It’s no wonder so many people desperately need a burnout recovery plan.
The World Health Organization validated something that all busy professionals know about today’s work culture: Burnout is very real. Last year, WHO added burnout to its handbook of medical diagnoses. It defines the symptoms of burnout as feelings of depletion or exhaustion, feelings of mental distance from or negativity about one’s job, and reduced effectiveness at work.
According to Gallup, about two-thirds of employees have felt those symptoms, and just under a quarter say they very often or always feel burned out.
And that was before knowledge workers across the globe faced increased pressures of a global pandemic, unplanned work-from-home, closed schools and daycare centers, and the need to still get work done!
Why Employees Need to be Happy
The recognition of burnout as an official medical diagnosis — and its growing pervasiveness — adds fuel to the backlash against “hustle culture.” We’re finally starting to realize that true productivity doesn’t come from constantly pushing and being connected 24-7.
Instead, research is showing us something very different: Employees are more productive when they’re happier.
So what makes us happy on the job? As a productivity speaker and trainer, I consistently see that happiness at work flows from a sense of being in control.
Top Causes of Burnout
Now consider the top causes of burnout, as identified by Gallup:
- unfair treatment,
- unmanageable workload,
- lack of role clarity,
- lack of communication and support from a manager, and
- unreasonable time pressure.
It’s easy to see a lack of control as a common theme running through these factors.
Your Burnout Recovery Plan Starts With These Steps
If you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, you’re the only one who can fix it. Ultimately, whether or not you get burned out is up to you.
If you lead a team, you have a responsibility to support your team members’ long-term productivity by protecting them from burnout.
Below are ideas to help inspire more control at work. Use them yourself and for the team you lead as the foundation of your burnout recovery plan.
1. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
Are you clear on which decisions you can make independently and which ones you need to consult with others about? Is your team? Knowing what they are empowered to do gives employees a greater sense of ownership and control over their work.
Role clarity also helps cut down on the amount of communications everyone has to manage. When team members aren’t constantly sending emails and other communication to get someone else’s approval or feedback (or responding to those communications), they have more time to focus on their most important work.
Get more ideas for how to empower your team in my article for Forbes, “3 Ways Great Leaders Make Their Organizations More Adaptable.”
2. Manage Email Expectations
It seems hard to remember now, but email was actually supposed to help us be more productive. Today, though, it can feel like a crushing burden. Professionals are calmer and more energized — and, thus, less vulnerable to burnout — when they can spend less time in their inboxes.
You can do this by suggesting or establishing healthy email policies at your organization and making sure everyone knows about them. For example, setting a rule that urgent communications should happen via phone call or text, and not email, frees everyone from worrying that they will miss something important if they don’t constantly check their email.
Get a sample communication policy in my expanded thoughts on my article for Harvard Business Review, “Protecting Company Culture Means Having Rules for Email.”
3. Encourage the Right Task in the Right Space
When professionals try to work amid constant distraction, they might feel that they’re constantly busy but that they never seem to make meaningful progress. Over time, that becomes seriously demoralizing.
When necessary, take back control of your environment, whether that means part-time remote work, quiet zones in your office or even just using “do not disturb” signs. If you’re a leader, engaging in these practices will make your team members feel empowered to control their own environments.
Download a deck of fun, lighthearted “Do Not Disturb” signs here.
4. Ensure That Vacations Are Unplugged Time
Vacations are one of the best weapons against burnout. We all need extended periods away from our work so that we can recharge our creativity and approach our tasks from a fresh perspective when we return. Even if you don’t feel safe traveling right now, ‘staycations’ can provide the same benefits.
But an employee who stays connected to the office during vacation is never really “away” and never gets that rejuvenating time. Even checking email a couple of minutes a day keeps your brain back at the office.
Only a true unplugged vacation or staycation will help advance your burnout recovery plan. To ensure actual benefit from vacations, totally disconnect from email and all other work. If you’re a leader, your team will be more likely to do this when they see that you aren’t using email during your own vacations. If anyone at your office doesn’t have a trusted back-up, including the boss, then your organization likely has other problems besides burnout.
5. Offer Attention Management Training to Increase Productivity
Most workplaces still talk about productivity in terms of time management. But most of the things we were taught about managing our time — like starting each day by making a prioritized list of things to do — have been rendered obsolete by technology that’s constantly pushing new information at us. For example, if you make a prioritized list in the morning, it will be out of date as soon as you check your email.
Clinging to the idea that managing our time is the solution leaves us overwhelmed, unproductive, and prone to burnout. So what helps instead? Attention management — the ability to control how you apply your attention in any given moment, even amid distractions. Attention management isn’t something we instinctively know how to do, but it can be taught. And it should be part of any productivity training your organization offers.
Read more about attention management here.
6. Learn a Workflow Management System
In the list from Gallup above, one of the primary reasons that professionals experience burnout is that their workload feels unmanageable. Even if you have too much to do (don’t we all?), you can still manage your workload more effectively. The solution is a workflow management system.
A system is not just an app or software. It’s your habits and behaviors for using all of your technology tools effectively. Just like pro clubs don’t make you a pro golfer, it’s the way you use the tools that makes the difference. A system enables you to corral everything you need or want to do in one place, from that email you just got to your long-term goals.
The Empowered Productivity System
I teach a workflow management system called Empowered Productivity. At the heart of it is attention management. My ultimate goal is to put you back in the driver’s seat of your life.
Individuals and teams that go through my Empowered Productivity training are better able to focus on achieving their most important goals and realizing their most significant results. I consider it an integral part of any solid burnout recovery plan.
I’m currently offering this training both virtually for companies and also as a self-paced online course for individuals and teams. You can read more about it here.
Now You’re Ready for a Permanent Burnout Recovery Plan
When you take actions like the 6 steps I describe above, you (and your team) will become happier and more productive. For even more ideas, read my articles in Forbes, It’s Time to Face Facts: Burnout is Rampant, and 3 Steps to Managing Work Stress.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me here with any questions about how to create a burnout recovery plan for you and your team. My business is the result of my passion for helping people like you regain control over your life. I’ll show you how to bring your unique gifts to the world in a way that makes you feel inspired and energized, rather than overwhelmed and exhausted.