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Some Thoughts About Burnout

As we're noticing a few folks struggling with burn-out, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • It's not objective. If someone feels it, even if you don't understand how, it's happening for them.
  • It's not usually about the quantity of work, it's about the quality of work. Here's a very good article by Dan Pupius.
  • As a manager, there aren't a lot of levers you can pull when someone is already feeling it. Instead, try to make adjustments when you first hear about the symptoms. About about the specific symptoms in a survey, or in a one-on-one meeting.
  • It can be difficult to make adjustments with the quantity of work, or other compensation (salary, time off, etc.). Instead, try to make other adjustments.
    • Does the person have agency? Are they in control of their workday? Perhaps you can find a way to give them some more responsibilities regard how their time is scheduled.
    • Has the person received enough positive recognition? It's safe to assume they are trying their best, and you can let them know that you see their efforts.
    • Are there bumps in their day you can eliminate? Is there excessive context switching? Too many breaks in the day with meetings? Are some processes particularly challenging when there is an easier way? Do tasks feel pointless?

When someone is "burned out" they are not going to perform at a high level. It's worth your time and effort to help them before they reach that point. Telling someone take a day off isn't a good enough intervention--you need to find better ways to support them.

Some possible interventions could be:

  • Change up their work hygiene. Maybe different hours of the day, or different blocks of time in the week would help. 4 longer days instead of 5 might work better. What about longer breaks?
  • As a manager, normalize taking breaks, attending meetings with video off, and even skipping meetings and getting a summary from someone else.
  • Being able to focus is sometimes a problem. Try setting up some work that doesn't require a lot of concentration, as a break. If the person needs to get something done, block off extra time, and work hard to prevent interruptions.