For the past month, we’ve been writing about burn out and how it’s a real issue that organizations need to take seriously. Click here to read how to recognize burnout and here for some tips on avoiding burnout. This week, we’re going to look at how to have a conversation with your employees if you are worried they might be on the path to burning out.
Burn out impacts people in different ways – so from one employee to another, the signs may be very different. In a virtual environment, this can often be difficult as you won’t necessarily be able to see visibly signs of exhaustion, or change in appearance the same as you would in an office atmosphere. In some cases, your employees may be on a slow burn to crash, which means changes can be very subtle and those feelings of anxiety, depression or lack of motivation may not be immediately observable.
Sometimes behavioural changes can be an indication that something is going on, such as a change in sense of humour or listening skills that used to be great are waning. The only concrete thing you may have to tell you something is going on is a decrease in productivity. This makes it especially more important for those leading virtual teams to enhance their listening and observational skills.
Before talking to your employee, it’s a good idea to talk to your Human Resource department first to determine if there are courses, or assistance programs for employees so you’re equipped with a tangible resource. If you can’t meet face to face with the employee for this discussion, a video conference is ideal to help build rapport through body language as these types of conversations will require empathy and compassion. Compassion is an emotion that helps you understand where others are coming from, and allows you to feel the pain that other people are going through. That said, if you know that compassion and empathy aren’t your strong points, you may decide to appoint another leader within the organization who has this skillset to speak with the employee. If the person who’s feeling burnt out senses that you don’t have time or an understanding for how they’re feeling they may feel ambushed, which will further contribute to their sense of burn out.
If your employee is demonstrating atypical behaviour, the first thing to do is have a frank conversation so you can understand the motivation behind the decrease in performance or uncharacteristic negative attitude. It’s possible that the change is related to a personal relationship, illness or other external stressor. If the conversation doesn’t reveal what is going on, asking the employee about their work load and if they could make changes, what would they do?
If you notice an employee is responding to emails outside of regular hours and seems to be burning the candle at both ends, setting parameters around your expectations can help to head off problems with burn out by relieving pressure. Another option is to mix things up – move people around on your team to help less experienced employees learn on the job and those with great experience take a breather – but make sure you explain it to the employee who is more experienced so they don’t feel valued, or mistrusted. Changing up a routine can add renewed energy and excitement for the work that they’re doing.
Burn out, if not recognized early can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and a lack of accomplishment. As a result of these symptoms, employees productivity levels may fluctuate, they are more likely to call in sick, they aren’t present even when they are working and their creativity may come to a halt. Click here to read the full post and learn more about burnout and its symptoms.
In a virtual environment, it can be hard to identify if true burnout is impacting your employees or if something else may be going on. As well, with many employees working from home offices, some of the ways to curb burnout may not be as easy to achieve as it would be for people who leave an office at the end of the day. Here are some tips, with a touch of creativity to help your virtual team avoid burnout if it comes calling.
Take a walk or exercise break
Recently in the news, we’ve been reading about the perils of sitting for most of the day. There’s no better time to make the case for employees to ensure they’re taking their breaks, and encouraging them to be active during their breaks. One way to help foster exercise breaks with your virtual team is to lead by example; send an email letting them know when you’re taking your exercise break and what that’s going to look like for you. Leading by example helps foster goodwill and lets your employees know that you won’t ask them to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.
To help lead activity breaks, describe something you’re looking forward to seeing while on your walk, or some of the exercise that you’re going to engage in. If something funny happened during your exercise break, share it with employees and encourage them to share the same. As you build your internal community of employees who are dedicated to getting up from their desk and recharging their batteries, encourage them to share the positive changes they are noticing due to the breaks.
Many organizations have community or charity groups that they support. If your company already has one, look for groups in the local areas where your teams are located. Encourage your employees to donating time to a charity (each location) by allowing them a set amount of work hours to dedicate to the charity. During a charity event take pictures/videos, and have the various locations do the same and set time aside to share them during a virtual meeting.
In addition to helping employees who may live close to each other, connect with each other, it will also provide your employees who may spend most of their time at their house an opportunity to connect with the community where they live. Dedicating time to volunteer groups and giving back to the community helps people who may be stressed and feeling disconnected develop a sense of meaning as they see the good that they are doing to help others less fortunate. In addition, the connectedness of being in the group and sharing what they are doing outside of work hours with their colleagues will help build their sense of accomplishment, therefore reducing stress.
Be conscious of the environment
As a manager, working to develop and create an environment of openness and trust where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, reservations and dreams will help people feel more connected to the office and coworkers. An environment of trust also contributes to people’s ability to be creative and innovative, as their ideas are being validated and built upon. Share your aspirations with your team, again leading by example. As people hear you sharing your ideas, they will be more likely to feel comfortable sharing their own. In a virtual environment, this can be difficult, but if you put in the time and effort to ensure your employees feel like they are working in a safe environment, you’re more likely to head off burnout.
As well, try to think of some creative ways to help your virtual team get to know each other and the environments their each working in. Something as simple as having everyone take a picture of themselves in their offices can help to foster this type of environment. This will help people have a visual when they’re working with someone who is far away.
Don’t take it home with you
Encourage your employees to shut their office door at the end of the day and refuse to let their work come in to their home with them. Remind them that you don’t expect to hear from them during their out of office hours. Encourage your employees to be present both at home and at work. The more they are present in their day to day life outside of work, the more they’ll be able to focus on the task at hand when they are at work.
More and more people are not allowing themselves time to decompress outside of work. We’re all busy and we all have multiple priorities, both work related and outside of work. With advanced technology that allows us to work from remote locations, we’re more connected than we ever were before. That said, it’s important to disconnect daily and connect with our loved ones. Encourage your employees to do just that, and lead by example can help to avoid the side effects of burnout on your organization.
How do you manage Burn out in your virtual team? We would love to hear your thoughts!