December 10, 2020 | watsimp

Impact of leadership style on employee burnout

I’ve had the good fortune to work with great leaders- very competent, but with very different styles. But. it’s only in hindsight that I have realized how their leadership styles impacted my own performance, motivation and my own leadership style!

I once worked for a leader who was based in California and I was based in India. This meant a 12 ½ hour time difference between us in summer and 13 ½ hours in winter! At first, I was amazed at his responsiveness and availability. No matter how late in his evening or how early in his morning I emailed or messaged him, I always received a response. It was like we were working together in the same location. But the elation soon wore out when I realized that he expected me to reciprocate- basically be available 24/7! In 6 months I was on the verge of a burnout but I just could not gather the courage to tell him how hard it was for me. Fortunately for me, before I had a complete burnout, there was a re-org and my manager changed 😊

At another organization I worked for, I continued responding & sending emails when I was on vacation. I had set an out of office message. But I still felt that I needed to be on top of things! After a couple of days of this, my manager sent me this message- “ We all understand that you are on vacation & need the downtime. If there is anything urgent that needs immediate attention, people will get in touch with me. Please don’t worry and enjoy your vacation!” This message really made me stop, think and realize what I was doing to myself and the example I was setting for my own team. All it took was the kindness and understanding of my manager to show me how to do this better!

According to Gallup, the top 5 causes of employee burnout are

  1. unfair treatment at work
  2. unmanageable workload
  3. unclear communication from managers
  4. lack of manager support
  5. unreasonable time pressure

All of these factors are linked to how a manager leads his/her team! The impact of a direct manager on employee burnout is significant and an important one to keep top of mind, especially while working with remote and distributed teams.

3 things managers can do better to avoid team burnout-

  • Differentiate between URGENT and IMPORTANT

It is important to learn to differentiate between what is important and what is urgent. Everything is not urgent and we need to know how to differentiate between urgent and important. Doing this helps us give our team the right priorities without having to run flat out every time to get things done and reduces unreasonable time pressure.

  • Balance the team’s workload

Most of us are very driven by the outcomes and goals we want to achieve. Often this means that our very best people get loaded the highest- because “they get stuff done”. It is very common for a few members of the team to be carrying more than 70% of the team’s load. This often makes our top performers feel that they are being treated unfairly as well makes their workload unmanageable. Look at your team carefully and ensure the work load is distributed well. If there are people on the team who are not pulling their weight, do something about it! Help them get better and if that does not work, have the difficult conversation to part ways. Don’t just move their work to others!

  • Role model & Support

Overwork is nothing to be celebrated! When we claim to be working through weekends and vacations and expect our teams to do the same, we set a bad example. Let’s remember that more often than not, our teams are running a marathon and need to pace themselves. Intense sprints to get things to done in a hurry are fine once in a way. Making this our go-to management style only ends up creating a burnt out team & high performer attrition! It is also important to check in with the team to understand if they need support- resources, time and information. Provide as much of this as possible. If you can’t, be open that you can’t and be prepared to reset your expectations because of the constraints.

The direct manager plays a significant role in supporting their teams and in avoiding burnout. The things we inadvertently (or deliberately) say and do sets the expectations for our team. As we have often heard, “With great power comes great responsibility”. As leaders and managers it’s important for us to remember that we have great responsibility to our teams!

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