Bad bosses, blurred boundaries & burnout

Sep 25, 2022

Since lockdown kicked in a few weeks ago, I’ve had the opportunity to train and coach hundreds of professionals across industries and across the world. This has given me access to insights and themes, whilst also highlighting the challenges faced by many. 

I’ve been lucky to work with organisations that genuinely care about their people and that are committed to supporting them throughout this period and beyond. As a result, the teams and individuals I’ve worked with have felt invested in and valued. 

Sadly, this attitude is not universal across businesses, based on what I’ve observed in the market, from conversations, and from the media. The focus on costs has taken priority, which is understandable but also much more costly in the longer term.

What strikes me most is that there is a lot of low hanging fruit which leaders and businesses can quickly act upon, to help their people resurface from this whole experience feeling more confident, empowered, healthy and happy. All of this will feed into sustainable high performance and productivity, so it makes financial and business sense to sow the seeds now.

Learning from the past

Let’s take a step back and learn from history. Prior to starting my own businesses, my career was in banking. During the crisis just over a decade ago now, I remember how challenging and uncertain life was in the industry. Whilst I was fortunate enough to work with many good colleagues and leaders, I recall speaking to people in other companies who were told they were “lucky to have a job” when forced (sorry, asked) to take on additional responsibilities due to cutbacks. The lucky survivors were then showered with a volume of work to keep three people busy full-time. The pace was relentless and the pressure to perform was overbearing.

We can see from this pandemic that there are people and businesses currently experiencing similar circumstances, albeit that the importance of wellbeing has really transformed old school attitudes in recent years and encouraged leaders to be much more “human” in the way they treat their employees. 

Great leadership cannot be overstated at this time

Right now, people are looking to you for leadership, motivation, communication and strength. Visionary leadership counts most in times of crisis. We recently celebrated Mental Health Awareness Week in May and the focus was on kindness. This quality is needed for more than seven days a year, so think about how you are treating your people at this time. 

What are you doing to genuinely support your team through this time?

There will be team members who feel concerned, anxious, frustrated and uncertain about the future. There are those who are working much longer and harder, those who feel guilty about switching off, those who feel like they need to be online constantly when working from home, those who feel the pressure to prove themselves, those who perhaps feel bullied to work for less or for longer for fear of job loss…

With all these worries ruminating in people’s heads, it’s crucial to foster trust and psychological safety - not only as key elements of high performing teams but also because these factors feed into basic human needs. 

Now is the time to treat your people with compassion, fairness, empowerment and respect. 

Prepared for the consequences

Numerous studies show that trust is the cornerstone of high performing teams and this can be wiped out overnight by how you choose to behave today. If you are using the current circumstances to take advantage of fear and “coerce” people into working longer, harder, even pushing people to work the same (or longer) hours for less money, and so on, what are you doing to build trust, loyalty and commitment? 

Anaïs Nin famously said,

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How you treat your employees now will be remembered long into the future, so think proactively about the fallout or upside that will impact your business as and when world economies recover. 

Productivity and burnout

Burnout and blurred boundaries

When costs are tightened up and resources are cut, people are expected to absorb extra workloads and do whatever it takes to support the team. This may or may not be fair, depending on your stance but, whatever way you look at it, humans are not machines and we simply cannot keep piling on the deliverables. 

If you are able to do this successfully, it means that you have one of three things happening:

  1. You didn’t need as many people for the work in the first place;
  2. You are anticipating that those remaining can double their productivity overnight; OR
  3. You are expecting people to work longer and harder to get things done, with or without recognition of the likelihood that this may lead to burnout.

If you are leaning towards the third statement, it’s time to think more strategically about your leadership style and management skills. Blurred boundaries, overworking and excessive pressure are the ingredients for burnout, high turnover, sick leave, low productivity, underperforming teams and lacklustre results. All of these factors will ultimately impact your bottom line.

Look after your people now in order to nurture and retain high performing teams that stick with you for the long term.

Identify what you need

From my research, I know that people perform at their best when:

  1. They are mentally, emotionally and physically in a good space (i.e. wellbeing is prioritised, not an afterthought)
  2. Trust and psychological safety exist in abundance (how’s that working out for you right now?)
  3. Employees are empowered and given the time, space and tools to thrive.

If you manage a team of people, your role right now involves stepping up and leading like never before. Support your people to be engaged, productive and high performing BUT with the underlying focus on sustainability and wellbeing. Only then can you achieve true high performance without the downward spiral to burnout. 

If you need help motivating, supporting and engaging your teams through this period, send me a message at [email protected] or book a spot for a 30-minute tailored discussion and I can share the specific ways in which we can help you to promote productivity, performance, wellbeing and resilience throughout your team.

If you or your team need help mastering your mindset, talk to us about how we can set you up for long-term success. Discover how to achieve enhanced focus, greater resilience, higher productivity and top productivity.

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