5 Steps Leaders Can Take to Reduce Burning Out Their Employees

Let’s face it 2020 has been a year of surprises, disappointments and a multitude of unknowns. 2021 is shaping up to be much of the same. The term “uncertain times” has been a phrase that has been overused and does not quite explain how we have been coping. A more accurate way to describe it is that many of us having been navigating through the chaos that is now our new lives. 

Between trying to survive in a global pandemic, managing kid’s online learning, working from home, managing the shift in business priorities, AND racial tensions at an all time high, it has been a lot to cope with. Your employees are not ok! Repeat your employees are NOT ok. And if you think they are you may be in for a rude awakening when stress leaves start to increase, more of your employees drop out of the labour force and productivity and employee satisfaction is on the decline. In fact, since the pandemic, women’s participation in the labour force is the at the lowest level in three decades and have accounted for approximately 45% of the decline in hours worked during the pandemic. Another confounding factor is the fact that we are going into another longer winter with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) on the rise, cold and flu season is here, and people are feeling increasing levels of loneliness as they genuinely miss their loved ones. Your employees are balancing a lot on their plates and the stress of it all is staring to get to them. 

We know from research that when your body is in a heighted state of stress arousal cortisol levels are elevated and when in this persistent state can lead to many negative health effects on the body including but not limited to cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and personality disorders. The effects of this time have taken a toll on many of us and as a leader the burden is on you to do more to help support your employees. We can no longer take a reactive-lets wait and see what happens-approach. The time to act is now.

Here is what you can do as a leader to help prevent your employees from burning out:

1.      Facilitate the process of getting your organizations to re-invest in their EAP plans and benefit supports; remind employees of these supports and how to access them

A pro-active approach is better than a reactive one. We know people are living through chaos in their lives right now. What we don’t know is what’s coming next and with a second wave of the pandemic looming over us this will add an additional burden to members of your team. Why not take a pro-active approach and help support re-investing in your organization’s EAP plans and benefit supports. EAP professionals are there to help employees thrive and help them mange through the challenging situations they may be coping with. With these programs however, there are limited sessions that employees can access. It makes sense to add more sessions for your employees especially when they may be having a harder time coping. And of course, ensure there is diversity in the EAP provider so that your diverse team feels heard and supported with the added stresses that has been placed on them. Allocate more funding towards health benefits so that members of your team can take care of all aspects of their health both physical and mental. Remind employees of their access to these supports and in fact, invite a member of your extended health benefits insurer to speak about how to access these benefits and what is available to them. You can also take it one step further and invite a wellness practitioner to have sessions with your team and talk about coping strategies. This sends the message that you and the organization care about the health and wellbeing of your employees.

2.      Where possible, provide flexibility in working hours

Flexibility in working hours can ease the pressure your employees may be feeling with trying to balance multiple stressors. For example, for parents with young children it can be especially challenging to care of their children if they are also expected to be at work at the same time with limited or no childcare. Providing work from home options or opportunities to complete tasks in non 9-5 hours may help. Check-in with members of your team to find out their unique needs and how you may be able to add more flexibility in their workday. Consider options to collaborate in asynchronous time to limit the amount of real time meetings. Trust that your team can get projects completed with more flexibility added to their schedule.

3.      Have an open-door policy with mindful check-ins to genuinely connect with members of your team

Building relationships take time and this requires mindful check-ins. When connecting with members of your team, go beyond shallow conversation starters such as “how are you” or “how was your weekend” the answers to these questions tend to illicit a one word answer or merely trying to make pleasantries. Instead ask more mindful questions such as:

  • What would support look like for you today?
  • What is exciting you most this week?
  • What is a challenge for you that I can help with?
  • What is something interesting that happened to you today?
  • Is there anything you want to talk about today?
  • What is something you would like to see more of/less of?

Using this approach will help your team feel more supported and will help build their resilience. If your team knows you are there for them they are more likely to open up to you in their time of need. This can help you understand their challenges and enable you to provide support.

4.      Set an example

There is nothing more that sets the tone than when a leader models the behaviour they want to see, after all it’s not what you say but what you do that truly matters. Set the stage by enforcing your own boundaries when it comes to work-life-balance and taking care of your own health. When leaders have their own boundaries, it lets their team know that this is the same behaviour they too should be applying to their own lives. Share with your team practices you engage in to be balanced. If you haven’t achieved this balance quite yet the time to start is now. Make a plan to take care of your own health and ensure you are not spending all your time working. Your employees need to see you take breaks, that you end your work day on time, and you too also have a life outside of work. Model a healthy way of living, this will let your team know that this should be a priority for them too.

5.      Advocate for changes in your workplace policies

If your organization hasn’t updated its policies since the pandemic began chances are they are outdated. Your policies need to reflect the current landscape we are living in and need to be in the best interest of your employees. For example, do you have a short-term and long-term leave in place for your employees? What happens if members of the team get sick or their family members? Are your policies inclusive and equitable or do they serve to benefit some groups while harming or oppressing others? Keep in mind that your Black, Indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) employees may be facing disproportionate emotional stress of the pandemic in addition to racial microaggressions in the workplace and racial tensions outside the workplace. Other questions to ask yourself could a lack of policies around the challenges faced in this environment be causing undo stress to the team? Does the organization have a work from home policy-why or why not? These are some questions to ask yourself as a leader in addition to what actions you can take to move the needle on these policies.

Understanding that we are all coping in these challenging times and reflecting this in your leadership will help your team be more resilient and help them thrive in your organization.

Are you or members of your team feeling stressed? I can help, book a call with me to explore how.

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Jodi Tingling is a Workplace and Wellness Strategist who works with leaders, professionals, and organizations to ensure they meet their unique workplace goals. To work with Jodi connect with her at jodi@creatingnewsteps.com. 

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