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Preventing and navigating burnout: a manager’s guide

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 22 Feb 2024

It’s important to role model the behaviour that managers wish to encourage in their teams, says caba, the occupational charity supporting ICAEW accountants.

Many people think of burnout as solely related to how much they work. As a result, they may think that taking some time off will be enough to relieve feelings of overwhelm and pressure, and they’ll bounce back to work feeling refreshed and renewed.

Burnout is when we feel overwhelmed emotionally and physically, so much so that it becomes almost impossible to function in our work or personal life – or both – and is unlikely to be resolved by simply taking a break. 

As burnout has been classified as a workplace phenomenon by the World Health Organization (2019), support at work is essential if we are to curb the rising of tide of overwhelm within the workplace. And one of the most important contributors to a person’s wellbeing at work is the relationship they have with their line manager. 

“It’s useful on an individual level and in your capacity as a line manager to pinpoint exactly what your team are feeling and the factors that are contributing to this,” says Paul Guess, a mental wellbeing expert at caba, the occupational charity that supports ICAEW accountants

This will enable you to provide the specific support they will find most useful and encourage them to look after their own health and wellbeing,” he adds.

The role of the manager is critical in assessing and addressing employee burnout and caba has some specific tips to support you in navigating and preventing burnout in your team.

Knowledge is power

Research has indicated the six areas that, if left unchecked, can lead to burnout, Guess says. Recognising how these areas are having an impact on your team can give you a good steer to make improvements. 

Workload Does your team have a clearly defined job description and are the responsibilities of the roles reasonable? Additionally, does the team have the resources they need to be able fulfil the duties assigned to them?

Perceived lack of control Does your team feel a sense of autonomy and agency within their role? When people feel that they have a say in the decisions being made around them that relate to their job it can have a positive effect on wellbeing and reduce feelings of disengagement and cynicism 

Appreciation and reward When people feel the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for the job don’t match the effort and time that they put in, they can become disengaged and unmotivated, which is a key indicator of burnout. Does your team feel appreciated? Are their achievements recognised and rewarded?

Fairness Ensure that people receive fair and equitable treatment and effectively communicate the reasons why decisions that might have an impact on them are being made. “Transparency and trust are the foundations for psychological safety within the workplace and out of this flows innovation and creativity,” Guess says.

Community It’s important that people feel a sense of belonging within the organisation. Can you create spaces where people feel they are safe enough to speak up when things get overwhelming? “Develop opportunities to bring teams together and keep connections strong,” Guess says. “Try to build positive relationships within your team as loneliness and isolation are often drivers of poor mental health wellbeing.” 

Values Are your behaviours and those of your team aligned to the organisation’s values? Are your behaviours creating an environment where people feel that it’s OK to look after their own wellbeing? Guess says that role modelling and recognising one’s own style and how this contributes to an employee’s experience is an important piece of reflective work that will lead to improved relationships.

Picking up on the warning signs 

If you notice that someone isn’t acting or performing in the way they usually do, start a conversation to give you both the opportunity to explore the reasons and identify what support will be helpful. Some of the common indicators range from poor decision-making and reduced concentration levels to withdrawal, poor time keeping and relationship difficulties.

If you’re noticing these signs in someone and think they’re acting or performing unusually, there are steps you can take.

Use one-to-one opportunities to start exploring what might be driving any difficulty,” Guess says. “If your conversations with individuals are purely task focused, you’re missing out on an opportunity to support your direct reports and ensure that they feel heard and listened to.”

Some people will need a little encouragement to open up so actively listening to what they say, creating space and responding sensitively will help to reassure them that you are there to offer support. 

Spotlight progress

When an individual doesn’t have clear goals, they either become stuck because they are unsure where to invest their energy or they may frantically churn out work in the hope it will be valuable. At the beginning of each month, managers can help their team by producing five goals that connect to the team’s shared vision. It’s also important to recognise progress and highlight any accomplishments or achievements within individuals or the team.

It’s important as a manager to be there when people really need you, for deeply personal reasons or life emergencies. Ensure that people take time off if they need to in light of illness, bereavement, or other important situations,” Guess says. 

It’s vital that employees take their annual holiday allowance and have some protected time to rest and decompress during time away from work. Role model the behaviour you wish to advocate for.

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