re standing at the base of Everest.

As a leader, your role isn’t just to manage your team’s burnout, but to keep an eye on your own wellbeing too. 

Being aware of your mental state is key to traversing these turbulent times and having those hard chats. 

With patience, understanding, and some clever tactics, you can thrive.  

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a situation of acute exhaustion, both physically and mentally, arising from prolonged and overwhelming stress. It occurs when the demands placed upon an individual become unmanageable, leading to a sense of being drained and an inability to cope effectively.

When experiencing burnout, individuals feel drained emotionally, lack motivation, and are overwhelmed by the constant pressures they face. The enthusiasm and drive that initially propelled them into their roles diminish over time.

The consequences of burnout are far-reaching, extending into all aspects of life, including personal relationships, work performance, and social interactions. 

How is burnout showing in your life?

Let’s chat about how burnout might be showing up in your life or in the lives of your team members. Sometimes it’s like an uninvited guest that refuses to leave. 

You know it’s there because it changes how you feel and act. 

What are the symptoms? 

They can be as subtle as a nagging feeling of fatigue or as blatant as feeling empty, exhausted, or dread at the thought of work.

Productivity declines, energy levels diminish, and a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, cynicism, and resentment may take hold. 

Additionally, burnout can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and flu. 

Given its wide-ranging effects, addressing burnout promptly is crucial.

You might feel less satisfied with your achievements and question your competency. And it’s not just emotional – physical signs like headaches, difficulty sleeping, and frequent illness are often part of the mix. Burnout can be sneaky, slowly creeping in until it’s become part of your daily life, and sometimes, it can feel like an uphill battle to shake it off.

What starts Burnout?

What lights the fuse on burnout? 

It’s usually not one thing but a cocktail of contributing factors. A constant high-stress environment can kickstart it, especially when it’s paired with feeling undervalued or unsupported. Add in a hefty workload, blurred boundaries between work and personal life, or a lack of clarity around job expectations, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. 

Sometimes, it’s the feeling that your work doesn’t have meaning or a mismatch between your job and your personal values. 

While long working hours and an excessive number of tasks can contribute to burnout, they are not the sole factors. The development of burnout is often accompanied by feelings of cynicism, depression, and exhaustion, which arise when individuals perceive a lack of control over their work or home responsibilities, or when they are required to undertake tasks that contradict their personal values.

Often you will see burnout when the work and home life collide, both with issues going on. It is overwhelming and you need to find some support to help you navigate through this time.  

Equally significant is the pursuit of goals that do not align with your true passion or purpose, or the absence of a supportive network. When individuals fail to tailor their responsibilities to match their genuine calling or neglect to take periodic breaks, they become vulnerable to burnout.

When you’re running in high gear, day after day, with no relief or reward, burnout can easily creep in. 

Once you’re aware of the signs and triggers, you’re in a better position to take action and steer yourself and your team away from the edge of burnout. Understanding is the first step!

What can you do?

Let’s dive right into actionable steps you can take to help prevent burnout:

Set Clear Boundaries: 

Try to avoid the trap of being ‘always on.’ 

Establish clear boundaries between your work and personal life. Whether it’s turning off notifications after a certain time or having dedicated ‘me’ time, make sure your work isn’t going into your personal life. 

Manage Your Workload

 Don’t let your to-do list overwhelm you. 

Learn to delegate tasks when possible, prioritise what’s essential, and remember that it’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes. It’s about working smarter, not harder.

Establish Clear Goals

 Knowing exactly what’s expected of you can go a long way in reducing stress. Seek clarification if you’re not sure and break larger tasks into manageable chunks to keep things achievable.

Connect With Your Purpose

 Remember why you do what you do. Connecting with the purpose behind your work can provide a sense of fulfilment and motivation. It’s not just about the task at hand but the bigger picture it contributes to.

Practice Self-Care

It’s not just a trendy buzzword; it’s essential. Eating well, getting enough sleep, and regular physical activity can work wonders for your mental well-being. These are the fundamental blocks for building resilience.

Make Time for Relaxation

 Schedule downtime, just like you’d schedule a meeting. Whether it’s a walk in the park, a hobby, meditation, or just a quiet cup of tea, find what helps you unwind and make it a non-negotiable part of your routine.

Stay Connected

 Cultivate supportive relationships both inside and outside of work. Having a strong support system can provide a valuable perspective, a sounding board for ideas, and a sense of belonging.

