March 2nd, 2023
The pandemic turned life upside down, and it remains in flux as we try to find our ‘new normal.’ Work routines and business hours went out the window, and some of us have had a tough time enforcing healthy boundaries. Burnout ran rampant, and Quiet Quitting became a thing once the Great Migration was over and job-hoppers realized that the grass was in fact not always greener on the other side.
COVID made us all rethink our priorities. And 24/7 workplace hustle culture is officially over. Fortunately, it’s possible to get a ton of work done without burning a thing. From smarter communication habits to enforced lunch hours, the future of work is being sculpted to respect personal time and support new, healthy habits.
As employers, we want to keep great employees. As employees, we need livable lives. This seems reasonable. But how do you spot the signs of impending burnout in time to cool things down? By the time an employee begins to look and feel emotionally crisp around the edges, they’re usually past the point of no return. Prevention is easier than cure, and signs of burnout may be difficult to spot.
Pay attention to subtle changes in body language and word choice — often folks don’t feel safe being totally honest on this hot topic. Burnout begins as fatigue or disillusionment, employees no longer feel valued, and this leads to them becoming more withdrawn and irritable. Their communication suffers, isolation grows, work performance and quality decline, conflicts arise, and the negativity can quickly snowball and spread.
Don’t let it come to this! Work smarter instead of harder with these burnout-busting workplace strategies:
Employees (managers are also employees):
1. Never stop learning.
The world changes every day, and fundraisers need to keep up. You cannot get better at your job without learning things. Adding desirable new skills and certifications keeps you (and your resume) competitive as a leader in your field, at the forefront of industry trends and technologies. Career education seminars often include access to research and planning resources that make you a more valuable contributor for months afterwards. Bonus round: Multiple studies suggest that learning new skills prevents cognitive decline as we age, and who doesn’t love that?
2. Set phone or desktop reminders to take breaks!
Short breaks improve focus, creativity, and the health of your mind and body, so before you get all cross-eyed and chair-shaped, get up and move for ten minutes while you chug a glass of water (something else you probably need more of — admit it).
3. Find a form of exercise you can tolerate and tolerate it daily.
Nothing shakes off stress like some cardio, and it doesn’t have to be mud-smeared sadistic endurance torture, no matter what that CrossFit salesman said. Take 30 minutes and go for a walk in your neighborhood, try a class at the gym, do a quick home workout, yoga on demand or even just stretch. Any exercise is always better than none. Force it into each day until it becomes a habit. After a couple of months, you’ll find yourself craving the endorphins and the halo effect — a mellow sense of overall well-being that can last 24 hours. One clinical study found that exercise was more effective than prescription antidepressants for relieving mild to moderate depression. You’ll sleep better, focus better, think more clearly and creatively, and you’ll feel much better about yourself and what you have to offer.
4. Learn to ask for help when you need it.
You don’t have to be an army of one. Whether you’re struggling with a deadline, lack of direction, tactical know-how, or any other question, you’d be astonished how fruitful an authentic conversation can be. You get tools, tricks and answers, advice to avoid common pitfalls, and you’ll likely gain unexpected insights in the process. Remember: unstated needs can only be met by accident, and those are terrible odds.
5. Set a good example by keeping reasonable work hours and taking vacations.
Insist that your team do the same. If you see an employee is often working nights and weekends, reach out to ask if they have too much on their plate. Emergencies and conflicts happen occasionally, but if OVER-overtime becomes a pattern, something is out of whack. As a manager, it is your job to find the monkey wrench.
Staffing challenges are a predicted trend of 2023, but two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Eventually, overloaded employee’s priorities and deadlines crash. Employees bear the weight of any understaffed workplace, and the heavier the load, the more likely they are to drop it and try their luck elsewhere.
6. Embrace Instant Messaging.
Do not misuse email. If you need a quick question answered this week, don’t even think about sending an email. If you’re about to send a one-sentence email to an internal group without clearly stating your needs and response expectations, please, for the love of all that is holy, reconsider.
7. Meet with military precision and only when necessary.
Scheduled meetings are for large groups, official announcements, sensitive topics, dynamic conversations aimed at reaching agreement or finalizing plans. Meetings should have an agenda and a clear goal in the invite. Every attendee should know why they are invited (usually a well-named meeting and description does most of the work). Everyone should understand what their next steps are BEFORE they sign off or leave.
PSA: Those vague, 15-minute “touchbase” meetings throughout the week? People don’t love those. Like, at all. They interfere with a maker’s execution flow, and makers (non-managers) have their own accountabilities and deadlines. TBH, most everyone wants you to take that quick question right on over to the group IM/chat. Same goes for pitch banter, execution or specs checks and any fast-moving digital conversation/exchange. Trust: Once you lean into that IM life, you’ll see how the overachievers have been getting so much stuff done. As teams adopt IM and align on channel use, we will all save tons of time, avoid errors, and email will become a useful tool again instead of an incessantly overflowing panic pool of notifications and spam.
8. Get to know your employees as individuals.
To enable this, frequent and clear written, verbal and in-person communication (when cootie levels permit) should be a top priority. Check in often via IM to offer thanks, tips and advice, and make a point of praising their specific successes as soon as they happen. Employees feel seen and valued, and managers can reward and develop them in the ways that make an impact and resonate with that individual. Friendly conversation and jokes lower workplace tension, boost morale, and help people feel like a part of something bigger than themselves. Don’t worry about losing any personal gravitas — employees won’t respect you less, and there are many practical benefits. You’ll probably notice if an employee seems troubled and can ask why, the issue can promptly be addressed. Mutual respect and trust allow honest dialogue and improve collaboration. All this healthy communication keeps burnout at bay, today and tomorrow.
9. Know your employee’s goals and find ways to help them reach those goals.
Accomplishments enhance self-esteem, and the confidence to ask questions and acquire new skill sets will help an employee develop greater competence. Be sure to reward successes large and small. Praise, a digital shoutout, a raise or promotion — if the appreciation is real, even a star on the “Employee of the Month” board lets them know they are a valued member of your team.
Consider this new year a fresh opportunity to build a burnout-proof workplace!