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Managing Burnout: Tactics for Leaders
How can people deal with burnout and stress? How can you help your clients, as a coach? What are the REAL WORLD solutions that are available to you when you're already burnt out? Let’s talk about it!
What Is Burnout?
In 2019, the World Health Organization added a new classification of occupational hazard to the professional landscape: Burnout.
While this may sound like a no-brainer, it's actually a big deal. Rather than stigmatizing stress as a short-term personal problem, attention is now shifting to how our institutions are themselves contributing to and perpetuating this growing physical and mental health crisis.
Burnout is a chronic state where the regular stresses of everyday life are sustained over a long period of time. Beyond short lived feelings of "stress," acute strain takes a toll on both our mind and body.
Serious health effects of acute stress include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
- Sexual dysfunction
- Gastro-intestinal disorders
- Decline in mental health
- Skin conditions
- Respiratory infections
Burnout is characterized by feelings of negativity towards your job alongside feelings of reduced effectiveness. In a post-pandemic landscape, traditional solutions like heading to the gym, taking a vacation, or engaging in mindfulness practices may not be enough to correct the problem.
The Impact of Burnout On Leaders
Burnout is a silent and often invisible aspect of our work lives that hurts both individuals and organizational culture if left unchecked. Those serving in positions of leadership are especially vulnerable to burnout, which can have a profound impact not just on themselves, but on those around them.
“Whether it’s a family system, an organization, a community or a school… if the person who is in charge of essentially creating the emotional experience of the unit is having a really hard time, it’s inevitable that everyone is going to feel stress. It’s going to have a ripple effect.” - Noelle Cordeaux, Lumia Coaching CEO
According to burnout expert and leadership coach Dr. Kim Hires, when leaders are burnt out it trickles down. What this means is that their stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are often felt organization wide.
What’s tricky about this is that it can be difficult for leaders to gauge their own levels of stress and burnout - especially when they may not see any changes in their own performance, and are continually rewarded for overworking.
Over the past several years, numerous studies reveal that leaders have experienced higher levels of stress than employees since the start of the pandemic. Increased expectations alongside an ever changing landscape indicate that the pressure valve is not going to release anytime soon.
53% of executive leaders report struggling with stress and burnout compared to 45% of employees who said the same, according to an Oracle and Workplace Intelligence survey.
Tactics to Address Burnout
The experience of stress and burnout is deeply personal and no two people experience this phenomenon in the same way. Taking time to identify the root causes of your unique experience with stress is the first step in finding effective solutions.
Common quick fixes include taking regular personal days and adequate vacation time. This may provide temporary relief, but in many cases more will ultimately be required. Long-term solutions involve taking a look at the way that we relate to your work.
To effectively address burnout, you must begin with an honest assessment of your situation.
Take a self inventory of what might be weighing you down the most. Some factors could include:
- Feeling marginalized in certain situations
- A lack of community or friends at work
- Misalignment of values
- Feeling you are not being rewarded or seen
All of these examples constitute personal triggers for the onset of stress hormones.
Acknowledging, naming, and becoming aware of these triggers will give you more power over the big feelings that come with them.
The act of naming is a simple technique that packs a strong punch. When we take the time to label and name things, our limbic system - which governs emotions both positive and negative - gets to take a slight break. In that moment, your logic center kicks in to participate in the rational process of analysis.
Generating awareness around your stress triggers also gives you data to work with in setting goals to change things that bother you.
Real World Solutions
Coach and researcher Liz Wiseman, a former executive at Oracle, states that burnout is often not a function of too much work, but one of too little enjoyment. She says that there are concrete steps that leaders can take to increase contentment and reduce stress.
1) Surround yourself with the right people
At the top of Wiseman’s list is decreasing engagement in workplace conflict and increasing engagement in workplace connection.
This is a great area to bring your self-identified triggers to the fore for examination. The Harvard Business Review cites interpersonal conflict stemming from politics and theatrics as a driving force behind burnout at work. Notice the relationships that drain you, and the ones that are supportive.
Social contagion theory tells us that we will adopt the attitude and affect of the five people that we spend the most time with, and this is true of our work environments as well.
A tactic for easing this additional burden is to put some thought into weighing your engagement with colleagues. This includes side-stepping interactions that detract from productivity, or just don’t feel good.
Take time to identify and invest in relationships with colleagues you enjoy being around and who are easy to work with. This can have a measurable impact on your ability to maintain a mental landscape that feels good to engage in every day.
2. Choose the right challenges
A secondary tactic that leaders can utilize to increase contentment and stave off burnout is to maintain a steady diet of the right measure of challenge.
Goal setting experts Latham and Locke have proven that the characteristics of goals that lead to long-term contentment are that they are challenging enough to stretch us beyond our comfort zone, but not too challenging that it drives us into the ground.
Research data shows that job satisfaction is directly related to meaningful challenges - projects with stimulating or visible impact that will stretch you just the right amount.
In order to do this effectively, the Harvard Business Review recommends treating your job description less like a container that restricts your movement and more like a platform from which you can spot critical problems and pursue opportunities to make an important contribution.
Coaching and sponsorship have long been identified as the key ingredients for growing talent - especially your own. Cross-functional collaboration is often the key for leaders to gain information and support as they navigate new terrain that will contribute to growth, intellectual engagement - and ultimately satisfaction.
Fresh challenges, awareness of triggers, and intentional interpersonal engagement that fosters positive relationships and collaboration can support leaders in easing the creep of stress and burnout and set up sustainable pathways for growth and longevity.
Want to Become a Coach?
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches support people in learning from their experiences, and living from their own truth instead of following society’s dictates. If you are ready to step into your power as a coach, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.