If we want individuals, teams and organizations to truly thrive leaders need to address the issue of burnout and stress and adopt a people-first approach. Below are five suggestions:

1) Being human first

Workplace burnout is recognised by WHO as an occupational phenomenon. While the problem is complex, the answer, at least in part, doesn’t have to be. Employees whose manager is always willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62% less likely to be burned out. It seems that the simple gesture of safeguarding that one-on-one time with employees – as you would with any other important meeting – is much more impactful than you may think. If you start prioritizing people ahead of the never-ending treadmill of tasks you may even see a more engaged and productive workforce.

2) Encourage teams to unplug

Many of us haven’t been able to travel as normal in the past year, but vacations or not, it’s increasingly difficult to unplug from work – particularly if an always-on culture is encouraged. It’s on leaders to set the tone. Employees may often try to keep pace with their superiors, and if their boss doesn’t finish on time or take time off then they won’t either. Leaders have to communicate the value of disconnecting, but also live those values by doing it themselves.

3) Create a culture of collaboration

Following on from the point above, one of the reasons people don’t take time off is because they fear what they’ll be coming back to. This wouldn’t be such an issue, however, if key projects were openly shared, discussed, and there was a strong culture of collaboration at the core of every team. It’s critical for leadership teams to map out and champion a collaborative infrastructure where tasks are delegated and shared. What matters most is that there’s never a single point of failure, because that’s far too much pressure – not just on an individual but on the team and organization as a whole.

4) Be more vulnerable

A lot of people may outwardly look like they’re on their A-game. They may give the sense that despite the challenges of recent months they’re rolling with the punches and managing everything that’s thrown at them. However, we may have to dive deeper to dissect presenteeism from reality. If someone’s personal communication style is very much focused on tasks and results, for example, they may be less willing to admit when it does get too much. It’s therefore up to leaders to start that dialogue and enable their people to say they’re having a bad day or not showing up as the best version of themselves. The hardest part is this: dropping the ‘I’m fine’ façade themselves. Because the only way to enable vulnerability in their teams is for leaders to be vulnerable themselves. 

5) Truly value differences

Burnout isn’t just something that occurs during stressful periods, it can also occur as a result of toxic culture. If employees feel like they can’t be themselves or do well in their role without being more ‘this’ or less ‘that’, that’s exhausting – and it also builds a culture of mistrust. This is especially tricky when leaders reinforce this kind of narrative – when they hire like for like, roll out one-size-fits-all initiatives, and keep on valuing more of the same over difference. However, everyone performs best when they can be truly authentic, and bring their whole selves to work each day. It’s up to leaders to really celebrate those differences in their businesses, so that people don’t burn themselves out trying to fit themselves into a narrow set of expectations.