He was the best salesperson in your ranks. Year after year, he consistently set records for the company. You rewarded him with promotions – three times in the last six years. He was gifted, dedicated, and enthusiastic. His team thoroughly enjoyed working with him. At every level, he excelled – so much so that you brought him into the top tier of your organization.
You were thrilled with the results!
You noticed he started showing up late for work. In meetings, he seemed disengaged, his mind preoccupied. His team was not producing as it had been. The results were not only not exceeding expectations, they were beginning to not even meet them.
Somewhere along the way, this once driven executive lost his drive.
Even though he was working in his area of strengths, he was not getting results. It was the beginning of a career death spiral, and it was pulling the organizational bottom line into the vortex. Diagnosis: Executive Burnout.
How can you, as the leader, rescue one of your team members from this kind of burnout?
First, know the early warning signs.
1. Changing patterns of behavior
- Is an otherwise punctual employee showing up late?
- Are they coming in early, staying late, working weekends, and skipping lunch for extended periods?
2. Changing mindset
- Are they showing signs of disinterest?
- Have they lost their passion for the work?
3. Changing results
- Sooner or later, burnout shows up on the bottom line.
- Look at the numbers. Look at the objectives. Are the indicators showing there is a problem?
Then, take immediate action.
1. Ask one simple question.
Many leaders in this scenario would simply warn the employee (which only exacerbates the problem), and then eventually let them go. A wise leader will ask one simple question: “Why?
“Why” has an otherwise outstanding employee changed?
2. Define the issue.
There is always a root cause for burnout, often in one of the following.
- Their current position removes them from their strengths zone.
If they are outgoing, “people” people, and you put them in a corner office doing paperwork and looking at spreadsheets all day, they will experience burnout.
- They have been too dedicated.
Yes, there is such an anomaly. They have worked so hard that they have lost their balance in other areas of life.
Instead of being proactive, they are in a constant state of reaction – to emails, phone calls, demands of others. In an attempt to keep up, they have burned out physically and mentally.
- They are bored.
Just as burnout can come from too much challenge, it can also stem from too little. Your role as a leader is to distinguish between the two.
3. Devise a counterattack.
The key to overcoming burnout is to counterattack the cause.
- It is recommended that employees work at least 70% in their strengths zone and at most 30% outside the zone. Curing burnout may just be a matter, in this case, of the sales executive taking his direct reports to lunch on a regular basis and investing directly in their growth. It may be a matter of delegating more of the paperwork so he can get on to more people work.
- If you notice an employee working long hours for extended periods of time, insist that they go to lunch, take their vacation, or otherwise add some outside balance to their lives. Though leaders reward hard work and dedication, they often fail to value the benefits of diversion and downtime.
- Know the difference between an employee who needs a break and an employee who needs a challenge. While the counterattack for working too much is rest; the counterattack for boredom is challenge. Know the difference.
As a leader, your main responsibility is to develop a strong team. Strong teams are composed of strong individuals. Do you know the strengths of each team member? Are you protecting them from burnout?
According to a 2013 Gallup survey, the cost of disengagement to US companies is $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year. Also according to Gallup, “organizations that invest in strengths-based development achieve as much as a 29% increase in profit.” It comes down, as all business decisions do, to profit and loss. Engagement and strengths creates profit. Disengagement and not working in strengths creates loss – not only in measurable dollars, but sometimes in the loss of some otherwise great employees.
For helpful tools to assess the strengths of your team, click here.