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When You Need to Have "The Talk" With a Coworker...

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

The talk.

Having “the talk” can mean several things, depending on what’s happening in your life or the world around you. In this case, “the talk” I’m referring to today is the one you might need to have with your colleague. You know, the one who’s burned out and frankly hard to work with. Now, before you start rattling off your colleagues’ names in your head… don’t forget the season that someone might have had you in mind as well.

The truth is, sometimes we work with people who are grouchy, distracted, low energy and downers. They can be the “Eeyores” of the team and full of negative vibes. In some cases, it might be their general disposition… but in others, it’s a result of burnout. That said, it’s important to remember that people aren’t perfect, and while you may be flying high now, some of your colleagues might be grounded.

So the question is, how can you show up for our low-flying teammates and still maintain your altitude (and positive attitude)? I know this delicate dance well. Over the last year, I put a lot of effort into protecting my own energy and am particularly in tune with those around me who are fried. It can be tempting to say, “Hey, you over there lying on the floor… you realize that isn’t living the good life, right? Get up – there’s a better way!”

This is where “the talk” comes in. Instead of ignoring that team member or talking about them behind their back, I want to offer a more gracious way to navigate this conversation.

FIRST, RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS OF BURNOUT

A person who is burned out might look like this:

  • They can’t care about other people’s experiences or expectations (compassion fatigue)
  • They are easily frustrated, irritated or discouraged
  • They don’t have any pep or zest
  • They seem tired all the time, or have more physical ailments than usual

To help members of your team acknowledge problems with burnout, you’ll want to start by talking compassionately about these signs—and possible solutions.

BRING IT UP AS A TEAM

First, talk to the whole team without singling them out. You can say something like, “Hey team, there’s a lot of buzz in our industry about burnout right now. I just wanted to let you know that I care about how you’re doing. Let’s do a little check in.”

Then you can invite them to take our fun and playful burnout quiz. They can share their results with you privately or with the team. This sets the stage for dialogue and an opportunity to ask good questions like these:

  • What’s going well at work these days? What energizes you?
  • What’s not going well? What’s draining you?
  • Is there anything we as a team can do to help you protect your energy?
  • How could the team better work together?
  • What energizes you outside of work that might help you feel better when you are here?

That conversation will reveal why they’re burned out, which in turn opens the door to creative ways they can recharge their own battery and set new boundaries both at work and home.

PROVIDE A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT

Your job isn’t to fix them… it’s to guide the discussion for self-discovery. Leading this conversation offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate that you “get it” and truly cheer them on. It’s become more and more safe to talk about burnout at the workplace, and leaders should realize that having clear visibility on what’s going on is key for a healthy work environment. Trust me, many of my clients wish they had addressed it sooner and not waited until morale dropped or people left. Taking the steps to have “the talk” sooner than later (even if uncomfortable) offers a pathway for your whole team to gain the momentum they need to fly high.

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