Stave off Burnout: 3 Surefire Tips for Managers

October 22, 2021

How would you react if your boss told you that you’re expected to be in office nine hours a day, for six days a week? That’s what Alibaba’s founder, Jack Ma expects of his organisation.

When it comes to work ethics, Jack Ma made a bold statement in 2019. On his blog, he defended the notoriously gruelling ‘996’ work culture, that one should work 12 hours a day, from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. But it isn’t just in China that people feel the stress. This year, countries like Argentina, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore have been ranked the most overworked, according to a global index on work-life balance.

If tech companies worldwide continue to glorify strenuous work cultures, it’ll be no surprise that the productivity of managers and employees, along with company profits, would start to plummet.

In this blog post, we look into 3 ways managers can help their reports manage their stress several ways on how to improve our work environments and culture to prevent burnout.

Signs of feeling the burn

Since this year’s Mental Health Day (10 October), we’ve seen more people voicing out their concerns on creating work-life balance, which is a great sign! Whether we are at home or at work, we should continue to advocate for our mental well-being.

If you’re a manager, here are some observable signs that can hint to you if your team is likely experiencing a burnout:

  • Increased irritability or frustration. People with burnout can become more irritable and lose their cool with friends and coworkers, and they’re more easily frustrated by challenges.
  • More time spent on work, but less gets done. Sometimes burnout happens when we are juggling between too many tasks. Keep an eye out for team members who say yes to almost every task, which may lead them actually feeling overwhelmed or overworked.
  • Loss of motivation and becoming more cynical. At the cusp of burnout, people might feel that their work has little value or feel that caring about work or life is a waste of time.

3 ways to prevent burnout

As much as we want to advocate for reasonable working hours, burnout doesn’t necessarily stem from working long hours. Rather, findings from Gallup suggest it’s how we experience these workloads that has a stronger influence on burnout. So instead of punishing their behaviours, managers should display empathy with their reports and dig deeper to find out what’s really causing them to feel the burn.

In addition to setting healthy expectations for working hours, managers also need to be mindful of how work is created for their teams and how they can create safe spaces where employees can comfortably discuss issues, whether they are personal or work-related.

1. Set clear expectations and delegate tasks with intention. Part of avoiding burnout is achieving things that give us a sense of accomplishment. Hence, when managers delegate responsibilities to their reports, it’s best to communicate why the work is important and specify what the report can learn from this new piece of work. In discussing these things with our reports, we’d not only be able to set realistic expectations on the workload, but provide the motivation that they’ll be able to achieve something meaningful.

2. Create safe spaces that support open, honest communication. If you’re having a terrible week and your boss asks you, “are you fine?” Would you say yes? Well, it turns out that nearly 20% of people would lie about being ‘fine’ when asked how they’re doing, according to a new study. Therefore, if we wish to support our team’s mental well-being and prevent burnout at the workplace, it’s crucial for managers to create a culture where employees feel comfortable in bringing forward ideas, admitting their mistakes and don’t fear receiving honest feedback.

3. Lead by example. As a manager, your team is most likely looking up to you as a role model. When managers show their best at work, the manager’s energy can boost a team’s morale. But the opposite can also happen, that when managers feel stressed, so does their team. This means that managers also need to know how to take care of themselves before they can do right by others. What does that look like? There are many ways but it really boils down to keeping ourselves physically healthy and being mindful of how our actions can send the right or wrong message to our team members.

Final thoughts

While burnout isn’t technically a mental illness, we hope to see more organisations put a greater focus on their people’s mental well-being, especially now that remote work has become the new normal.

More than ever, we need to know how to lead a remote team successfully, which means leaders displaying empathy and building a culture that advocates for me

If you feel that you or your team might be on the brink of burnout, it’s OK to pause, take a moment to breathe and slow things down a little. Don’t let you or your team run on empty.