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Leading By Compassion: 5 Ways to Prevent Burnout

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Feeling tired and stressed is one thing, but when you and your team start feeling like every meeting is pulling teeth, lunch breaks become a thing of the past, and weekdays blur into weekends – it’s a sign of burnout.

Even if targets are met, you start to see usually enthusiastic team members go flat. They may even get cynical about the job behind closed doors.

The bottom line is, burnout is bad for business, yourself, and your team.

What is Burnout?

The definition of burnout is prolonged or chronic stress at work leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. The World Health Organization updated its definition of burnout last year to call it a “syndrome” that ties stress and exhaustion specifically to your work.

Where Does Burnout Come From?

We were in a burnout epidemic well before the pandemic. The term was coined in the 1970s to describe workers “who sacrifice themselves for others … end up being ‘burned out’ – exhausted, listless, and unable to cope.”

With the updated WHO classification, it’s clear that COVID has redirected our attention to workplace burnout. But the answer to addressing burnout is not to go back to “normal.”

In-fact, one study found that employee happiness has actually increased in 2020. Personally, I am loving my newfound initiative to get things done at-home.

So, how do we harness the power of working remotely while reducing team burnout?

It all starts from the top. As a leader, it is your responsibility to consider the wellbeing of your team, and set an example for them to thrive.

5 Ways To Prevent Burnout From The Top:

1. Actively Listen to Your Team and Show That You’re Listening

Right off the bat I must clarify that there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to addressing burnout. Every team is different. So the first step to addressing burnout is empathetic listening.

Bringing up the topic of mental wellness is difficult, so consider how, when, and what you’re going to communicate, before you start drafting an email. You might even consider sending the message from someone else in the office, someone your team members are already more comfortable with.

Here are some quick tips for addressing well-being in the workplace:

  1. Try Talking on An Individual Basis Instead of Broadcast To Everyone – shows that you care enough to make it personal
  2. Make No Assumptions – everyone shows and experiences burnout differently
  3. Once You Get Feedback, Show That You Heard Them and Take Action ASAP


Check out my blog on empathy in the digital age for more tips on how to integrate empathetic listening in your team remotely.

2. Understand That Growth Isn’t Everything

Most teams would probably agree that growth is always good. We always check the monetary costs of growth – what was our return on ad spend, etc.? As leaders we should normalize checking the emotional and physical costs of growth – how is the team doing?

Avani Parekh, Strategic Partner Manager at Facebook and a dear friend of mine known as the “empathy hacker” has a perfect example of how growth isn’t worth it when it comes at the cost of our passion for our work.

In my podcast she shared the intimate details of how she built a Facebook group around wellbeing that grew like crazy last year. The numbers were off the charts, but it got dark fast. Managing a group where people shared their severe mental struggles every second affected Aveni’s own mental health to the point that she wasn’t enjoying her job.

“In checking with myself I realized I was having anxiety logging onto Facebook...so many people were hurting. It started to feel like an obligation”

She ended up archiving the group, and I know exactly why she was feeling the way she did because I unfollowed the group around the same time.

Always ask yourself and your team – “Is what you’re doing bringing you joy?”

3. Make Mental Health Accessible

Once you understand the problem and how burnout is affecting your team (whether it’s negatively, positively, or both), take action as soon as you can. Mental health is stigmatized, and thus a lot of the resources surrounding it are expensive and not well-curated. It’s worth putting in the time or finding an expert to help you find quality resources that hit at the specific issues your team is facing.

Remember, well-being needs to be well-rounded. Reminding people to exercise and eat healthier isn’t exactly going to make your team go “Oh wow! I’ve never thought of that before.”

One of the best things you can do to make mental health accessible is to be transparent about boundaries: Encourage people to take time off, be intentional about communications limits, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Chances are if you’re tired and stressed, that’s trickling down to your team.

4. Consider Embracing the Role of HR

Human Resources have a bad rep of being the “office police” but when utilized effectively, can be the ongoing resource your team needs to diminish burnout and increase a proactive company culture.

Don’t be afraid to tap into the expertise of an HR professional to outline an action plan – after all, we aren’t all experts in everything. Even if you’re thinking to yourself “ehhh my team isn’t so bad they NEED HR” remember – better address wellbeing sooner rather than later, when it’s already doing damage.

Claire Kennedy, VP of Human Relations at Axios, highlights the importance of HR’s role in an organization, especially now.

“(HR) is more than just hiring and training. The premium on the employee experience has never been higher.”

5. Consistency is Key

Addressing burnout isn’t one seminar or resource, it’s an ongoing process. Just like in athletic training, we build the muscles to make ourselves stronger. Well-being is training a mental muscle, and as a leader, you’re the coach. Know that often it’s so much about DOING more as it is about BEING more consistently.

Even something as small as integrating digital wallpapers that serve as a constant reminder that innovation and well-being is important can boost morale more than you could ever know.

Above All, Compassion is Key

While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the concept of burnout and other mental difficulties, our “new normal” shows remote work and burnout isn’t going away.

Maybe I’m biased as someone who specializes in making workplaces happier and more creative, but I truly believe that more of us can walk away from this pandemic happier. We just have to use this time to LEARN from wellbeing. Compassion, empathy, and creativity is key in this process.

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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