Preventing and Managing Burnout During a Pandemic

While we continue to adapt to life during a pandemic, we all are still facing an increase in stress and anxiety which can lead to burnout.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in September 2020, remote workers are now experiencing higher burnout rates than on-site workers. Another study in the United Kingdom revealed that nearly 60% of employees are experiencing burnout with 41% of respondents reporting that their leader’s management style was a contributor.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. There are three types of burnout — biological, cognitive, and organizational.

Biological burnout occurs when an individual experiences physiological and neurochemical changes due to chronic stress. Cognitive burnout arises when perceived demand outpaces perceived resources. And organizational burnout is caused by an imbalance of energy expenditure and energy replenishment within the organization.

Signs of Burnout

Burnout can happen to anyone – managers and employees alike. It is a serious issue that impacts all aspects of life and daily functioning. There are three key warning signs of burnout to look for among your team members:

  • Physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion
  • Expressing cynicism or distrust
  • Feeling ineffective or incapable of completing work

Preventing and Managing Burnout

Effectively managing and preventing burnout requires strategies that impact individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. These strategies can be implemented at micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

Micro interventions include stretching for 1-2 minutes several times a day, getting up to get a glass of water, taking five deep breaths throughout the day, or aromatherapy.

Mezzo interventions can consist of taking non-working lunch breaks (yes, you don’t have to work during lunch), setting meetings for 50 minutes instead of an hour, or setting boundaries around working during the evenings or weekends.

Macro interventions such as taking a vacation and not working (this is challenging for many workers) is a great way to recharge your batteries. Turn off the sync to your email on your phone and put the laptop away.

What Role Can Leaders Play?

Training all employees on what burnout is, how to spot it, and strategies for preventing it is a great first step. But there is more that leaders can do.

During times of change and uncertainty, employees look to their leaders for guidance. Leaders role modeling behaviors that prevent burnout such as taking small breaks to grab some water, taking a non-working lunch, or using PTO and not working has a powerful impact on employees. Role modeling also allows leaders to decrease their own risk for burnout.

Organizations also play an important part in preventing burnout. Setting 25- or 50-minute meetings as an organizational standard gives employees time to breathe before moving on to their next task. Organizations can also consider designating an agreed-upon time without interruptions or meetings (i.e., Friday afternoons from 1-3 p.m.).

These small steps can go a long way in mitigating the risk for burnout and towards creating a workplace culture that cultivates positive morale, employee engagement, and retention.

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Marketing Content Manager