The Burnout Antidote May Not Be What You Think

We’re starting to burn out on #burnout. It was big and then it started fading, and now it seems again in full force.

Burnout is commanding headlines once again – rightfully so. Because we’ve still not solved it. But pleas of “not another burnout article!” are ringing all around me.

So what’s going on? With all the attention being paid, why are we still so deep in the burnout struggle?

I have a hypothesis. And while I’m not a capital-R “Researcher” by trade, I do have the luxury of defining and testing hypotheses with willing clients. But first, a quick story.

I was chatting to a friend and client last year. She and I share many similarities: both working moms in similar fields with equivalent hours worked and outcomes expected of us.

But she was burned out. And I was not.

She was feeling drained, empty – the tired you feel when you’re stuck in inertia. I was feeling spent – that delicious exhaustion you sense when your hike lands you at the top of the mountain.

The primary difference (so I hypothesized)? It wasn’t about the volume of our work – but the sense of empowerment we each carried - the feeling of control, of influence over the expenditure of time and energy.

I’m watching companies attempt to combat burnout with “mandatory PTO” days, with wellness breaks, with strategies designed to mitigate time and volume.

Volume may matter – but it’s not the whole answer.

I’ve now had the opportunity to design and facilitate experiences with teams challenged by burnout. Our focus is on turning the dial up on individual control – with less focus on volume. And so far I like what I see.

So leaders. If you’re seeing some frayed edges around your team, consider an open dialog with them to drive their sense of empowerment up.

Here are some exploratory questions to help guide your design.

  • Is your team unbelievably clear on their collective purpose – what the team delivers to the organization and why it’s so crucial?
  • Are they solid on their individual impact – what of their contributions can the organization just not function without? (Hint: think less “James manages the budget” and more “James provides financial insights that foster intelligent decision-making)
  • How do they want to be achieving their impact?
  • What decisions do they want greater ownership of?
  • What do they want to test or try?
  • What old way of doing something holds them back?
  • How do they want and need to spend their time differently?
  • And how can you help facilitate these changes?
  • What strategies will you use collectively to monitor progress and adapt as you go?

With clarity comes the ability to make better decisions. And with better decisions comes more permission to make those decisions.

This is the formula, in my humble opinion, to working empowered.

Related: The Unpulled Lever in the Burnout Battle