Companies traditionally view employee burnout as something that requires individual self-care and stress management tools to fix. It is often presumed that it is an employee's responsibility alone, not the organization's, to do something about the problem. What the research shows, however, is that burnout is a systemic issue that requires a holistic approach to solve. The key element? Producing resilient teams.
Teams that "team" well create a powerful learning environment in which team members ask one another questions, share information, seek help, talk about mistakes, and get feedback. They provide critical support for one another.
Because teams play such an important role in preventing burnout at work, they need specific skills, tools, and frameworks to help them prevent it. Teams need to create cultures that will protect against the job demands that cause burnout and quickly pivot to adapt to shifting priorities, stress, setbacks, and change generally. Teams must be resilient.
Resilient teams have a blend of characteristics that help them perform at their peak--six competencies you can remember with the acronym PRIMED:
P: Psychological safety and psychological needs. These are the foundational elements of resilient teams. Psychological safety is trust at the team level and starts with the belief that you can be yourself at work, respectfully raise problems, disagree, and propose new and innovative ideas without fear that you will be put down, singled out, or embarrassed in the process. I refer to psychological needs as your ABC needs, because they are the powerful blend of autonomy, belonging, and competence. The satisfaction of each ABC component is negatively correlated with burnout.
How to build them: Small "you matter" cues, like looking people in the eye and calling people by name go a long way toward building psychological safety. Transparency, giving someone decision-making discretion, and receiving regular feedback on progress help to build ABC needs.
R: Relationships. The pandemic has shown how important other people are to our well-being. The need to belong is a fundamental human motivation, and teams need to prioritize it starting with onboarding. The ways in which teams convey belonging and connection create strong mindsets that can significantly shape a person's view of his or her team and work environment.
How to build them: Belonging and connection can be developed through simple acts of kindness, offering encouragement to one another, sharing small success stories, and simply talking about the challenges your team may be facing working virtually.
I: Impact. Resilient teams know how their work contributes to something greater and can see how it fits within the organizational system as a whole. Meaning also matters. Meaning is the subjective experience you have that your work matters and facilitates personal growth.
How to build it: A team can create impact by talking about its common purpose and the specific ways the team supports the greater mission of the organization.
M: Mental strength. Both individual team members and teams collectively need to adapt to changing circumstances and priorities, and how teams and individual team members think greatly influences whether this is done effectively.
How to build it: Teams need to be clear about the factors that undercut their mental strength. For example, unclear directions, lack of transparency, and missing information can lead to a variety of counterproductive thinking styles. Something as easy as adding one or two more sentences to an email before it is sent can eliminate counterproductive thinking.
E: Energy. Resilient teams need to be aware of the signs of stress and overload in team members and then be willing to take action, as needed, to address emerging problems. The burnout prevention conversation starts with good leadership.
How to build it: Leaders should prioritize these qualities in order to build positive energy on the team: Keep people informed, encourage team members to suggest ideas for improvement, have regular career development conversations, provide regular feedback and coaching, and recognize people for a job well done.
D: Design. Resilient teams actively create positive change when things aren't going right. Teams underestimate the power they have to reshape, redesign, and shift their own cultures.
How to build it: Job resources are an important component to the burnout prevention conversation. Converting repetitive work into processes, flow charts, or templates; identifying internal and external partnerships to help the team work efficiently; and promoting a culture of learning on the team by making sure people are aware of and have access to development opportunities are all good resources for teams to consider.
Teams operate in an incredibly stressful, dynamic environment, and the pandemic has likely changed how work will be done in the future. Resilience is a trait that correlates strongly with thriving in such a demanding environment, and teams can actively create cultures of resilience in service of reducing burnout and building a thriving business.