• Baiba Ziga

Leading through burnout


In my blog, earlier this month, I wrote about the concept of the ‘Total Workplace Ecosystem”, that is designed to support convenience, functionality and wellbeing of a workplace. However what kind of leadership does such ecosystem require?

Everyone currently is living with the demand and worries of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow in a world that has literally shifted on its axis. It goes without saying that we are living in stressful times. But failing to manage this stress increases our risk of burnout*, which can have long-term negative consequences on our mental wellbeing, physical health and careers.

LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation conducted a survey of 2,000 people and found that the average Brit is putting an extra 28 hours of overtime in a month and 56% said that they felt ‘more anxious and stressed’ about work than they did before the pandemic.

Chris O’Sullivan from the Mental Health Foundation says that people working from home during these unprecedented times are at a greater risk of burnout, as the business-as-usual expectations have not been calibrated to our new lifestyles. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to work full time, look after children at home and keep up our other responsibilities.

As we are desperately trying to integrate (or separate) our work and home lives, juggling ever increasing workloads and unable to shake off the worries over our jobs, we are potentially facing into the largest mass burnout yet by the end of this year.

Here are key signs of a burnout and actions leaders can take to recognise that their teams (or indeed themselves) are close to an emotional, mental and physical burnout.

*The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, characterised by three dimensions: Feeling exhausted or depleted of energy, feeling disconnected from or cynical about work, and reduced professional efficacy.


Key burnout signs


Burnout doesn't happen suddenly. You don't wake up one morning and all of a sudden "have burnout." Its nature is much more insidious, creeping up on us over time, which makes it much harder to recognise. Still, our bodies and minds give us warnings, and if you know what to look for, you can recognize it before it's too late. The key burnout signs include:

  1. Cynical or critical view of work

  2. Lack of energy; difficulty of getting up and getting started

  3. Lack of patience with co-workers, customers or clients

  4. Difficulty to concentrate

  5. Excessive consumption of food, drugs or alcohol to feel better (or simply not feel)

  6. Changed sleeping habits

  7. Physical complaints, e.g. unexpected headaches, stomach problems etc.

  8. Poor performance

Possible burnout causes

  1. Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job, such as your schedule, assignments or workload or a lack of the resources you need to do your work.

  2. Unclear job expectations. Lack of clarity about the degree of authority you have or what your management or team expect from you.

  3. Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Being undermined by a colleague or micromanaged by your manager.

  4. Extremes of activity. Monotonous or chaotic job, which requires a constant energy to remain focused.

  5. Lack of social support. Sense of isolation at work and in your personal life.

  6. Work-life imbalance. Excessive workload that takes up so much of your time and effort that you don't have the energy to spend time with your family and friends.

In conclusion

This pandemic has really revealed that we’re all human beings, and that no one is immune. The eyes and ears of leaders, when engaging with their teams, have to be sharper than ever. Tuning into sudden mood swings, listening out for words used when describing work or personal life, signs of lack of enjoyment or enthusiasm, resistance of socialising and general detachment.


Useful resources




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