Solutions for manager burnout Image

The latest Microsoft Work Trend Index conducted in 2022 revealed that Australian workers are experiencing a higher level of stress compared to other countries around the world. The report found that approximately 62% of Australian employees were experiencing burnout, compared with a global average of 48%…

While this is an issue that needs to be addressed, the statistics are even worse when it comes to managers. In this sector, about 66% of Australian managers suffer burnout compared to 53% of global managers. 

So, what’s causing this trend? And what can be done to negate manager burnout?

What is burnout?

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Burnout is now classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a medical health disease. The WHO says burnout is characterised by exhaustion, increased mental distance from the job and reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout can look and feel slightly different depending on the person, but there are some common symptoms to look for:

  1. Forgetfulness
    With so much on your mind, you’re going to forget things from time to time. But unless your job eases its grip, your memory is likely only going to get worse.
  2. You’re late for things
    Managers are generally in higher demand than other employees, therefore, poor time management can cause more issues for themselves and the rest of the team. If you’re constantly running behind and on tight deadlines, the pressure never lets up, and it can feel like you don’t even have a minute to breathe.
  3. You fantasise about the future
    If you feel overworked, it’s easy to tell yourself that things will get better in the future. However, this is often a form of denial and a way to trick yourself from taking action to resolve your issues.
  4. You’re tired more than usual
    High levels of stress can contribute to a lack of quality sleep. When we’re not getting enough sleep, we’re more likely to be tired throughout the day. Furthermore, if work is not going well, motivation and job satisfaction can decline, which can exacerbate our feelings of tiredness. Remember, it’s one thing to work hard, but it’s something else entirely when you’re completely depleted 24/7! 
  5. You get sick more than usual
    People with burnout tend to get sick easier and feel tired, nauseous or generally unwell more often. Increased stress hormones in your body, produced in response to feelings of overwork and being overwhelmed, can suppress immunity and make it harder to fight infections.
Why is manager burnout potentially worse for an organisation? 

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When an employee is experiencing burnout, they are not only more likely to take sick days and suffer a reduction in their productivity, but they are also more likely to focus on getting through the day rather than developing for the future. As a result, the organisation’s internal decision-making, customer service, quality control and innovation stall.

However, when a manager is exhausted and alienated, an organisation’s vulnerability increases. Managers are responsible for a team’s wellbeing and overall performance. So, when a manager is suffering from burnout, a whole number of other employees can be demotivated as a result of faulty leadership.  

Having stressed and burned-out managers is never good, but it’s a particularly urgent problem right now. Amid the current labour market shortage, an organisation’s culture and employment brand matter more than ever in retaining and attracting star employees — and good management is key to an attractive and safe environment.  

What’s causing manager burnout?

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American analytics and advisory company Gallup conducted their own research into the topic of manager burnout and found that while burnout affects managers the same way as everybody else, the role has unique challenges that may exacerbate the problem. According to the report, the five most common challenges facing managers today are:

  1. Unclear expectations — Four in 10 managers strongly agreed that they have multiple competing priorities.
  2. Heavy workload and distractions — The average manager’s workweek can be up to half a day longer than the average employee’s. Part of the reason for this is due to the regularity of interruptions. Gallup found that managers were 67% more likely than other employees to strongly agree they have a lot of interruptions at work.
  3. Work-life balance — About a third of managers said that their job was getting in the way of their family life. More than a third of managers revealed that they felt stressed “during a lot of the most recent workday.”
  4. Strengths not being utilised — Managers were less likely than individual contributors to believe they have the opportunity to do what they do best at work. They were also less likely to have work properly delegated to them, as most of their time was dedicated to meeting the needs of others. 
  5. Unhelpful performance reviews — Only 8% of managers strongly agreed that their performance reviews inspired them to improve. They were also more sceptical about the fairness and accuracy of their performance reviews than other employees. 
How an individual can manage burnout

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It’s important not to suffer in silence if workload is the biggest contributing factor to your stress. Talk to your superior or line manager about your workload and how it can be managed or distributed in the future. Aside from this, there are numerous other things you can do to help stave off burnout.

  1. Find meaning outside of work
    Also referred to as identity anchors, these are meant to help you find your purpose and place in the world and give you a sense of belonging. They might include joining a book club, a sports team, a charitable society, or partaking in any other activity or hobby that gives you meaning beyond your job, brings you joy, cushions the impacts of adversity in your life, and allows you to deal with stress more productively. Even if it’s as small as a 20-minute walk for lunch, seek out the activities that bring you joy rather than the things that cause you stress.
  2. Make more time to relax
    The first thing that may come to your mind here is ‘take a long holiday’, but while a getaway may relieve some stress in the short term, the overarching issues in your job will still persist. Rest is something you need to do every day to help counter burnout, not every financial quarter! Rest doesn’t mean taking a nap either. Similarly to an identity anchor, rest signifies activities that help take your mind off work and bring you joy. This could be taking the time to connect with friends or family during the day, taking a break to go for a walk, listening to music or stopping by the gym.
  3. Don’t micromanage
    The aforementioned Microsoft Work Trend Index also showed that 90% of Australian managers said the shift to hybrid work had affected their confidence in workers’ productivity, yet 85% of staff said they had never worked harder. It can be hard not to constantly check in with team members, especially if you have unrealistic expectations and goals for yourself and your team. However, micromanaging can actually increase the risk of burnout for both the leader and the teams they manage. Your role as a leader is to give other people what they need to perform well. Nothing is perfect and expecting everyone on your team to adhere to an unrealistic standard of excellence can actually demotivate them rather than push them to do better. Ask your team what they need from you to do their work and ensure you set reasonable and achievable goals for each employee. 
  4. Learn to ask for help
    This may sound simple for some, but sometimes gathering enough courage to ask for help can be difficult — especially for first-time managers looking to prove themselves. Remember that managing is a learning process and it’s always okay to ask for help. Seek guidance from trusted peers, mentors, or your own line manager if you’re having a hard time. The goal is to not let the initial stress turn into the chronic stress of burnout. Don’t just do this for yourself, do it for your team. Working alongside someone who is burned out can strain your relationships with your direct reports and hamper productivity.
How an organisation can address manager burnout

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Depending on the organisation’s leadership structure, some managers may feel as if they have no one to talk to and they suffer in silence instead. In this labour market, it’s more important than ever for senior management and/or owners to set an example and provide avenues of support.

Ensure that managers at all levels have the tools and the freedom they need to manage how they see fit. Setting reasonable goals and expectations is obviously important, but that can be done without micromanagement and the expectations of working out-of-hours. Ultimately, happy and well-rested managers will likely result in higher-performing teams, so it’s in the organisation’s interest to nurture their managers and ensure they’re not overworked. 

When to seek professional help

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Burnout is real and many people are dealing with it. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you’re experiencing depression and/or notice that your anxieties are affecting your wellbeing, your relationships, or your daily functioning. Call one of our friendly team on 1300 687 327 who can put you in touch with a mental health professional.