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Beating burnout and leading by example.

Written by Annette Cairns on .
Beating burnout and leading by example.

How many times this week have you said, or heard “I feel like we’re all ready for a break”?

The good news is that Christmas is only a couple of weeks away. The bad news is that as far as work is concerned, just taking a few days off isn’t enough to prevent the constant pressures that are being faced, and the epidemic that is workplace burnout.

Interestingly ‘burnout’ was identified as early as the 1970’s but officially recognised by the World Health Organisation in 2019 as an occupational phenomenon. It’s a state of general exhaustion, both physically and mentally which can occur after long-term periods of stress in work. Let’s face it, the past 2 years have been some of the most intense and stressful we’ve ever experienced. And now, as we feel that ‘end of year tiredness’ (or is it actually burnout?) we’re hit with the official announcement that we’re living in ‘perma-crisis’.

Essentially, perma-crisis (Collins Dictionary’s word of the year) confirms our gut feelings that the Christmas break, and New Year won’t provide any respite from all the pressures that have built up over time. These pressures have resulted in an astonishing report from HR News that 88% of people in the UK claim they have experienced some level of burnout in the past 2 years.

Some of the common signs of workplace burnout, which you may recognise in yourself, or spot within your team are:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
  • Feeling detached/alone in the world
  • Having a cynical/negative outlook
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Feeling overwhelmed

 So how did we end up here?

The sudden and traumatic move to working from home during the Covid pandemic has certainly had long lasting impacts on the way people work and communicate in their ‘work’ environments. After the initial fear and shock had worn off, and we all figured out how to use zoom, we fell into a ‘getting by’ mode where we all just kept doing what we could, just keeping going, and adapting to one change after another and expecting at some point, that things would get back to normal and things would ‘slow down a bit’.

But the reality is that 2 years on, there isn’t a return to the way we used to work, or a slow down of the ‘digital overload’ – the expectation to be available and accessible online around the clock. We don’t have the same face to face time, and as humans are social beings, we’re missing out on this connection which is so important for us to function at our best. Combine this with reduced staff levels – sometimes because of skills gaps, often due to ongoing ill health (including stress and mental health issues which make up over 50% of all absences) and the resulting pressure is immense.

Can we fix this?

The answer is probably, no. We can’t fix being in a constant state of crisis and uncertainty. We can’t predict what the future workplace looks like, especially with the opposing schools of thought now emerging of whether we should be ‘hardcore and back in the office’ or ‘working wherever is best for productivity’.

What we can do is manage the situation. Manage ourselves. Manage our teams.

Managing burnout is just one of the many tasks that leaders have in a modern workplace. First and foremost, a little like the oxygen mask scenario on a plane, we need to give leaders the skills and space to manage themselves. High performance is not a character trait, it’s what people are capable of under optimal circumstances, so employers have a responsibility to provide leaders and managers with the best environment to thrive in.

Once the mask is on, it’s time to look after the others. A resilient, capable and confident manager who leads by example will be able to bring out the best in their team. Connecting and communicating well, managing performance based on outputs not hours, and giving autonomy within clear expectations and boundaries will help to break the cycle of pressure, increasing productivity and reducing work overload.

If you need some support, either individually to enable you to work at your best, or at an organisation level, get in touch. I’ll be leading by example and having that break at Christmas too so let’s connect and get ready to start the New Year afresh.

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