by Dave Wakeman
I was reading an article the other day about understanding the signs of burnout. The list was pretty much representative of what most people share when I talk with them about it these days: It included things like trouble focusing, missing deadlines, not feeling like they know what they’re doing, and struggling for motivation.
Then I saw a reminder of how we are in the third year of the pandemic—and that’s when I realized that we are all likely dealing with some level of burnout. So let’s take a step back and figure out how to help our people during tough times…
1. Be aware of what is going on.
I’ve had to slap myself upside the head a few times to remind folks that we are currently dealing with a situation that can rightly be referred to as “toxic stress.” We are still struggling as a society to get COVID under control, many of our economies are showing signs of recession, people have new routines, there are climate issues…I could go on.
I won’t because that would be too depressing. But the starting point of addressing stress and burnout is recognizing what is going on. You can’t solve a problem you can’t see.
If you are feeling a little stressed or under pressure, you can imagine that most people around you are feeling something similar.
2. Be open about these challenges.
In working with my clients, I try to give them room to talk with me—even about things that aren’t related to our projects. Sometimes, just getting things off your chest can just help you cope with challenging times.
Unfortunately, many of our organizations (and our culture) try to reinforce a feeling of stoicism around troubling times and encourage us to keep our issues pent up inside.
As a leader, you have to recognize that the default is unfortunately to not mention anything and to not seek help or a sympathetic ear. So, you may have to force this issue a little bit; that’s okay. The payoff for your team will be huge, and your ability to help people will make you a better leader in the long run.
3. Look for ways to release the pressure valve for folks.
Everyone has deadlines, meetings, internal and external pressures, and much more. We can’t control everything for our teams, just like they can’t control everything around them. But we can often find solutions to help relieve some of the pressure.
In North America, I see a lot of businesses letting their teams have Summer Fridays off. I also see team get-togethers at ballparks, picnics and other places where they can be outside together in an informal way (as mentioned above, anything simple where we can just provide an ear). You might encourage this by setting up “bull” sessions where there is no agenda.
Going even further, you might be able to relieve some of the deadline pressure or the feeling of endless connectivity by setting expectations around turning off devices, response times, or turning on your out-of-office notifications to get a break. The big idea here is that you have to actively engage in this process with your team.
In my world, I think I find that this is the key to everything when you are dealing with people, especially in an environment where everything can feel like a struggle. Put on the brakes and take a step back. Then, be deliberate in finding ways to give people an ear to bend, a feeling of support, and a little space to catch their breath.
Maybe I’m crazy, but we all need that right now.
What signs of burnout have you noticed in yourself and your co-workers, and how have you dealt with it? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And for more on this topic, read The Danger of Project Manager Burnout.