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When it comes to their teams, one of the top concerns we’re hearing from business leaders is burnout. “My team’s burning out. I’m burning out. I can’t afford for the people I have to burn out.”
The conventional wisdom is that to avoid burnout, you’ve got to moderate workload and get some R & R. That’s not wrong. It’s also not nearly the whole story.
Some of the most common beliefs about burnout also lead to decisions that exacerbate the problem. Well intended leaders, aiming to lessen the prevalence of burnout on their teams take actions that backfire and increase incidence and severity of burnout.
So I’ve got three counterintuitive truths to share about burnout that you can employ to improve performance while simultaneously boosting your team’s resilience.
The video above goes into some detail. In summary, here are the three:
- While it’s true that overwork can contribute significantly to burnout, under-challenge — boredom — is a far more common cause. It may not seem obvious, but the truth is, more people burn out from tedium, repetition, and boredom than they do from being overworked. You want work to be a challenge. So do the people on your team. Relatedly, Liz Wiseman tells us that people are less likely to burn out if they experience that they’re making an impact.
- It can be tempting to tolerate underperformance and toxic behavior in order not to push out any of the few people you have. The truth is, having underperformance and toxic behavior in the environment burns out your best people. So some leaders are hanging on to people who don’t contribute much because they contribute something, and are losing their best performers to The Great Resignation. This strategy is penny wise…
- A devastating cause of burnout is a misalignment of responsibility and authority. You cannot overestimate the soul-ripping frustration of having responsibilities to deliver for the company while the company withholds the decision-making authority you’d need to effectively and consistently deliver on those responsibilities. Ask your people… “Is there decision-making authority that you’re missing that would make it easier for you to do your job?” Every YES you get is a source of anxiety and burnout on your team.
Even before the The Great resignation, nearly everyone had more work to do than time to do it in. That’s even more of an issue today. One way to help relieve your team of the anxiety and burden of that fact is to actually relieve them of the obligation to complete it all.
You don’t get all of your work done. They also simply won’t get all of their work done. And it’s causing them anxiety and guilt. Given that the shortfall is a certainty, might as well ease the pain of it.
I’m not suggesting that you tell them simply, “Hey, it’s ok if you don’t get all your work done.” That could be a recipe for disaster. Instead, help them prioritize, delegate, and potentially dismiss.
Time management is overrated. Generally, people think of time management as the science of getting the most done possible in the shortest amount of time. When there’s more to do than time to do it, regardless of your efficiency, time management can actually be a recipe for disaster. People get tons of the wrong things done, and it’s the critical that falls through the cracks.
So what do you want your team to get done with the time they have? Ask what would have the greatest impact. Prioritize those things. Ask what will have little to no impact. Give your people permission to delegate that work to the forgotten zone.
It may seem obvious to you what the priorities are… what will have the greatest impact. It may or may not be obvious to the people on your team. Even if it is, they may not feel as though they have permission to let even the least impactful of the tasks on their desks go.
Give them specific and explicit permission.
Watch them stand up just a little bit straighter.
(If this has helped you, I’d be honored to hear or read your story. Please get in touch.)