Can managers prevent team burnout?

Managers have a responsibility of care towards their team's wellbeing

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 20 May 2022

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Can managers prevent team burnout?

Managers have a responsibility of care towards their team's wellbeing

Picture this. It’s the middle of a high-octane work week for you and a senior member of your team shares that she is feeling burned out and anxious. What is your first thought?

Managers are never taught how to deal with mental health issues at workplace. We learn productivity, operational efficiency, and even team collaboration - all concepts leading to the ultimate goal of achieving the business goals. So, how come team wellbeing has skipped the managerial dialogue for so many years, when it is so crucial to meeting goals too?

Awareness of mental health issues and normalising its discussion is a welcome step forward. While there may still be some Type A managers who feel uncomfortable or sceptical discussing mental health concerns at workplace, most are at least open to listening or enlisting support in the form of employee assistance programs etc. Few, however, know how to deal with these concerns by pro-actively identifying burnout in the team and engaging in a meaningful discussion with a team member needing support.

Just as with other managerial issues like performance management or communication, every manager needs to develop their own style for dealing with team mental wellbeing. Here is a starter guide for managers looking for inspiration on where to begin:

1. Build strong work processes:

The manager’s role in clearly defining goalposts, simplifying paths to get there, and removing obstacles goes a long way in keeping collective team stress and burnout away. While there will always be pressures and deadlines, building processes around managing workloads is critical. The Global Anatomy of Work Report 2022 by Asana reveals that “24% of workers believe too many meetings directly lead to missed deadlines.” It is a manager’s prerogative to filter out the unnecessary meetings from the useful ones, planning them efficiently and ensuring it sticks to schedule. Equally important as balancing workloads is the managers’ prudence in pushing back unrealistic expectations and deadlines although this aspect of a manager’s role is often ignored. Burnout became a larger issue during the pandemic because this clarity of work got lost in the initial days of the lockdown.

2. Set boundaries:

With so much being discussed around mental health and burnout, managers face self-doubt themselves. Am I being too pushy or just trying to get the work done? How much follow-up is too much? An important tradition to set is having a “boundaries” talk with the team. The best time to have this is usually as we set the annual goals, but if you’re past that, its still not late. This comprises of aligning with the team how often will check-ins be done, what happens if they don’t respond to check-ins or follow-ups, and what is the best channel to seek support. Keep the intention of this talk very clear – this is important to ensure that no one is stretching beyond what’s required and has the support needed to deliver within commitments, while avoiding micro-management.

3. Create a happy work culture:

Ultimately, if we spend a large part of our waking day at work, finding meaning and joy in it is a fair ask and one that the leadership should take seriously. According to the Mercer Global Talent Trends Report 2022, 81% employees are at the risk of burnout with key drivers for men being “perceived unfairness and lack of a support network. For women, burnout is due to workload and pandemic-era emotional demands.” Reversing some of these gaps and introducing simple measures like appreciation and celebrations, recognitions and gratitude are tools to build cheer around what we do at work. Being able to openly discuss burnout without fear of stigma and seek support is another important cultural element that helps teams focus on mental health and resultant productivity.

Every team has its own elements that make work meaningful and ensure the holistic health of all team members. Let’s find what makes your teams work when it comes to mental health so that the next time you don’t have to wait for a colleague to share a concern. Spot it before it gets too late!.