It hardly bears repeating now, but the last 18 months have been a real challenge for leaders. As we begin to put the worst of Covid-19 behind us, a new pandemic threatens to take hold: burnout.
According to recent research conducted by the School for CEOs, senior leaders are at a significantly higher risk of burnout than CEOs, with 34 per cent of executive leaders showing high risk of burnout compared to 22 per cent of CEOs. And 51 per cent of senior managers are considering leaving, retiring or downshifting to less demanding roles, threatening workplace stability.
However, in many cases, burnout is preventable. So, how should leaders protect themselves?
Understand contributing factors
Burnout isn’t the same for everyone, it doesn’t manifest itself in the same way and isn’t caused by the same things.
Research published in Harvard Business Review and undertaken earlier this year by academics at University of Washington shows that burnout typically presents in one of three ways: mental or physical exhaustion; cynical detachment or enforced isolation; or a reduced sense of efficacy. Individuals may feel one or more of the symptoms and identifying which of these may be a risk area for you is key.
When suffering from exhaustion, acts of ‘self-care’ can be important in recovery – whether that’s taking time to cook a meal, exercise, meditate or take a nap, for example. However, focusing on oneself can exacerbate burnout if you’re feeling depleted due to alienation. Socialising with others is much more likely to help in this case.
When faced with feelings of inefficacy, showing compassion for others or for oneself can help. Completing a workout, helping a colleague or achieving a goal can lead to increased self-esteem.
Breaking down the stigma
55 per cent of senior leaders perceive they will be stigmatised if they had a mental health issue and their workplace was aware, according to a study conducted by Lifeworks and Deloitte Canada. To lead the company and its’ employees to success, senior leaders must be able to be vulnerable to drive change – both for themselves, and the business.
Organisations can and should take steps to reduce the risk of burnout in the first place, as research from Clarity shows that as many as 70 per cent of burned out employees would leave their jobs as a result.
Employers must encourage their employees, at all levels, to take personal time, give them space and provide the necessary resources to support mental health.
Act on your agency
In order to effectively prevent burnout, you must feel empowered to take control over your life and your decisions.
Identify what it is that’s contributing to your burnout and seek a solution that will help to resolve the issue. If you’re suffering due to lack of social connection, for example, try to reaffirm your own social networks rather than rely on someone else to step in and help.
Participating in self-care or choosing to socialise rather than work, can sometimes feel self-indulgent, particularly if you’re feeling undeserving or overwhelmed.
But, research shows that this is worth the effort. Those who are able to practice compassion are much less likely to suffer the effects of severe burnout.
Discover new tools
Meditation, breath training, appreciation exercises, yoga and movement practices have all been shown to be effective in preventing burnout.
There’s no one sure prescriptive method which will work for everyone so take the time to discover what works for you.
Find a balance
The best cure for burnout is prevention. Leaders should practice careful energy management and self-reflection to help avoid feelings of burnout. According to Health Shield, poor mental health can cost £1,035 per employee and effect productivity, group dynamic, and communication throughout company culture. Therefore, taking a proactive approach is key. Both employers and employees must work in tandem to determine the factors which put individuals at risk of burnout and discover the actions which will help to mitigate it.
Hemsley Fraser is an expert in leadership, learning and development. It helps organisations to transform how people learn, engage and develop in the rhythm of their work… wherever they are. Hemsley Fraser help organisations to create learning experiences for their workforce which promote positive mental health and reduce the likelihood of burnout.