preventing and navigating burnout: a manager’s guide

The majority of managers want a motivated and productive workforce, but it’s a common error to push your team too far beyond their limits. Find out how to prevent physical and emotional burnout from occurring in your team.

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Many people think of ‘burnout’ as solely related to how much they work and that taking some time off will relieve feelings of overwhelm and pressure, and they’ll bounce back to work feeling refreshed and renewed.  

Burnout is caused by a number of factors and is unlikely to be resolved by taking a break. One of the most important contributors to a person’s wellbeing at work is the relationship they have with their line manager. As ‘burnout’ has been classified as a workplace phenomenon by the World Health Organization (2019), support at work is essential if we are to curb the rising of tide of overwhelm within the workplace. 

It's useful on an individual level, and in your capacity as a line manager to pinpoint exactly what your team are feeling and the factors that are contributing to this. This will enable you to provide the specific support they will find most useful and encourage them to look after their own health and wellbeing.  

The role of the manager is critical in assessing and addressing employee burnout. Here are some specific tips to support you in navigating and preventing burnout in your team

be knowledgeable about the factors that contribute to burnout 

Research has indicated the six areas that, when left unchecked, can lead to burnout. Recognising how these areas are impacting your team can give you a good steer to make improvements: 

  • workload – do they have a clearly defined job description and are the reasonability’s of the roles reasonable? Additionally do they have the resources they need to be able fulfil their duties assigned to them?
  • perceived lack of control – do they feel a sense of autonomy and agency within their role? When people feel that they have a say in the decisions being made around them that relate to their job it can have a positive effect on wellbeing and reduce feelings of disengagement and cynicism 
  • appreciation and reward – when people feel the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for the job don’t match the effort and time that they put in, they can become disengaged and unmotivated, which is key indicator of burnout. Does your team feel appreciated? Are their achievements recognised and rewarded?
  • fairness – ensure that people receive fair and equitable treatment and effectively communicate the reasons why decisions that might impact them are being made. Transparency and trust are the foundations for psychological safety within the workplace and out of this flows innovation and creativity
  • community – it’s important that people feel a sense of belonging within the organisation. Can you create spaces where people feel they are safe enough to speak up when things get overwhelming? Develop opportunities to bring teams together and keep connections strong. Try to build positive relationships within your team as loneliness and isolation are often drivers of poor mental health wellbeing
  • values – are your and your team’s behaviours aligned to the organisation’s values? Are your behaviours creating an environment where people feel that it’s OK to look after their own wellbeing? Role modelling and recognising your own style and how this contributes to an employee’s experience is an important piece of reflective work that will lead to improved relationships

pay attention to the warning signs of poor mental health  

If you notice that someone isn’t acting or performing in the way they usually do, start a conversation to give you both the opportunity to explore the reasons and identify what support will be helpful. The common indicators are: 

  • poor decision making 
  • reduced concentration levels 
  • feelings of overwhelm 
  • withdrawal 
  • procrastination 
  • inability to prioritise tasks effectively 
  • poor time keeping 
  • relationship difficulties 
  • expressions of anger and frustration 
  • increasing cynicism and disengagement.

If you’re noticing these signs in someone and think they’re acting or performing unusually, here’s what to do next:

start supportive conversations 

Use 1:1 opportunities to start exploring what might be driving any difficulty. If your conversations with individuals are purely task focused, you’re missing out on an opportunity to support your direct reports and ensure that they feel heard and listened to. 

Some people will need a little encouragement to open up so actively listening to what they say, creating space, and responding sensitively will help to reassure people that you are there to support them. The following questions may be helpful: 

  • ‘What part of your job is most difficult at the moment?’ 
  • ‘How does your workload feel right now?’ 
  • ‘What one thing can I do better to support you?’ 
  • ‘Is there anything I can take off your plate, help you delegate, or help you prioritise?’ 
  • ‘What kind of flexibility do you need right now?’ 
  • ‘Is there anything unclear or blocking your work right now?’  

set clear goals and spotlight progress  

When we don’t have clear goals we either become stuck because we are unsure where to invest our energy or we frantically churn out work in the hope it will be valuable. At the beginning of each month, help each person to produce five goals that connect to the team’s shared vision. It’s also important to recognise progress and highlight any accomplishments or achievements within individuals or the team.  

protect the team’s time – even when they won’t 

It’s important as a manger to be there when people really need you, for deeply personal reasons or life emergencies. Ensure that people take time off if they need to in light of illness, bereavement, or other important situations.  Encourage people to take their annual holiday allowance and to have some protected time to rest and decompress during time away from work, for instance at weekends or other days off. Try to role model the behaviour you wish to advocate for.

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We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and the family and carers of members and students. 

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