How Should Leaders Respond to the Burnout Epidemic?

Published December 30, 2021

As the world emerges from the COVID pandemic in the midst of the “great resignation,” leaders everywhere are asking new questions about the nature of work:

  • Where do we work?
  • When do we work?
  • And…For how long?

Juliet Funt is the founder and CEO of the Juliet Funt Group, which specializes in helping companies become more effective and efficient by freeing their employees from unnecessary busywork and helping everyone to cultivate “a minute to think.” In a recent conversation with the Global Leadership Network, Juliet talked about employee burnout: how to recognize it, how it happens, and what leaders can do about it.

 

What is Burnout?

Burnout, Juliet says, often begins with some kind of crisis with employees who genuinely want to step up and help. “There’s an emergency for your company—we don’t know what’s going to happen with revenue, there’s a giant pandemic—so we all go in with the right motives which is we’re going to do what we have to do to be stellar workers and we all did it,” said Juliet. “Then there’s this moment where you’re stuck because now this is ‘just the way we work.’”

I’m really a bit frightened and concerned about the long-term ramifications of pushing this hard.

“The way we work” now includes expanded hours and thin boundaries, all of which can eventually have negative effects on employees. “I’m really a bit frightened and concerned about the long-term ramifications of pushing this hard,” Juliet says, adding that many studies are reinforcing her concerns. “Indeed says 52% of us are officially burnt out. Bloomberg says the workday is two and a half hours longer than it was before. A new one just came out with Monster that was really fascinating: they only had a sample size of 700 people, but 95% of the 700 that they interviewed said that they were thinking of leaving their current job.”

 

In light of this burnout epidemic, how should leaders respond?

Juliet says that first, we should all receive some kind of “medal of honor” for pushing through this season, but after that, leaders should take a hard look at the situation and consider it may be time to make significant changes.

We must find a way to stop this and let people recuperate right now.

“I just can’t believe that everybody is still standing,” said Juliet. “There is this dogged, amazing ability for people to be returning to their desk with 18 months of babies on laps and 7AM to 7PM Zoom calls. It’s phenomenal to me that we’re showing up. I’m concerned about the valor that is causing us to continue to push. We need to make sure that enough recuperation gets in there fast enough to save people from eventual burnout. There should just be a loving slap across the face to say, ‘We must find a way to stop this and let people recuperate right now.’ I think it’s going to require purposeful conversation to unwrite the new norms of COVID to say, ‘OK if we’re going back to the office does that mean that work can start at 9. Does that mean that we no longer do the 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM Zoom calls before we come in?’ I want everybody to be having intensely proactive conversations about rewriting right now.”

 

Questions for Reflection:
  • How has COVID impacted the culture of your organization? Have working hours expanded? Are employees giving more?
  • As your organization emerges from COVID, what purposeful conversations might you need to have to prevent potential burnout from your team?

 

Check out the full conversation with Juliet Funt here.

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