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Bosses face perfect storm of worker frustration, exhaustion & burnout. What to do?

Warning: I’m about to say a thing that might hit you wrong…or step on some toes. And in the age of cancel culture, I’m asking that you hang in there with me. It’ll make sense in the end. We good? Okay, let’s go.

So…I asked a client how she was doing last week, and she said, “Honestly Jes, I’m fine. I’m rolling. I know you’re writing about burnout these days, but I’m not burned out. And in full transparency, I think many of my ‘burned out’ colleagues…might not be used to working full days anymore.”

I was struck by her candor. But then she elaborated. “I think some people worked less during COVID, not more. Now that they’re back in the office routine, they’re trying to catch up. Meanwhile, their well-meaning coworkers are filling in the gaps. Those are the folks that are burned out while others…just haven’t regained their footing yet.”

I took a day to sit with her assessment and while I couldn’t find a study or data point on this, there was probably some truth to it. COVID hit people differently. While many worked extended hours, some were kicked in the gut and reduced their hours by necessity or by choice. Depression, anxiety, isolation, financial concerns, child or elder care…whatever happened, it happened.

Now that “return to work” is in full swing, some employees are struggling with the day-to-day meetings, reports and deadlines. Peers are overcompensating and picking up the slack. Voilà—the perfect storm for frustration, exhaustion and burnout.

OUT OF WHACK

Leaders are struggling to inspire their teams in these conditions. The harmony and balance is out of whack!

If you’ve been to a chiropractor before, this example will make a lot of sense to you. Your chiropractor tells you that your C3 or L-whatever vertebrae are misaligned. She explains it’s because your right shoulder decided to do one thing and now your left hip is overcompensating for it. When one part of the body is out of alignment, the whole body suffers.

It’s the same for your team.

When a team is misaligned, it’s not functioning optimally. Its overall range of motion diminishes and stress ensues, causing both short- and long-term issues.

ADJUSTMENTS YOU CAN MAKE

Below are three practical adjustments leaders can make to promote realignment.

Adjustment #1: Prioritize 1:1 check-ins and ask very specific and direct questions. No matter how well your team is doing, don’t assume that each individual on your team is thriving. Ask:

  1. How are you feeling about your work and workload right now?

  2. Are you taking on any work outside your scope? Why?

  3. How has the transition been for you? Any surprises? Any concerns?

Adjustment #2:  Ask “why” five times. Sure, burnout is an easy answer, but a good leader will ask “Why is my team burned out?” A great leader will keep asking “why” until they’ve reached the core of the issue. The magic happens at the core; it’s ground zero for transformational leadership.

Adjustment #3:  Embrace active accountability. Address individual performance gaps clearly and directly. Find out what’s at the root and discuss solutions head on.

Ultimately, at the heart of a considerate and compassionate workplace is honesty. Honest dialogue, while awkward at first, is the workplace equivalent of a chiropractic adjustment. Get cracking!

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