With the Christmas and New Year period just around the corner, it’s time for executives and other workplace leaders to pause and take stock. With levels of burnout on the rise, it’s vital that we take this chance to refresh and recalibrate for the beginning of a new decade.
It’s frightening how quickly a year can come and go. 12 months might seem like a long time when you’re looking at a yearly planner but the reality is that it’s not. Our jobs and family lives are so intense that we hardly have the chance to pause and consider how our time is disappearing.
That’s why the Christmas and New Year break is so important. For those of us fortunate enough to have time off, it provides a rare instance where our private lives can be the undisputed priority. Workplace burnout is a spectre that lurks in the corners of all organisations; if you don’t take the time to evaluate your year and where your head is at, you may be walking head on into a storm that you cannot see.
Research published by Gallup in 2019 found that employees in positions of leadership tend to report higher levels of stress and burnout, worse work-life balance and worse physical wellbeing than others on their teams. Leadership positions are, naturally, more stressful – that’s just the nature of being invested with responsibility. Even if you aren’t feeling this stress yet, it can overwhelm you without a moment’s notice.
Obviously, the human aspect of burnout is – and should be – our number one concern. Still though, considering the broader consequences can help contextualise the issue and emphasise just how damaging this phenomenon can be. Gallup’s research demonstrates that burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times more likely to leave your organisation. In other words, burnout undermines productivity and performance, thereby harming your organisation as a whole.
Let’s fast-forward to New Years’ Day 2020. You’ve taken a week off for Christmas and spent some quality time with your family. You begin looking towards the impending work year. You feel nervous; you want a longer break and aren’t keen on dealing with the growing stack of papers on your desk. Although you’re far from broken and will return to work ready to go, you can’t get rid of that nagging tiredness.
You’re just not 100%.
What can a leader do in this situation to ensure they do not burn out as 2020 progresses?
The importance of purpose
One of the most important workplace safeguards against burnout is organisational culture. As put by Moya Sarner in her 2018 article entitled ‘How burnout became a sinister and insidious epidemic’, “a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging” counteract other forces that might incline someone towards burning out. If your workplace is able to connect every team member’s contribution to a broader goal, employees – including leaders – are much more likely to feel that they have a purpose in coming to work.
I cannot understate the vitality of this sense of purpose. For executives and other leaders, the novelty of a promotion to a highly paid position wears off once you become used to the pay cheque. If you don’t connect the work you do to a broader aim, then you are left feeling useless. Often, we don’t see how our work is actually contributing to our organisation; this can create the impression that the job we do is meaningless, in that, there is no tangible consequence stemming directly from how we spend our 8 hours a day. A strong organisational culture that promotes team, rather than individual, success can counteract this impression.
As leaders, organisational culture starts with you. If you’re feeling directionless and purposeless, then it is likely that your team is too. Start communicating with them; create that group atmosphere that makes everyone feel valued and useful. By making it clear that everyone’s work contributes to something larger, you undermine one key cause of burnout – a sense of fruitlessness.
Burn out is insidious. You don’t really know that you’ve got it until you’re in the absolute depths of it. That’s why it’s so important that you use your breaks and holidays to determine where your head is at. If you’re beginning to feel vulnerable, you must take action to ensure risk doesn’t become reality.
One way of doing this is establishing an organisational culture that makes every employee – including executives and other leaders – feel valuable.
So, this Christmas, make sure you take some time for yourself.
Not only do you deserve it; you need it.