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Leading teams away from burnout

According to a 2019 Gallup study, 28% of full-time employees reported feeling burned out at work ‘very often’ or ‘always’. An additional 48% reported feeling burned out ‘sometimes’, meaning that nearly 8 in 10 employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes. Prior to the pandemic, remote workers were less likely to burnout than employees with traditional work arrangements, but with the global shift to remote working and many leaders being new to managing remote workers, preventing burnout presents a real challenge for organisations.

No one-size-fits-all solution

Employees might be experiencing similar issues, but each of them require a unique approach to overcome individual challenges. Leaders need to listen to employees and work with them more as a coach and less like their boss, with focus on their talent and remote work situation. From managing day-to-day workloads to adjusting employee performance assessments, leaders need to take into account the challenges employees are encountering in balancing their work lives with their personal lives, particularly if they are working parents or caregivers.

When working from home, employees often feel compelled to project the appearance of productivity, however this can lead them to work on tasks that are more immediate instead of more important. Research suggests that this is counterproductive in the long run, even if it benefits productivity in the short run. According to a recent estimate, the average knowledge worker is only productive for about three hours every day, and these hours should be free of disruptions and multitasking. Employees found it difficult to carve out three continuous hours to focus on their key work tasks even before the pandemic, and with work life boundaries removed, their time has never been more fragmented. In the long-term, trying to squeeze in work or respond to messages whenever we can, is not only counterproductive, but also detrimental to our health and wellbeing.

Focus on context

We learn a lot about expectations from context. However, less time spent in the office means that there is less context and leaders need to be more explicit about their expectations. Communication is critical to foster positive performance outcomes, and regular and meaningful conversations can help establish an environment of trust and accountability, while still giving remote employees a sense of independence and showing appreciation for their work. Employees’ homes are now their offices and for some they might not be the ideal environment. Everyday distractions need to be addressed and shared during these conversations, and leaders need to communicate that the challenges employees are experiencing are normal.

Leaders can create opportunities for employees to pause and reflect, encourage healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, and develop a sense of community and shared purpose. Demonstrating empathy and flexibility, prioritizing workers’ mental health, and creating psychological safety can have a meaningful impact not only on employee experience, but also on how organisations and leaders are seen going forward.

The prevention of burnout requires leadership and organisational alignment. Employees are less likely to burnout when they feel supported and connected to their team and manager. At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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