Burnout: How Approachable Leaders Reduce Burnout

by | Oct 1, 2021 | approachable leadership

“A drowning lifeguard isn’t much help.” Seth Godin

Burnout was a frequently cited reason for turnover before the pandemic, but it’s clearly much worse now. In a recent survey, nearly everyone (95% of those surveyed) said they are thinking about quitting their job.  One-third of them cited burnout as the number one reason.

The pandemic completely changed the world, especially the world of work

We probably won’t fully understand the impact for decades. And as governments and companies continue to battle the pandemic with additional requirements at work, especially vaccine and mask requirements, the stress is only likely to increase. This is especially true in healthcare environments, which were near the breaking point before and have faced the most stress of any industry over the last 18 months.

Along with the increase in burnout, the employment market has seismically altered, and there is no reason to believe we’re ever returning to anything remotely resembling 2019. There are many reasons for this seismic shift. Many people could not perform their chosen work at all during months of the pandemic. Some were forced or chose to move to other geographic regions.

Others began or remain working from home and have decided they’re never going back, even if it means changing jobs or careers. Many people left the job market entirely, choosing to quit or retire instead of risking their health at work. Many have been forced to completely rethink their finances and whether they really need to support their pre-Covid income and lifestyle.

People are voting with their feet

This exodus from the job market means those who remain have new-found leverage, opportunity, and often prioritize work differently. This puts employers in a desperate situation. As people leave the workplace it adds additional strain on those who remain. Standards slip just to fill open roles, which can create further stress on incumbent employees. And if the workplace becomes too stressful people are much more likely to vote with their feet, which is why turnover is reaching historic proportions.

Research suggests there are six primary contributors to workplace burnout. Those are:

  1. Workload
  2. Perceived lack of control
  3. Reward
  4. Community
  5. Fairness
  6. Values mismatch

The good news is there is a way out of this mess

Employers have a lot of control over reducing workplace burnout. And each of the six causes of burnout are all markedly improved by an approachable leader. We teach several tools that impact these 6 areas, but the one I’ll focus on here are the 3 questions of approachable leaders.

  • Do you have what you need? This question opens up conversations about control, fairness, values, and community.
  • What would make work better? Asking this will reveal concerns about workload, reward and fairness.
  • What’s next? You’ll learn a lot about values and community when you talk to someone about their development and goals.

As leaders we cannot change much of the conditions that lead to stress in the workplace. Many of these are out of our control. But what we can change is the conversations we have with our teammates, and the outlets we give them for dealing with that stress. And our research shows over and over that approachable leaders have teams that remain engaged, happy and, most important, don’t quit (71% lower turnover intention).

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “If I accept you as you are, I make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming I help you become that.” An approachable leader helps teammates face the challenges and stresses of the day and not accept them, but instead use them as opportunities to learn and grow.

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