It’s no secret: working through the pandemic has employees more stressed than ever. According to the American Psychological Association, 71% of workers reported experiencing severe work-related stress. And 59% of those employees said they struggled with symptoms like emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, and lack of motivation at work.
When it comes to feeling stressed at work, people leaders have an additional challenge and responsibility. Not only do we have to be able to recognize burnout in ourselves, but we also have to recognize burnout in our team members.
“Burnout and stress is so unique to each individual,” said Brittany Daunno, Head of Recruiting Operations at Brex. “What I've noticed with my personal team is I understand what their normal behaviors are, and I understand when things are starting to fall off a little bit.”
In our recent event, Ask Me Anything: Tangible Expert Tips to Prevent Burnout, Duanno joined her colleague Vicki Yang, VP of People Operations at Brex, and Welcome’s Co-Founder and CEO, Roberto Ortiz, to discuss how they recognize burnout in themselves—and work to prevent burnout on their teams.
Watch the full event here for more expert tips on preventing employee burnout.
How to Ask Tough Questions About Burnout
In order to understand the root causes of burnout, sometimes managers have to ask employees uncomfortable questions. From a high-level view, that might look like anticipating individual reactions to stress and overwork.
“It’s a good exercise for yourself and your team to write down the responses you have to stress. What does that look like? Because I don't think we sit down and really think about it until it's almost too late,” said Yang. “Don't be afraid to ask the question.”
For Daunno, the need to ask tough questions recently became even more specific. When she noticed a detail-oriented employee’s attention to work slipping, she decided to leap head-first into an uncomfortable question. “I asked her flat-out ‘Are you happy here? I just wanted to check in and see how things were going,’” Daunno recalled. “Hearing her out, I realized she's not taken a vacation day for months, and it was my fault for not recognizing that.”
Daunno worked with her employee to schedule time off and re-balance her workload. “She took five days off, went to Coachella, had a great time, and came back fully recharged,” said Daunno. “It’s like seeing a completely different person.”
Preventing Employee Burnout by Re-Thinking Meetings
We may have more flexibility in our work days, but the “work anywhere, any time” mentality can get your team into trouble, too. When it comes down to it, preventing employee burnout is about setting–and maintaining–healthy boundaries around your calendar.
For leaders like Ortiz, that means prioritizing individual calendars and setting meetings with intention. “When we kicked off this quarter, I [asked] my staff to look at the calendar because the calendar ends up defining everything we do, whether we like it or not. Once that invite is sent, there's people waiting for you on the other side of that Zoom link,” Ortiz said. Ultimately, considering whether a different form of communication might work more effectively than a meeting “helps you prioritize meetings that actually matter,” Oritz added.
At Brex, there are even more creative solutions on the table. Daunno and other team members can declare “meeting bankruptcy” in order to offload meetings that aren’t necessary and schedule more time for self-care.
As Yang pointed out, managers must be willing to have conversations about meeting overload for these types of policies to work. It’s not always comfortable for employees to bring these challenges to their manager’s attention. That means it’s up to managers to hold time and space for their team to address scheduling needs or to find solutions for overwork.
Shut It Down: The Real Costs of Employee Burnout
Sometimes all the scheduling hacks in the world aren’t enough to offset burnout. If you’re doing your best to help your team prioritize and rebalance their work loads, it’s time to introduce more sustainable, structural solutions.
At both Brex and at Welcome, this looks like investing in paid time off and company-wide breaks. Welcome has three-day weekends once a month. Brex introduced “decompression days,” as well as two-week breaks at the Christmas and Fourth of July holidays. After all, if everyone logs off at the same time, no one has to worry about catching up on emails or project updates because they stepped away while their team kept working.
If you’re having difficulty pitching big solutions like paid time off or company-wide breaks to your higher ups, it’s important to remind leaders that burnout has a tremendous cost. “Mental health platforms like Spring Health and Modern Health all have data around what the cost of burnout is,” said Yang. “There's a cost to turnover.”
Don’t wait until it’s too late to address employee burnout. Find out more about how your team responds to stress, so you can make a plan. You can even use Welcome’s employee event platform to take real-time polls about energy levels, scheduling needs, and other pain points.
Whether you schedule a company-wide day off from meetings or introduce monthly wellness experiences, there are many strategies you can use to support your team. No matter how busy you are, taking care of your employees saves you time and money in the long run—and improves the employee experience for everyone.