Embrace Mindfulness

 Being present in the moment can help you stay focused and reduce stress. It’s not about ignoring the past or future, but not letting them overshadow the now. You can practice mindfulness through meditation, yoga, or just taking a few minutes each day to tune into your surroundings.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

 If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s no shame in reaching out to a mental health professional. They can provide strategies and tools to manage stress and address burnout symptoms. 

Celebrate Your Wins

 Don’t wait for the big victories to pat yourself on the back. Celebrating small wins along the way can boost your morale, maintain your motivation, and remind you of the progress you’re making.

Remember, it’s not about just surviving, but thriving in your role. Each of these steps is a tool in your toolkit to help you build resilience and keep burnout at bay. You’ve got this!

What to do when you see a team member struggling

It’s tough watching a team member struggle, and it’s even tougher when you suspect it might be burnout. 

So, what can you do to help?

A conversation

First off, start with a private, non-confrontational conversation. 

Make it clear that you’re coming from a place of concern, not criticism. Say something like, “I’ve noticed that you seem a little off lately, and I wanted to check in. How are you doing?” 

They might not open up right away, but your empathy and understanding can help them feel more comfortable sharing what’s really going on.

Make sure you’re listening more than you’re talking. It’s easy to jump in with advice or solutions, but sometimes, what people need most is to be heard. 

Validate their feelings and avoid minimising their stress. 

Don’t make assumptions and stay curious to really get to the issues because without doing that you will not resolve anything. 

Burnout can feel very isolating, so reminding them that they’re not alone can be a real source of comfort.

Be aware they may be ultra sensitive so carefully choose your language and keep away from blame. 

If the person mentions stress, then carry out a stress risk assessment to identify what is sitting behind the stress and come up with answers to the issues. 

This is the very time a person will need empathy and compassion Consider what is best for the person and the team.  Supporting and being understanding will make all the difference in how the person comes back from burnout. 

Next, work together on a plan.

Maybe it’s reassessing their workload, offering more flexible hours, or providing additional resources to help manage stress. 

It could also be about finding ways to give them more control over their work or reconnect them with the purpose of their tasks. 

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, so be prepared to tailor your approach based on their needs and feedback.

Remember to follow up regularly. 

Checking in a week or two after your conversation can show that you take their concerns seriously. 

It also gives you a chance to see how your plan is working and make adjustments as needed. Be patient though, burnout didn’t happen overnight and recovery can take time.

Often asking “How are you today?” shows concern and acknowledges that we all have good and bad days. 

What resources can you put in place to support your team

Get outside support if needed

Lastly, consider bringing in professional help if needed. Mental health professionals can provide support and strategies that go beyond what you can offer as a leader. Encourage your team member to make use of these resources and normalise seeking help.

Use your Employee Assistance programme if you have one in the workplace. 

Introduce wellness initiatives 

Consider bringing in wellness programs like yoga classes, mindfulness training, or workshops on stress management. Also, providing healthy snack options never hurts!

Offer flexibility 

If possible, offer flexible work hours or the option to work from home occasionally. It’s all about creating a work environment that respects individual needs.

Provide resources and training

 I want to emphasise that it is a good idea to equip your team with the knowledge and tools to deal with stress and burnout. This could be resilience training, access to mental health resources, or providing an Employee Assistance Program.

Remember the fun

Don’t forget to bring joy into the workplace. Team-building activities, office games, or even just a bit of light-hearted conversation can do wonders for team morale and wellbeing. Do remember though to understand what individual team members feel most comfortable with and accommodate that in your activities.  This is when knowing your team members matters. 

Finally, remember that as a leader, you’re not just managing a team; you’re nurturing human beings. Your role in creating a healthy, happy, and productive work environment is vital. 

The journey to navigating tough conversations and preventing burnout in these high-pressure times might not be easy, but remember, it’s the small changes that often have the biggest impact. 

If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review, follow The People Mentor, and like the podcast. 

If you’re ever struggling with issues in the workplace, remember, it’s okay to reach out for help You’re not alone. The People Mentor, with my specialised Managers Academy, is here for you. 

I’m all about equipping leaders like you with the skills and strategies to navigate the sometimes stormy seas of management. 

My aim? 

To cultivate compassionate, kind managers who not only care about their team’s well-being but also drive results.

Through a mix of interactive workshops, practical resources, and real-life advice, I provide you with a roadmap to become the kind of leader you aspire to be. 

I believe that a kind and compassionate approach, married with a firm focus on results, creates an environment where everyone can flourish. 

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re feeling overwhelmed. 

Together, we can build the healthy, happy, and productive workplace you dream of.

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Well, that’s it for today. 

Thank you for listening 

Until next time. 

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