Tips for Leading a Burned-Out Workforce

With the great resignation continuing to plague employers, and employees in nearly every sector suffering from burnout, it’s more important now than ever for leaders to support and manage exhausted staff without contributing to the problem.

According to one survey, 44% of employees are actively seeking a new job. While 56% of respondents cited higher pay as the top reason for seeking a new position, 20% said they would take a new job for the same pay, signaling that other factors—including benefits, flexibility and job security—are important for employee retention, too.

While leaders aren’t therapists (and shouldn’t try to be), it’s important to keep in mind that though the emergency portion of the pandemic has passed, many employees are still in crisis. Below are four steps leaders can take to foster a healthy, supportive workplace.

  1. Model a healthy work environment. Employees look to their managers to set expectations at work. Be sure to model flexibility and self-care, and respond kindly to imperfections or mistakes.

    It’s also important that you model a healthy work-life balance: Avoid sending emails outside of work hours and prioritize taking your PTO without checking in or working on vacation. Employees need protected time off to help alleviate the symptoms of burnout.
  2. Reduce stressors at work. Help your team set a goal to reduce stress across the board. Allow your employees to suggest actions that could reduce the team’s collective mental load, such as improving processes, taking breaks during the day and reducing meeting fatigue. Creating a safe environment where everyone can make suggestions or ask for help when they feel overwhelmed can go a long way toward employee retention.
  3. Ease the cognitive burden. Have you noticed people being spaced out, forgetful or fumbling for words? Studies show that grief, trauma and anxieties can lead to difficulty focusing. Help your staff reduce their mental burden by building checklists, protocols and backup plans that will prevent serious errors.

    Keep in mind that your overextended workforce has been adapting to a constantly changing business environment for more than two years. Some mistakes and failures are inevitable. Analyze failures together with your team, take responsibility for your part in those failures and reward team members who admit to their mistakes and bring problems to your attention.
  4. Make your workplace meaningful. Encourage team members to engage in activities they find meaningful—both at and outside of work. This could include fostering opportunities for your team to connect with one another, making space for volunteer opportunities or meaningful hobbies outside of work, or helping your employees carve out an identity that supports who they want to be in their personal life.

    Consider offering a flexible work arrangement for people who want to spend more time with family, offering benefits or partnerships that allow employees to participate in community activities, and supporting team members’ fundraising goals or volunteer projects outside of work.