5 Burnout Myths Every Leader Should Bust
December 06, 2021
Leaders of all industries, young and old, hands-on or hands-off, have seen someone on their team burn out before. It’s never a pretty sight, and it’s one that’s becoming increasingly common: a recent study from Indeed found that 52% of workers have experienced burnout in 2021, up from 43% a couple of years prior.
As common as burnout is, it’s also surprisingly misunderstood. Most business leaders have gotten pretty good at recognizing the symptoms of burnout, but some deeply held misconceptions remain that threaten to only make the problem worse. Here are 5 of the most common myths about burnout that leaders have a responsibility to push back against:
1. Burnout means an employee isn’t right for their position.
In the business world, there’s a lot of discussion around “fit” — and for good reason. Not every person is suited for every role, and some individuals will work better with certain teams than others will. Good leaders will often be looking for subtle signs of fit, such as team enthusiasm, or signs of its absence, such as lots of team conflict. Burnout is not one of those signs.
Employees rarely, if ever, become burnt out due to the work itself. Far more often, burnout comes as a result of overwork, deadlines, or poor communication from management. Encouraging employees to change positions should be an absolute last resort. Instead, leaders should focus on how working conditions can be improved so that employees can have a desirable relationship with their position.
2. Certain jobs are destined to cause burnout.
Some industries are prone to especially toxic myths about the kind of work people with certain jobs are expected to perform. Take, for example, Wall Street’s famous 100-hour weeks or the fact that well over 20% of software engineers work more than 45 hours a week, with 5% working more than 60. It’s easy to start buying into the logic that these roles simply cause burnout and there’s little that leaders can do about it.
This is, of course, untrue. Leaders have the responsibility to push back against industry norms if they’re actively harming employees. Moreover, if you can promise healthy working hours and conditions to those in roles historically prone to burnout, you’ll have a much easier time recruiting top candidates.
3. Burnout is an individual issue.
If you’ve got an office full of happy workers save for one employee experiencing a spot of burnout, it can be easy to dismiss that as an isolated case. Surely that employee must have something going on in their personal life — why else would no one else be feeling the same way?
The truth is that what may initially seem like an isolated case can quickly become the first of a proper outbreak. Your other employees may simply be at earlier stages of the burnout process, or perhaps they’re worried about how you’ll react if they show signs. Every individual case of burnout is still a leader’s responsibility, and it's their job to use its lessons in order to prevent other employees from reaching the same state.
4. Leaders can avoid burnout by offering more vacation days.
Vacation: the panacea for burnout, right? Well, the reality is a bit more complicated. While time off from work can indeed help assuage the pains of overwork, simply tacking on a few days to each employee’s vacation package isn’t going to cut it.
A recent study from Deloitte found that workers leave more than 27% of their vacation days unused, and that number is increasing year on year. Making vacations mandatory is one option, but even then workers may remain stressed about the work they’re missing or still work during their vacation time. Create an environment that doesn’t just allow vacations, it accommodates them by fairly and appropriately delegating an employee’s work in their absence.
5. Burnout requires big changes to solve.
You don’t need to completely overhaul your business in order to prevent burnout among your team members. A few employees feeling undue stress in their work isn’t a sign that it’s time to upend your business model — that itself will likely cause more stress than it alleviates.
Instead, talk to your employees about the specific aspects of their job they’re struggling with. Perhaps it’s the hours, time off, deadlines, or something else entirely — whatever the case, take steps to fix that issue. Burnout usually doesn’t have some grand, overarching cause; it comes as the result of individual workplace policies that employees are struggling with. Fix the policies and go from there.
Because burnout is such a serious issue, it deserves serious attention from leaders. Trying to tackle the problem with industry myths and ill-informed solutions could easily end up doing more harm than good. Regularly taking the time to listen to your employees and understand their needs will go much further in helping to alleviate burnout in the workplace.