Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why Burnout Should Alarm Executive Leaders

Guest Post by Ben Fanning, the Burnout Specialist:
Let me share with you what happened when I started my job at the largest sporting goods retailer in the world.
I took over a supply chain team just a few months before the largest sales day of the year…Black Friday.
It’s called Black Friday because it’s traditionally the day that stores move into the “Black” and become profitable for the year.

But if you’ve worked for a retailer, you know it as Black Friday because of all the pressure and late nights that result.

The team I took over had been through the Black Friday cycle for years and hated it.

In fact they were all burned out in their careers--- fried, fizzled, and done.

You could see the burnout signs within the group:

• Sharon was listening to praise music and praying at every break.

• Susan was lashing out at anybody that questioned her knowledge.

• John was crouched over his computer at his desk with shoulders slumped forward.

The team burnout was obvious and couldn’t be denied.

I knew if I didn’t do something quickly to help the situation that I’d be lucky to keep them even a few more weeks.

My leadership capabilities would be pushed to the brink.

Our survival as a team would be tested.

Burnout is Impacting Your Team and Costing You Money Right Now

Based on statistics you’re leading a team that’s burned out.

The workplace is filled with burned out employees and as far back as 2000, 1 in 3 employees expect to burnout on the job.

That makes job burnout more common than getting the flu (with much longer term effects).

With the pressures of the job mounting and the digital stress of computers, phones, and blackberries; it’s just getting worse.

This doesn’t even take into account the hit on your employees’ personal lives.

Imagine your employees falling asleep in their recliner every night instead of playing with their kids; and how they’re yawning their way through another date night for the 3rd month in a row.

It’s just not healthy.

Moreover, burnout is also showing up in the bottom line of the company and having a shocking impact.

Work stress cost businesses $300 billion per year in absenteeism, loss of talented employees, health costs, and programs to reduce stress.

Sounds like someone should do something and fast!

Burned Out Teams Equal Burned Out Leaders

When it’s your team that’s burned out, it’s has extremely negative consequences on you and your career.

You’re responsible for the cumulative goals of your team, and you’re under pressure to deliver.

It’s one thing to have a team that can’t perform but when your team is burned out, it actually “can” but just “won’t”.

This leads to a huge amount of leadership frustration.

You might even experience guilt that you’re not able to do more for your employees.

As their leader, you feel responsible for their work day experience.

If they’re leaving work resentful, it can make it difficult for you to sleep at night knowing that your employees are likely taking home the stress with them.

The frustration, pressure, and guilt can leave you feeling sad and even defeated at the end of your work day.

That’s not sustainable for your career over long haul, and it’s surely no way to get to the next level.

Team Burnout can Transform You into a Better Leader

The good news is that job burnout does not have to hang over you and your team like a black cloud.

In fact, burnout can be your leadership crucible that forms you into a stronger, wiser leader.

It can also be an experience that connects your team on a much deeper level and ultimately leads to a more cohesive team that delivers big results.

Here are 7 Keys to Helping your Team Reignite from Burnout

1. Build Awareness – When you see the signs of burnout in your team, call it out. They may not be familiar with it and it makes a difference to let them know what they’re experiencing is common but doesn’t have to stay that way.

2. Clarify Why – Connect your team to the big picture. Just “making money “is not an adequate reason to sustain a career for the long haul. Help your team get in touch with why they’re working in the first place. What are their big goals both professionally and personally? How can they look at their current role as part of their future career path?

3. Amp up Communication – Find ways to open communication on a routine basis. This gives a daily forum for your team to share new ideas and also bring up what’s not working to the group. Limit them to 15 minutes though. You’ll be amazed how efficient these meetings can be when you have them. You’ll find if they can count on this on a daily basis the team will be more connected and focused on results. Plus you’ll get a lot less interruptions yourself.

4. Forget the Butts in the Seat Mentality– Very few jobs these days actually require you to be in a desk chair 9-5. Consider adding some flexibility to their schedule. Have an overlap or work time by a few hours but see how you can adjust to accommodate a better lifestyle.

5. Encourage a Social Director – It’s not always easy for the boss to plan a social outing. Encourage someone to step up and plan lunch out for a break. As the boss, offer to pick up the bill.

6. Teach your Team to Disconnect – If you’re on your work email at night and weekends, then it’s likely that your team will be too. Model behavior that you’d like your team to emulate versus “do as I say, not as I do”.

7. Define a Simple Process – Find a coach or mentor that offer an outside perspective. Learn from them and deconstruct their process. Take what you learn and build out a simple operating plan for your team. It’s huge stress relief when you realize that you’re not along and you don’t have to recreate the wheel.

Bonus Tip: Celebrate the Small Wins – Find something to celebrate with your team every day. Even the smallest of wins can help build momentum to achieve bigger goals.

Ben Fanning is a burnout specialist that helps frustrated executives and teams rekindle their passion for the job and get to the next level in their careers. He burned himself out working in several Fortune 500 companies, and now’s leading the movement against career burnout. He's reignited his own career, and you can now apply his wisdom to your own by clicking here.


John Hunter said...

To me the most important things is to stop pushing for more hours. If you can't get the work done in sustainable way cut back the less important stuff.

Agile software development recognizes this burnout problem more effectively than any other management practice I have seen. Agile acknowledges the problem and solves it by limiting hours and saying prioritize what needs to be done and if things can't be done in a sustainable work week they will be delayed.

Ben Fanning said...

Hey John,
Awesome comment. Demanding more and more hours out of team with no light at the end of the tunnel is definitely a way to burn the team out.

Rich Thornton said...

Sounds to me like proper communication and motivation plays a large role in addressing employee burnout. It amazes me how a vast majority of workplace issues are solved via having proper communication channels and understanding what truly motivates your employees. And if managers take the time to understand what motivates their employees, they'll find that more often than not, it's something other than money!

Ben Fanning said...

Rich, I think your idea on boosting communication channels is spot on!

Tiffany said...

As someone who worked for retail for a number of years and have felt the burnout from working Black Friday (and all of the holidays, really), communication is key between employees and their managers. The more the managers understand what their employees are going through, the easier it becomes for the employees. At my last retail job, my manager was very sympathetic. We (the employees) got catered lunches, rewards for little accomplishments, and got to participate is small contests throughout the season. It made it a lot easier and lessened that burnt out feeling.