Burnout: Facing Morale Challenges for Remote Leaders

reachXOD Blog - Burnout: Facing Morale Challenges for Remote Leaders

We are weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and the increasing pressures on business leaders are only growing. Reopening options are gearing up for areas, while others continue to wade through the unclear, grey guidelines. 

The definition of workplace burnout is the state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion brought on by continued, prolonged and repeated stress. Basically, it  is what occurs when workplace demands placed on a person overwhelm that person and the resources they have to manage those demands. Here are a few statistics on what all of this might be doing to your employees, and the subsequent impact to your business. We also offer a few recommendations for you to take action on, now.

Notably, 45% of American workers report feeling burned out, as of the April 15, 2020 poll by Eagle Consulting. In 2019, the WHO labeled workforce burnout as a global syndrome and gave it a price tag of $125 billion dollars per year[a]. A study from 2016 found that people with high demand jobs and a low ability to control their environment (think parents working from home over the last several weeks) have a 15.4% increase in their odds of death[b].

These statistics paint a disheartening picture of what might be going on with your employees, vendors, customers, and even yourself. The implications on the current state of our workforce’s mental health are dire. Projecting the back-half of the year, mental health experts forecast a significant increase in sick-time, mental health leave of absences, and ongoing productivity declines.  As a business leader, or executive, how are you tackling this issue?

We spent some time with one of the reachXOD Advisors to learn more about how she is dealing with the challenge of facing burnout within the business. In full disclosure, this leader is a seasoned CFO with over 15+ years of experience serving public and private enterprises and currently sits in the C-seat at a large, distributed, multi-bed,  healthcare facility. She’s fighting the war against burnout and intensely focused on increasing morale among healthcare workers and employees who take care of the highest risk group for COVID-19, our senior citizens. Here are a few lessons learned that seem to make a difference.

  1. Face it now. Burnout is not a personal issue, it is a company issue that strikes at the heart of the organization. Ignoring burnout is not an option, and would be negligent of any executive at this time. It would be similar to me, the CFO, ignoring reported fraud, and that is just ridiculous. Our employees are struggling. Our customers (residents) are struggling. As an executive, it is my job to face this and take it on.

  2. Make a plan.  We’ve got a myriad of challenges we face. Our employees have to agree to stay in the facility, and not leave for a period of time. Our customers, our senior citizens, are at such high risk, we just could not afford to risk employees bringing this back to them. What I love about this team, is that our employees 100% agree with this mandate. They care about our residents and in no way want them harmed. So, they easily signed up.

    Now, it’s up to executive leadership to figure out how to best resource our employees. They are people with families and lives. It’s as hard to ask them to isolate away from their support systems for a continual period of time, with no relief. We have to not only compensate them for that, but also create new support systems for them so they don’t burnout.

    We collaborated with our employees, and together we came up with a plan that everyone could live with. Time on, time off, rest periods, socialization time away from the residents and others. It was a collective effort, driven by input from the very people whose lives have been impacted the most. Then, we executed the plan.

  3. Amend your plan, and often. We learned a lot during those first few weeks about the effectiveness of our ‘plan’. We did so by having daily stand ups within each facility with our employees. Not about the work. Not about the residents, but about them - their needs, their feelings, their concerns. It was short, but necessary. Uncomfortable at first, yes. Required, yes. Through that, we learned, and continue to learn, that our “plan” needs to be altered, as the situation evolves, changes, morphs, and as our people’s anxiety, concerns, fears, and needs change.  We’ve added certain games at some facilities, prayer rooms at others, we’ve modified the “break rooms” by facility to accommodate the specific employees’ needs in that facility. We are listening to our people, as individuals, and trying to meet the needs at a local level. We think that is helping.

  4. Plan for the long haul and change the norm, maybe permanently. We are working to adjust schedules from now, through the end of the year, using the assumption set that this is not easing for us during that time. We threw out any PTO, time off, or vacation type scheduling for the rest of the year. We are taking a different approach. We are inquiring, listening to our mental health experts. How much time on is reasonable, given the mental and physical and social strains? Then, what type of required time off is needed, and for how long, to give our people a real chance to recover? We are working to ensure that our employees have real, meaningful breaks for an extended period of time, to not only recharge, but also to deal with the mental anxiety and exhaustion that we know they carry.

  5. Resource your team right now. I can’t stress this enough. We had programs before this started with the normal call to the EAP line, etc. But now, we are providing easy access for every employee to see a therapist. We have therapists in each location, and we have virtual therapists available (some are more comfortable with the virtual approach.)  We will continue to have this program available, at no charge, for at least the next year, and maybe permanently. We will not require every employee to see a therapist, but we are recommending it. Most of our employees are taking advantage of this benefit. We think it is helping fight the war on growing anxiety and burnout. We would like to think it will also help our team’s ability to cope in the back half of the year.

  6. Recognize that you are burning out too, and reach out. This one was a surprise to me, but absolutely critical to my ability to effectively lead and make quality decisions. I was so busy working to lead the business 24/7, that I lost track of myself in the process. I couldn’t disconnect at all. This is often the case for any executive dealing with a crisis, and even more so in healthcare right now. I had the news on nonstop, feeling as though I had to be on top of all of the current problems. I was constantly in contact with 100% of the facilities to stay on top of what they were doing. After about three (3) weeks, I realized that I was feeling highly fatigued, all of the time. I found myself trying to just catch my breath, literally, trying to just breathe. It was not the virus, it was the beginning of burnout. I did not see it in myself. I was doing a check in with one of my colleagues whom I problem solve with on a regular basis. I reached out to her to get some input on a few, critical decisions that we needed to make. She stopped the conversation, asked me how I was, and pointed out to me, directly, what was happening to me. When I finally reached out, it made an enormous difference. I had to step back, take two days off, and 100% disconnect. It helped.        

How might you effectively lead, support and guide your employees through this time of global crisis? Reaching out is the first step towards preventing your own burnout as a leader. Regardless of where you are, reachXOD is here for you. Our reachXODs served, or are serving, Fortune 100, 500, or 1000+ global enterprises, in either the public or private sector. Our XOD (Executives On Demand) advisors have extensive experience leading at the executive level, and stand ready and willing to provide you insight on your most pressing questions.

Book a call with one of our XOD advisors HERE. Your remote teams are depending on you.

[a] “Burn-out an ‘occupational phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases”, World Health Organization, 28 May 2019, https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/

[b] “Worked to Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control with Mortality”, Academy of Management Conference, 02 September 2016, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/peps.12206