While setting up for an onsite workshop the other day, one of the senior directors of the business popped her head in to say hello.
I asked her how she was feeling, and after a somewhat dramatic exhale, she replied, “Counting the days”.
We only chatted briefly, but it was clear that Trish was exhausted. She alluded to the fact that her tank was well and truly empty, and that her tyres were bald (or even flat)! When I tried to encourage her by suggesting that the Christmas break was just around the corner, she sarcastically replied that the light at the end of the tunnel may as well be an oncoming train!
She wasn’t just exhausted. She was burnt out.
This time last year we were experiencing another wave of COVID; heading into another lockdown; and generally unsure of what the new year would look like. We came into 2022 not having been able to properly re-charge. We hit the ground running wanting to make up for lost time, to get our businesses back on track, and to embrace the ‘new normal’. We went at it hard, and in doing so, many of us were already ‘cooked’ by September.
We’ve since spent another three months running on empty, and with the new year just around the corner, it’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to completely crash and burn. More importantly we need to ensure that we don’t let ourselves or our team members burn out in 2023.
In fact, the World Health Organisation now recognises it as a medical condition – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, reducing productivity, leaving you feeling cynical and resentful (symptoms that Trish was clearly displaying when I saw her briefly last week).
Researchers have cited that “burnout represents an erosion of the human soul that spreads over time, putting people into a downward spiral from which it’s hard to recover”. This is not only dangerous for the individual leader, but also for the organisation.
Burnout isn’t good for anyone, least of all a leader.
Burnout is dangerous and from personal experience, I would highly recommend to any leader that you don’t wait until it’s too late before you start being kind to yourself.
Whether you strive for work-life balance, work-life integration, or work-life separation (and there is a difference between each of these strategies or goals), the primary focus for any leader should be to find time away from the business and to focus on yourself, your mental health and well-being. After all, if your body is depleted or if you are continually sleep deprived, it’s just as bad as being drunk on the job. And many business leaders have been forced to step down for being drunk at work.
There’s no point being ‘good’ to yourself during the first few weeks of January, and then quickly falling back into the trap of being on 24 x 7 by the beginning of February. Boundaries are still important.
Remember, there was once a time when you couldn’t actually be on a conference call while sitting in traffic on a commute, and when your clients only had your office phone number, or when emails were on your computer at work, not incessantly buzzing during family dinner time simply because dinner time for you might still be the middle of the afternoon for some of your team.
There are many ways to combat leadership burnout, but a few that you might want to consider include:
Dedicating time for self-care (such as mindfulness or meditation). Even something as simple as taking a few deep mindful breaths can do wonders. In fact, why not try it now? Go on … inhale deeply and hold for a count of six. Then exhale slowly for a count of eight. Now repeat it three times before reading any further. The most important thing here is to take a break every single day. Walk away from your phone. Focus on yourself.
Appreciating the importance of self-reflection. Take time to reflect on why you do what you do and what you’re hoping to achieve. Self-reflection is a key leadership skill, a powerful technique that helps leaders think back to past experiences, while also helping to plan for their future.
Focusing on what you can do – not what you can’t control; and
Learning to manage your energy, not your time. Try to organise your day to take advantage of natural highs and lows in your energy and motivation levels.
And above all, please don’t think that focusing on yourself, taking time off, or unplugging is a sign of weakness. You’ll understand real weakness when you experience sheer exhaustion and can’t lead (or work) anymore.
Make the commitment. Avoid the burnout. Your team (and family and friends) will thank you and respect you for it.
Encourage your team members to follow some of the same tips that we outlined above to help combat leadership burnout. But in addition to these, ensure you are checking in with your individual team members regularly – not just about work-related matters, but about their health and well-being.
Look after your team. Promote and support work-life balance. You certainly don’t want your team members to feel guilty about booking or taking annual leave. Without you even realising it, this will create a culture of anxiety, stress, and fear – all precursors to team burnout. And when a team member is on leave, don’t interrupt them, and don’t set the expectation that they should ‘check in’ while away. Time off is time off.
At hellomonday, we offer everyone an additional mindful or wellness day every quarter. Whether it’s a long weekend, or a mid-week re-charge, this kind of perk (which should be the norm) doesn’t only prevent burnout, but at the same time it increases productivity.
Remember hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally preventing burnout.
The hellomonday team wishes you and your teams a wonderful break, and a happy, healthy, safe, and calm 2023.