Employee burnout: Coming to a location near you

That’s right, you guessed it. Employee burnout no longer operates in a silo. And it is no longer the sole product of our jobs (as convenient as that would be).

Bryan is an ex Pro Sports Performance coach turned repeat founder and startup advisor. He is the COO and Co-Founder at LEON.

That’s right, you guessed it. Employee burnout no longer operates in a silo. And it is no longer the sole product of our jobs (as convenient as that would would be).

Burnout is the result of a complex system of issues and it requires a complex, holistic approach to solve it.

Did you know:

The average duration from mental health symptom to treatment in the U.S. is 15 months. The World Health Organization says it should be under 3 months.

That means we have a 12-month gap to close.

1 in 5 people deal with a mental health condition, right now (more if we count situational conditions, I imagine).

Soon, mental health conditions will cost the American people more than cancer, diabetes, and respiratory issues combined. With a cost upwards of $53 billion related to mental health absenteeism.

Here’s the good news. There has never been a time like today to make a difference.

How we need to view burnout:

What we all need to understand is that the elite athlete and someone like me or you, are relatively the same organism (although bigger, faster, stronger) and the stress they feel on the field of play is the same as we feel sitting in our office.

And that to truly fix burnout, we must take a holistic approach to recovery and regeneration.

Somehow we’ve gone down this route of thinking that burnout is only a mental health problem. When in reality, it’s an entire (complex) system problem.

Remember, stress is cumulative. It does not occur in a silo. It can’t discern the difference between “work and life.” It is not solely due to our work (as much as we would like to think so).

Stress, in all its forms, adds up… multiple biological systems constantly informing one another in a delicate dance of give and take.

Ultimately, one aspect has to give and before you know it, the entire cadence of our physiology is thrown out of balance.

On the surface we become groggy, tired, irritable, and lack the same enthusiasm we once had for our work.

Meanwhile, below the surface, our body struggles to find ways to compensate.

In order to reduce the risk for burnout, a person must manage the entire scope of possible stress responses and causes.

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

This definition of burnout by the World Health Organization is sort of bullsh*t, although needed I guess to help better define the issue.

That said, burnout can still happen in the greatest of work environments or cultures if the external or outside stress is large enough.

Events such as; divorce, bearing a child, suffering a death in the family, going through financial issues, sustaining an injury, etc.

Now tell me if you don’t burnout after something like that.

What leaders can do about burnout:

De-stigmatizing mental health and wellness in the workplace begins with creating systems for emotional safety from the top down.

It’s a “culture thing” that is informed by the way organizational leaders consciously carry themselves and communicate self-care (in all its forms) to their subordinates.

“In my research, “high ethical and moral standards” was ranked as the most important leadership attribute, hands down, across geographies, genders, and positions. It is ranked so highly because when our leaders have high moral and ethical standards, we expect that they will play by the (fair) rules of the game, and that creates a sense of safety. We can relax and invoke our brains’ higher capacities for social engagement, innovation, and creativity.”

— The New Science of Radical Innovation: The Six Competencies Leaders Need to Win in a Complex World by Sunnie Giles

Similar to how effective leaders create safe environments that are conducive to social engagement, innovation and creativity; safe environments also plays an essential role in promoting holistic well-being and a culture of self-care.

Engendering safety through the way leaders evaluate, coach, and praise their employees (ultimately protecting their people), has been shown to create an intense sense of loyalty and may possibly open up channels for organizational community building that leads to healthier, happier, more productive people.

What 1:1, team, and organizational practices are you employing to engender safety for your people?

Setting expectations for your people (in light of burnout):

This New Year presents us with the chance to do better and be better for our people. Will we rise to the occasion?

As you set expectations and goals for your people this year, in light of burnout and external stressors, consider the following:

  • Be sure to contextualize how expectations align with your brand’s mission.
  • Express the “why” behind new company goals and expectations.
  • When possible, establish goals in a participatory setting for greater buy-in.
  • Focus on incremental improvement through short-term goals and frequent feedback vs yearly reviews.
  • Advise and support vs evaluate and command.
  • Find a balance between monitoring inputs and measuring outcomes.
  • Spend equal, if not more time, on creating systems for reaching goals (goals aren’t usually what separate people, it’s the steps they took to get there).
“Leaders (after clarifying and debating with their teams) make and update simple rules for optimal results, encourage rapid iteration of profuse experimentation, and ensure team members fail fast and safely in the process. They tolerate and embrace failure as a necessary input for innovative change. As a leader, you need to have one eye on executing the simple rules and the other on evaluating them. It’s your job as a leader to identify when the rules need to be changed to reflect the changing factors in the environment.”

— The New Science of Radical Innovation: The Six Competencies Leaders Need to Win in a Complex World by Sunnie Giles


Consciously addressing burnout does not mean that you need to expect less of your people, you just need to be more realistic about what you can expect.

We get it, there is no running from stress. And we don’t intend to eliminate it from the workplace (we don’t believe in being snowflakes).

Rather, we insist that organizations place a higher premium on helping their people learn to embrace and lean into stressors, and with the appropriate tools to address them before burnout takes over their life and their work.

We don’t need greater work-life balance.

We need to learn how to better balance our work and our life.

In conclusion:

Pour into your people.

Consciously champion the talk and practice of well-being.

Equip your people before expecting your people to do more than they can. They’re human after all. They will rise to the occasion if you help them.


The LEON Team

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