5 Steps to Battle Burnout for Your Busy Crew

Keeping your team happy and productive during busy times requires keen observation and effective communication

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The team is exhausted. They’re burned out, and I am too. I don’t know if we can recover. We’ve been working at 150% for a few months straight — at least most of us have.

More change? Really? We’ve been through three major transitions in as many months. Everyone is really on edge. I am pretty sure Joe is going to quit.

Now is the time, even in the midst of a pandemic, that the demands of the job can be ramped up to maximum output. You are getting lots of service calls while also trying to schedule your employees their desired time off, stretching some of your crew thin.

Even in the best of times, creating and maintaining a high-functioning team is work. If you follow these steps, you can provide some relief and keep members of your crew pulling in the same direction, no matter how busy and hectic things get.

Step 1

The first step is accepting a list of truths:

Truth One: Employees have different levels of buy-in, a range of work goals and varying home and work demands.

Truth Two: Not everyone experiences burnout in the same way, and work isn’t always distributed evenly in most companies. Some people probably are more burned out than others.

Truth Three: Great teamwork will compensate for a lack of resources in the short term. However, teams that are stretched too thin for too long begin to show signs of wear and tear.

Truth Four: If the leader isn’t a believer in what the team needs to accomplish or isn’t working as hard as he or she can to bring the team over the finish line each day, the crew will know it and react in a range of ways — most of which are neutral at best.

Truth Five: Transparency matters. People don’t like being left in the dark or, worse still, lied to.

Truth Six: Too many changes at once usually don’t go over well unless there’s a logical flow to them, a sense of fairness about what’s being changed and the absence of unnecessary chaos or drama.

Truth Seven: Elephants in a room stay there if they’re allowed to do so. If a team is not prepared to operate with candor and address unspoken issues, there’s only so much that can be done to keep everyone together. 

Truth Eight: Team members’ perceptions of the team’s condition are their truth. You may have plenty of data to argue to the contrary, but until people are ready to listen and believe what you show them, what they currently think is what is.

Step 2

Once you’ve got a firm understanding of the basic truths, the next step is taking a long and hard look at what’s working, what isn’t and why. Does everyone understand and buy into the team’s mission? Is work distributed fairly? Are some people doing more than they should have to do, while others are doing less than they should? Are people resentful of each other? Is there drama, and do you know the source? Is the team’s burnout a recent phenomenon or has its decay been long in the making? Is the burnout caused by internal factors, external factors or a combination of both? Have people been misled or lied to in the past by a boss?

Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg and some ideas to get started. In fixing burnout, asking the right questions is as important as, if not more so than, taking action. A good list of questions will help you reduce the likelihood that you are treating symptoms or curing the wrong disease altogether.

Step 3

When you think you have a good grasp of the current situation and have verified your findings with others, it’s time to start thinking about what could be. A fast way to imagine a different state is to work through some more questions.

  • How do we want to feel about our work?
  • What gets us excited about our work or what do we enjoy?
  • What changes do we need to make to our work processes or people interactions?
  • What needs to stay the same?
  • What level of performance do we need from each team member?
  • What are we going to do if those levels aren’t met?
  • What additional resources do we need?
  • What can we do to encourage transparency and communication?
  • How will we celebrate improvements?

Step 4

With a clear view of the present and a possible future, the next step is prioritizing. In most cases, burned-out teams don’t burn out overnight. Often the process is long and marked by a series of declines, bad luck and unfortunate circumstances. Consequently, the recovery process is often long. In fact, the team may not realize some of the elements identified in Step 3 for a long time. The trick is to keep the truths discussed in Step 1 in mind as you prioritize a plan of action to get from the reality you uncovered in Step 2 to the future you envisioned in Step 3.

Step 5

The final step in the recovery planning process is creating a deliberate communication plan. Recognize that you need to overexplain and repeatedly share information. Once is not enough.

Also, your team will have some good days and bad. What’s important is making progress in the right direction. After a series of successes, everyone should be feeling a little less burned out and a lot more excited about the work at hand.

Relief on the Way

With these five steps well in hand, you’re positioned to provide some immediate triage to your team members who are battling burnout. Burnout can be pervasive throughout a company, so get your first-aid kit out as soon as you pick up on the problem and mitigate the issue before it negatively impacts your operation.

About the Author

 Kate Zabriskie is president of Business Training Works Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. Reach her at www.businesstrainingworks.com.



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