Burnout is more than a buzzword that’s captured attention and headlines. It’s a deadly serious problem that is causing physicians to give up their profession, teachers to leave the classroom, and many workers to ponder whether the stress of their career is worth it.
What is burnout? It’s a state of mental or emotional exhaustion, often coupled with a sense of failure or reduced accomplishment and a loss of identity. And most of the time, burnout is associated with the particular stresses that most people experience in their daily work.
Symptoms of burnout can include a host of mental, emotional, or physical tell-tale signs, from an increasingly critical attitude toward your work or co-workers to problems sleeping or taking care of basic daily needs. Risk factors for burnout include long hours, heavy workloads, and feeling that you have little or no control over your work.
Burnout Can Follow You Home
Some of the biggest stories related to burnout have come from the helping professions. We’ve seen reports of the intense stress the pandemic has placed on healthcare professionals in communities everywhere. We’ve also seen the toll the pandemic has taken on teachers. But the reality of burnout is present for workers in every industry and field.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, much of working life has shifted to home offices and online video conferencing platforms. While remote work has dramatically increased workplace flexibility, many have also struggled with increased susceptibility to burnout. Maintaining boundaries and a healthy work-life balance has become more complex than ever as the border between work and home becomes more and more ethereal.
Leadtail has been working out of home offices as a fully distributed team for years. Even though remote work is business as usual for us, we know that all of us are prone to burnout unless we take proactive measures to address it.
Business leaders and human resources professionals agree that burnout is everyone’s problem. And the only way to combat it is to be intentional about maintaining clear boundaries, open communication, and increasing flexibility wherever possible. Implementing new ways of working, like asynchronous collaboration, can significantly affect the stress level within a remote work environment.
While work environment and workload are not the only factors in burnout, leaders can help create conditions that alleviate stress and fatigue. And that can make a massive difference for burnout risk within an organization.
Leadtail’s founders have intentionally created a humane workplace where employees have both the autonomy and support to succeed. As the reality of burnout has become more apparent even within our team, we have taken additional steps to curb the conditions that can contribute to burnout and further our founders’ vision for a high-performing and highly engaged remote team that delivers for our clients without compromising personal boundaries.
How Leadtail Is Addressing Burnout
Overwork and stress related to burgeoning workloads can trigger job burnout. That’s why we’ve pulled forward hiring planned for 2022. Leadtail is invested in building and supporting the right team to serve our clients. We’re also committed to investing in every team member’s professional growth. A significant feature of our hiring strategy is to create opportunities for team members to expand into specific roles and specializations organically.
Iterative process improvement has been central to the Leadtail story since the beginning. We are continuously looking at how we get work done with an eye for areas of improvement. Workflow refinement is an ongoing effort throughout the team. We are focused on finding ways to improve communication and teamwork.
One thing we have discovered as a distributed team is the need for more intentional feedback loops that help every team member grow in their role. Our job roadmap initiative gives employees feedback on their performance while also plotting a course for growth, learning, and increased responsibility. By clearly communicating expectations, feedback, and trajectory, we remove uncertainty and improve management’s accountability to provide the support each employee needs.
Making Room for Conversations
It’s a tradition at Leadtail for new employees to pair up with a more experienced “Leadtail Llama” who helps orient new hires to our company culture. These relationships are an essential part of the onboarding process. They have also become a tool to combat burnout within our team.
Additionally, we have an open communication policy. Anyone on the team can set up a time to talk with their manager, Llama, or with either of our founders, Karri Carlson or Carter Hostelley, for any reason. At every level, we make time to have these conversations, hold them in confidence where appropriate, and work with one another to create a sustainable work environment.
What We’ve Learned: Tips for Addressing Burnout
“Figuring stuff out” takes time and precious mental energy. Creating a set of simple internal goals reduces the need to figure out what to do in every situation. It eliminates the anxiety of wondering if we’ve adequately addressed a task. These goal sets also help us strategize around how to meet those goals and do a quick “back of the envelope” calculation to see if the activities required to meet the goals will fit into our overall work plan.
Reclaim Energy and Attention
By scheduling out essential activities, building time off, focus time, and other priorities into our daily calendars, we reclaim time and precious energy for our most important tasks. We’ve also found that being selective about notification settings for our various communication apps makes a meaningful difference in allocating our attention.
We have found that reflecting on a few fundamental questions helps us spot patterns that can increase both energy and satisfaction. This practice also helps us identify what drains us. When paired with our open communication policy, this personal reflection can become a way we collaborate better with one another. Being honest about where we struggle is good for both individual team members and the team as a whole, as it helps us see patterns that impact all of us.
Some of our reflection questions include:
- Of all the things I do well in my job, I’m best at: _________________
- If I could make one change for the better, it would be _____________
- Do I understand our purpose as a team? How can I increase my clarity?
- How does my work today help fulfill that purpose?
- What parts of my role give me the most energy?
- Where do I slip into “flow” state? What routinely breaks up my flow?
- How do my work area and schedule impact my physical well-being?
- Where can I add physical well-being elements to my day?
- What physical well-being obstacles do I encounter at work?
Learn, Adapt, Iterate
We’re sharing what we’ve learned with the hope that our experience will be helpful to others.
The most critical takeaway is that Leadtail doesn’t have it all figured out. As a learning culture and a culture steeped in iterative process improvement, we are always on the lookout for new things to learn and ways to improve how we deliver for each other and our clients.
We’d love to hear from you. What have you learned about preventing and addressing burnout for your team?