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Team burnout is damaging to morale and productivity, but it’s avoidable if you know what to look for and how to prevent it.
Employee burnout among teams has been on the continuous rise over the past two years. During that time, we surveyed 800+ remote managers and found that 70% of them suffered from burnout in 2021.
Not every team is bound to suffer from burnout though. Burnout is damaging to a team’s morale and productivity, but it’s avoidable if managers know what to look for and prevent. With the right approach, all managers can protect their remote team from burnout.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes employee burnout as a syndrome resulting from workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Within a team, burnout manifests as routine exhaustion, disconnection, and hopelessness.
Some tell-tale signs that a team member might be struggling from burnout, include:
It’s important to catch employee burnout early. The saying “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true — it’s much easier to put measures in place to stop burnout from happening than it is to repair the damage once it’s already taken over your team.
The best approach to helping your remote team fight and prevent burnout is to actively listen and communicate, create psychological safety, and fix the root causes that contribute to burnout. Here are six pivotel steps for preventing burnout in a remote setting:
A whopping 62% of employees said having someone in a leadership role speak openly about mental health would make them feel more comfortable talking about it themselves. Although being the first to raise a difficult topic can be nerve wracking, as a manager, it’s up to you to open the floor by being vulnerable yourself.
Take the burden off of your employees by making mental health a normal and frequent topic in your workplace. You can do this both informally and formally, like sharing vulnerable parts of your life in Kona check-ins, during one-on-one check-ins, or during intimate team wide meetings.
Christine Orchard, Head of Marketing at Arc, believes that one-on-ones are the perfect time to be vulnerable.
“Weekly one-on-one meetings are sacred in our remote team and help prevent burnout before it starts. These 30-minute check-ins help you gauge each teammate’s level of happiness, tackle recent challenges, and uncover underlying issues before they snowball into larger ones. By creating this safe space with regular one-on-one sessions, teammates know that they never have to face challenges alone.”
Talking about mental health routinely and with genuine interest is what matters, as that creates an environment of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable with being vulnerable.
Emotional and physical exhaustion are key predecessors—and symptoms—of burnout. So, a surefire way to stave off team burnout is to give employees a break. Whether you offer company-wide mental health days off or encourage employees to take their PTO more frequently and fully, give your people permission to truly unplug.
Debbie Goodman, Group CEO of Jack Hammer Global prevents and responds to burnout with a hard stop.
“If a direct report is already experiencing burnout, the only antidote is timeout. It’s easy to resort to toxic positivity and say things like ‘think happy thoughts,’ but the only way to come out of burnout is space and permission to do nothing.”
Allow your employees the space and time to truly disconnect and return to work refreshed.
It’s not only the long hours taking a toll on remote employees’ mental health. It’s the density of the day jumping from one Zoom to the next and the constant need to be “on” in front of the camera.
For that reason, voice that it’s okay for your employees to turn cameras off during virtual meetings to reduce fatigue and take one more stressor off their plates.
“I don’t require my direct reports to be on camera during one-on-ones. Sometimes it’s nice to have a snack or lunch during (the meeting), put your hair up, and be a bit more relaxed and comfortable,” said Jessica Scherlag, Senior Manager, Social Media & Engagement at Akamai Technologies. “I find that it takes some of the pressure off and gives them a break from long days of putting their game face on for on-camera meetings.”
Another benefit to camera-off time? Recent studies show that audio-only calls help you focus more on the content of the meeting.
In workplace cultures where burnout is rampant, the root causes are oftentimes unreasonable workloads and unclear expectations. That’s why it is crucial for managers to set boundaries and communicate expectations so no employee can push themselves to a breaking point.
Once you’ve set healthy boundaries and expectations, be sure to give your employees the space to do their work when and where it feels best for them. That trust and independence also contribute to burnout prevention.
Kaye Putnam, Psychology-Driven Brand Strategist, does just that.
She explained, “When we are working hard towards our goals, I set the vision and get out of their way. I minimize the number of meetings, I don’t expect them to sit in front of their computer screen for eight hours straight or to be available to me at a moment’s notice. I want my team to work when their energy is best, so they deliver work in their zone of genius.”
Key point? Don’t expect them to be available at a moment’s notice.
Employees who don’t feel valued and appreciated for their work are much more likely to lose interest and motivation and suffer from work-related stress. Before long they’ll reach full burnout and disengage from their work altogether.
To keep team burnout at bay, give praise and gratitude to team members at every chance you get. Even better is if recognition is given immediately, in a public forum and from a direct manager, because that’s what makes recognition most impactful.
Leaders play a significant role in their employees’ job satisfaction and overall quality of life. In a McKinsey study, 75% of survey participants said that the most stressful aspect of their job was their immediate boss.
Use this knowledge to your advantage by prioritizing your own well-being and modeling healthy stress management. Take time off, communicate openly about your work-related stress, and be confident in the decisions you make for your mental health. Managers who prioritize their own well-being in this way can inspire and motivate employees to prioritize theirs.
When even one employee experiences burnout, their work suffers, their teammates struggle to pick up the slack, and the company can begin to miss critical goals and objectives. Multiply this across several employees and burnout spells disaster for any team.
If you’re in the unfortunate position of having a direct report who is already experiencing burnout, here are some helpful steps to reach a healthier outcome for everyone:
Nothing’s more effective in helping a struggling employee than having a meaningful conversation with them about where their stress is stemming from and how you can help alleviate it.
Tara Parachuk, Manager of Content and Communications at Voices, explained that it’s up to the manager to be proactive.“If a team member is already experiencing burnout, it’s important that their manager is both supportive and realistic while asking questions, she said. “Ask, which tasks can be delayed or cut to help you feel better able to manage what’s on your plate? Are you taking the breaks you need and are entitled to? Are you making sure to disconnect after the workday without logging on later? Are there ways in which I can help you that we haven’t talked about yet?”
Tara asks these questions and offers suggestions and assistance to help them to find the best possible outcome to them.
Following your discussion, create a list of next steps and a timeline of how you’ll address your employee’s burnout. This could lead to moving a project deadline, temporarily or permanently reassigning tasks or responsibilities, or providing other types of support like time off or counseling services.
Keep in mind that if one employee is feeling burnout, then there's a good chance others are too (or are close to it). For that reason, this is a perfect opportunity to roll out broader workplace improvements to prevent burnout across all employees.
Helping an employee who’s experiencing burnout isn’t a quick project to tackle and resolve in one sitting. It takes time for a person to reach burnout, so it’ll take time to undo it. As a manager, be their biggest supporter and be accountable to alleviating and preventing burnout in the long term.