After the past year, you're likely experiencing burnout with your team, with people taking longer to get things done, turning in lower quality work, or just generally feeling less present. Heck, you may be feeling it in yourself, with brain fog and exhaustion that you just can't shake.
A survey from consulting firm Korn Ferry of over 7,000 American professionals last May showed 73 percent of them were already feeling burned-out--and that was before 10 more months of the pandemic, a winter plagued by election stress and worsening case numbers, and continued uncertainty about when this will actually all be "over."
Sure, you could try and push your team harder to make up for lost productivity. But I've found as a founder myself, perhaps counterintuitively, that bringing more ease into your team's workdays is a better way to help them start to heal from burnout and get back to their best. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Take Items Off Everyone's To-Do List
According to a Gallup report, two of the top causes of employee burnout are employees having too much to do and not feeling they have enough time to do it. Especially now, when your team may have downsized due to the pandemic, and many people are balancing work with child care, your employees may be feeling overwhelmed by what's on their plate. Helping them feel less underwater could be a serious balm.
So lighten their load. This could be a great opportunity for you as a leader to survey what your company is doing and ensure you have reasonable expectations and are working toward the right priorities. Perhaps do a team-wide activity using the Eisenhower matrix to identify what's not urgent or important--and then give everyone permission to get rid of those tasks entirely.
2. Create a "No Questions Asked" Day-Off Policy
It should come as no surprise that employees are taking less time off because of the pandemic (one survey from Zapier found that nearly 40 percent of knowledge workers had canceled or shortened their time off in the past year). If they aren't sick and they can't take a true vacation, why should they take time off?
The answer, of course, is simply because breaks are important for mental health. Some companies are going so far as to force employees to take a vacation. I think a better approach is to create more norms in your policies and culture that allow for taking time off for no particular reason.
Don't make employees explain why they need time off, or add a set of days to their PTO policy specifically for mental health days. Reduce the number of days in advance employees need to give their time-off notice so they can take time when they most need it. Even better--give your entire team a surprise day off from time to time so nobody feels like people are expecting things from them or that they are "wasting" one of their PTO days.
3. Encourage Down Time During the Workday
Of course, the occasional day off isn't going to fix burnout--especially as employees are working longer hours thanks to remote work. You'll also want to think about restructuring your workdays to give employees more consistent breaks (or even a little time for fun).
Encouraging your employees to take some time out of their day to play games like Word With Friends seems counterproductive, but it works. Our team often plays a solitaire game of the day, and then we compare scores for team camaraderie. Research has shown that employees who take breaks have lower burnout, higher job satisfaction, and less of all those physical woes work is giving us these days, like eye strain and back pain.
So build it into your culture--and your calendar. Block on certain times out of each day when meetings can't be booked and it's the norm to step away. Then, encourage fun during those times. Maybe you organize company events, provide perks that let folks spend money on hobbies, or create a leader board of your team's favorite online game to encourage healthy camaraderie.
4. Talk About (Even Celebrate) Failures
One of the key things to think about when it comes to reducing burnout is reducing the feeling of pressure on your team--and the pressure of failure can be one of the worst of all.
So work toward creating a culture where failures aren't punished but are understood or even celebrated. Maybe when an employee misses a deadline, instead of getting mad, you explore why that happened. Perhaps they used that time to rest a little--which could be something to celebrate. This could also mean getting vulnerable when you drop the ball yourself, so team members understand it's OK.
All of this isn't about just letting employees slack off without consequence, but helping them understand that when the going gets tough, the weight of the world isn't all on their shoulders--and you'll be there to support them through it.