Ideal Outcomes

Helping Your Leaders Go from Burnt Out to On Fire

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

Have you noticed any of your leaders become a bit disengaged lately? Perhaps they seem a little more tired, less confident, or more cynical than usual? If so, they might be suffering from burnout.

A 2022 Deloitte survey found that 77% of US workers had experienced burnout at least once. The good news, however, is that a workplace culture that promotes well-being, work-life balance, and a sense of purpose and belonging can mitigate the effects of burnout and prevent it from happening in the first place.

It’s Tough at the Top

Burnout is characterized by physical and mental exhaustion caused by stress and overwork, and it can affect employees at every level. Leaders tend to be particularly susceptible due to the demands of their roles.

When a company sets ambitious targets (coupled with equally ambitious deadlines), leaders are ultimately responsible for meeting them. Leaders also face pressures from below as well as from above. Managing people comes with challenges, and leaders must be adequately supported and given appropriate training in skills such as providing feedback, setting clear expectations, and having difficult conversations.

Then there’s the visibility factor: the stress of being constantly ‘on.’ When it’s up to you to consistently set the tone for the team and project positivity and charisma, it doesn’t take long for the cracks to start showing.

In addition to these external pressures, leaders pile pressure on themselves. High achievers, by nature, are more likely to be lonely. Over 70% of executives find it difficult to connect with their coworkers.

The Impact of Burnout

People who experience burnout are exhausted, emotional, and more likely to get sick. It significantly affects their health and well-being, harming their work performance and, ultimately, their professional career.

But burnout doesn’t just impact the person suffering from it; it also affects the people around them. The wider business also suffers, and not only because a dip in performance at the top has consequences throughout the organization, from making poor decisions to neglecting the team or spreading negativity. According to Deloitte, nearly 70% of C-suite executives are considering leaving their job for ones that better support their well-being.

The Warning Signs of Burnout

A supportive workplace culture can make all the difference between an employee succumbing to burnout and stopping it in its tracks. Here’s how to tell when it might be time to encourage a leader to seek help:

  • They appear to be overwhelmed.
  • They’ve become more detached from their work and relationships.
  • Their attitude has changed.
  • They’re often absent from work.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

By fostering a supportive workplace culture, you can help to counter the threat of burnout and keep everybody motivated. Here’s some tips:

Encourage Work-Life Balance

While technology certainly has advantages, it can also make it difficult for leaders to locate their off switch. It’s all too easy to take work calls late into the night or early in the morning, particularly for senior leaders managing an international team. Laptops and smartphones are the enemies of poolside vacations and weekends with the family.

As a result, it’s important to create a clear dividing line between life and work. Encourage all employees, including leaders, to set boundaries—not scheduling meetings after a certain time of day or introducing a weekend email ban. Set expectations around paid time off: it’s there to be taken!

Set Manageable Expectations

Tight deadlines, late nights, and canceled vacations can all pile on the stress, so think about what you expect from your leaders. Are they chasing an over-ambitious set of targets that the organization won’t be able to meet? Are they clear about what they’re expected to achieve? Do they have enough support to achieve their goals? While reaching for the stars can inspire great performance, setting unrealistic expectations is a one-way ticket to burnout.

Build a Culture of Authenticity

Everyone should feel empowered to bring their authentic selves to work, and that goes for leaders too. Putting on an act is exhausting and adds another layer of pressure. On the other hand, if leaders feel that they can be true to themselves in the workplace and are confident that their values align with the company’s values, they’ll find it easier to make the right decisions for the business. By putting your values at the heart of what you do and encouraging your leaders to do the same, you’ll nurture an authentic culture supporting well-being.

Foster a Sense of Belonging

One of the biggest warning signs of burnout is the sense of disconnection—feeling cut off from others. But by building a culture of belonging, you can start to inoculate your leaders against burnout, and it’s important to include them in your broader efforts. Encourage them to deepen their connections at all levels by attending company-wide social events or joining relevant interest groups. Prioritize two-way communication, and offer a listening ear and a safe space for leaders to raise concerns or share ideas. Managing a large team can be lonely, so provide opportunities for senior leaders to bond with and support each other.

Lighting the Flame

At Ideal Outcomes, we help companies create healthy cultures that value employees at every level. We can help you ensure your leaders feel valued and encourage them to balance their personal and work lives.

Contact us to learn more about starting your culture journey.