You may have seen that burnout made headlines last month when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized it as a medical syndrome. If you’re a working adult, you’ve likely experienced at least a taste of burnout during your career: the dip in both energy and efficacy, accompanied by feelings of negativity or mental distance about your job, that the WHO defines as the three dimensions of burnout syndrome.
Summer can be an especially challenging time at work. Social calendars fill up and many of our minds crave a more relaxed pace, time outside, and rest. (Summer Fridays, currently surging, are one concession to summer’s natural slackening.) If you lead a team or teams at work, it’s a good time to take a step back and assess how energized your team is feeling.
It’s also important to replenish your own energy reserves. We know from research on teams that the behavior and attitudes of our colleagues play a big role in shaping our own. This is especially true of managers. Managers play a huge role in how deeply engaged their team members are, and burned out managers are costly in terms of turnover and productivity.
This summer, focus on a few relatively easy things you can do to keep your team healthy, productive and engaged. Here are four of my favorite strategies.
Renew your focus on purpose
After working with scores and scores of teams, I’ve seen firsthand how essential a shared sense of purpose is to high-performing teams. Purpose works like a powerful glue keeping a team aligned and working together. Make sure your team has a big-picture view of what you’re all driving towards, and how each person’s work contributes to this shared purpose. You can do this by simply reiterating, frequently, what that purpose is during team meetings and other times together. If you’ve never formally talked about it, ask each member to jot down the team’s purpose – its reason for being – in their own words, then have a discussion to arrive at a group definition.
It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane and sometimes frustrating tasks that make up our work days; remembering the larger reason we’re doing them helps us realize our own contribution to that meaning.
Encourage recharge time
Do you have team members who never seem to use their vacation days? That’s not good news. Numerous studies show that workers who take long and regular vacations are measurably more productive and efficient at work. (Research also suggests that vacations shorter than a full week aren’t long enough to give your brain and body a break from the stress of a full-time job.)
Ask your team members who seem vacation-light what their holiday plans are, and remind them that you value the benefits of downtime. If your whole team is working hard and you sense burnout might be looming, announce a surprise all-team day or afternoon off, and be sure to let your team know you’ll be checking out of work as well. Some companies have even found good success by instituting minimum vacation policies to guard against the costs of burnout.
But the best thing you can do is to lead by example. Your own behavior and attitudes towards weekends, holidays and vacations are the biggest influences on your team’s own stance on vacation time. I admit this is a tough one for me — my natural tendency is to work long hours. (Plus, as a founder and CEO, my to-do list never ends.) To help myself make sure I get time away, I regularly block out family time on my work calendar. I also recharge by immersing myself in historical novels, business books, or some sort of building project.
Give frequent praise
Don’t wait until the annual performance review to recognize what your team members are doing well. Instead, be frequent and generous with your praise. One study showed that teams perform best when positive feedback outweighs negative by a 6 to 1 ratio. Positive feedback fuels feelings of positivity and motivation at work — powerful antidotes to burnout. More importantly, when people are recognized and celebrated for their strengths, it catalyzes learning, creating a continuous feedback loop of improvement. (Criticism, in contrast, sets our sympathetic nervous system into panic, shutting down learning.)
So amp up the (meaningful) praise when your team wraps a project, lands an important meeting, or hits a key milestone. Spontaneously send an email to your team highlighting a specific accomplishment that should be celebrated. Take a moment to compliment a team member not just on achievements, but on qualities or habits that contribute to team effectiveness, like patience, persistence, an optimistic attitude, or a tendency to pitch in when a colleague needs help.
Work to create a culture of gratitude
Workplaces characterized by gratitude don’t just feel good. They also enjoy higher productivity and job satisfaction, and better employee physical and mental health. When you’re actively recognizing the strengths and successes of your people, you’re on your way to creating a culture of gratitude. Consider starting every all-hands meeting with a few minutes of kudos and acknowledgements. Take recognition a step farther by adding sincere thanks for the effort or sacrifice it took to accomplish the particular outcome, and be specific. Your ultimate goal is to make it a norm for team members to recognize and thank one another. Expressions of gratitude are catching and help everyone look at work through a lens of gratefulness.
It’s natural to feel less motivation at times; it’s part of the natural ebb and flow of our creative energies and seasonal rhythms. But when your team’s work blahs seem more than temporary, and edging into burnout, it’s time to take action. Try your hand at the strategies above to help your team be more purposeful, energized and team-minded. After all, when it comes to teams, we’re all in this together.
Want to help your team focus, collaborate and perform better than ever? We can help. Schedule a free demo of RallyBright’s Resilient Teams™ benchmarked assessment and let us help you measure, diagnose and improve your team’s performance.