Work-Life Balance

How managers can help their teams deal with burnout

Written by Kate Lopaze

No matter who you are and what field you work in, these past couple of years has been rough. Dealing with a global pandemic and a new normal in virtually every industry has left people feeling overwhelmed and stressed. This has been compounded by the Great Resignation, leaving open jobs and gaps that need to be filled by remaining team members.

With people juggling more than ever, burnout is very real. If you’re looking for ways to help your own team fight stress and fatigue, here are some tips to help everyone focus on the most important work without sacrificing their health or well-being.

Prioritize what matters

Of course, the work needs to get done somehow. But if everything is a top priority, then nothing is. Work with your team to identify the most important tasks and goals. Make sure everyone’s clear on what needs to get done most urgently, and what can wait.

This may also require some managing upward on your part. If asks and projects are being handed down from above, make sure your own manager is aware of your team’s priorities and limitations, and set realistic expectations about what can be accomplished. If you say yes to everything, then you’re signing up your team to deliver, which can add pressure and frustration to an already heavy workload.

Rethink meetings

Meetings can be great and productive. Sometimes getting everyone in a room (whether in person or virtual) is the easiest and most effective way to hash things out. Other times, they might not be necessary—or can be run far more efficiently. If there’s no clear agenda, or everyone who needs to be in the room isn’t there, a meeting can fast become a time-waster.

Any potential meeting should also have a checklist before you hit “send” on the invite:

  • Could this be accomplished through an email instead?
  • Are the right people going to be here?
  • What are the specific objectives of this meeting?

In any meeting, you can help by shutting down digressions, and (politely) keeping people on topic. The last 10-15 minutes of the meeting should always involve a clear discussion of next steps so that everyone can go get ‘em instead of having another meeting or 12 follow-up emails to clarify what needs to be done. Encourage your team to keep these guidelines in mind for their own meetings.

You might also want to create meeting-free zones (for example, Fridays or after 3 pm) to give people some uninterrupted time to get things done.

Set boundaries and be a role model

One of the biggest factors in work burnout—especially when email is checkable around the clock, and work from home blurs the line between work and personal space—is not having good boundaries. Encourage people to set time boundaries after work hours, and empower them to enforce those lines. Some managers have a “no email after hours” policy.

And that applies to you too. If you encourage your team to set boundaries for their own work-life balance but are sending emails at 9 pm (even if you’re not expecting an immediate response), that’s a mixed message at best, and they might feel pressured to keep up when they should be off duty. There may be emergency work situations that happen after hours, but those should be an exception, not a routine.

Help protect your employees’ time (and your own), and they’ll feel more comfortable to stake it out and protect it themselves.

Don’t forget about your own health and happiness

As a manager, you’re not magically immune to stress and feeling overwhelmed. These tips are just as much to help save your own productivity and well-being as your team’s. It may feel like you need to be stoic and shoulder everything as the leader, but if you’re feeling crushed by responsibility, that’s not helpful for anyone involved. Set the boundaries for yourself. Take time off. Reprioritize your work. Do things outside of work hours that make you feel happy, fulfilled, and balanced. When your team sees you doing these things, they’ll feel like they can do those things too. A happy, productive manager leads a productive team. 

Work stress and busy times may be inevitable, but by putting some guardrails in place, and emphasizing that a balanced approach is as important as checking things off a list, you can help your team manage it without hitting the burnout crisis stage.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.