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MANAGEMENT MATTERS

How leaders at any level can better address employee burnout

A fuel gauge in a car shows empty
REUTERS/Toby Melville
A team can’t keep running on empty.
  • Dan Shapero
By Dan Shapero

Chief operating officer, LinkedIn

Published

It’s been almost two years since the pandemic changed the way we work, and at this point many of us are physically and emotionally exhausted.

The response from some employers has included giving employees extra business-wide vacation days, introducing “no meeting Fridays,” and offering stipends to build more comfortable working spaces at home. While these perks can offer relief in the short term, employees want to see burnout addressed by longer term solutions—without sacrificing their career growth. A new survey (pdf) of US workers conducted by Glint found that only 1 in 5 believes they can meet their career goals where they currently work. A similar portion reports having support from their manager and organization to even pursue these goals.

Burnout is one of the many reasons the Great Reshuffle is happening. Job transitions are up 49% year-over-year. A recent LinkedIn survey found that 59% of working Americans are rethinking their career in order to find more fulfillment from their work, including taking the opportunity to pursue a new passion, go back to school, or open their own business. Notably, those staying with their current employer also expect more: specifically, a clearer path to growing professionally, including support and guidance from their manager.

We need to rethink how to address burnout—not just to increase productivity or retain talent today, but to nurture and support our teams in the long run.

Supporting managers is the key to supporting your team

Over the past few decades, many companies invested in creating excellent customer experiences, and measuring those experiences through tools such as Net Promoter Score. In the Great Reshuffle, we need to bring that same energy and rigor to the employee experience, starting with the person who most shapes each employee’s experience: their direct manager.

Ensure that your managers feel they have the information and tools they need to support their teams. Give them regular check-ins with executives as well as opportunities to share challenges and learn best practices. At LinkedIn, I’ve hosted sessions for managers to ask me the hard questions they get from their teams, and we role-play to work out how to handle situations their teams face. Supporting managers is critical because they may also be facing burnout, and there are few leadership challenges that are harder than being there for others while you are also struggling.

Create moments of gratitude

Burnout does not just come from too much work, but also when work loses the meaning and joy that comes from human connection. We thrive on smiles from colleagues when we do a good job, or the excitement from a customer when we help them solve a problem. As managers, we need to tap into this.

The simplest thing that we can do to help bring energy and joy to our employees is to recognize their contributions—with not just “good job” but, “I thought it was exceptional how you handled that tricky customer situation. The customer felt cared for and it is going to directly help us build a stronger business relationship with their vice president.” Tell your team how much you appreciate their work, share specifics of what they did, and ultimately reinforce how their work is having an impact on both people and business results.

We are thirsty for human connection and appreciation in a world that lately has felt more transactional, particularly at work. A simple act of gratitude can go a very long way to bring joy and meaning back into work.

Lead with trust, flexibility, and coaching

Senior leaders don’t have the luxury of waiting for perfect information to make important decisions associated with the Great Reshuffle. Now is the time to demonstrate great humility, because while many decisions we make now will look smart later, others will not.

That being said, strategies that start with the principles of trust, empathy, and flexibility are already proving very effective. At LinkedIn, we’ve given employees the freedom to work in the way that makes sense to them and their teams. We allow each person to decide what flexibility means for them, so that they can integrate work and life in a way that makes sense to them. It’s important that this flexibility includes options for employees to use wellness programs and leave-of-absence policies. Mental health is critical for productivity, and while availability of wellness programs has grown tremendously, the real marker of a safe culture is one where employees feel encouraged to take advantage of what these programs offer.

No matter your management role…

While we are staying away from rules and policies to govern how employees do their work, we are encouraging managers to become stronger coaches for their teams. Employees don’t want to be told how to work, but they do want guidance and advice on how to be excellent at their jobs. Managers that grow their teams through strong coaching rather than rules will be talent magnets in their organizations.

Regardless of your level—from aspiring managers to senior leadership—there are four aspects of employee management to keep top of mind:

  • Employee wellbeing and mental health. Your direct reports can’t be productive if their needs aren’t being met. Encourage employees to take their vacation and set boundaries that protect their personal time. I proactively share my vacation plans with team members, as well as the boundaries that I set around my own personal time.
  • Trust and flexibility. Employees are leading the way into the new hybrid work environment. Let them—they know where they’re most productive. Build your workplace plans around their feedback.
  • Go beyond the annual review. Continual feedback helps people understand and reinforces how their role contributes to the company’s success.
  • Role model. Ultimately, it’s not what senior leaders say, but what they do and who they celebrate, which will set the tone for the company. Our actions always speak louder than our words, and employees are listening, perhaps more closely than ever before.

At this unique moment, when everyone is rethinking everything, leaders across all levels of an organization have an opportunity to shape a culture focused on giving teams what they need for professional growth and fulfillment.

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