What’s up with all the burnout?

Photo, taken from above, of a peson in a white shirt, face down on a white table, with a notebook open on top of their head, a pen in the right hand, crumpled paper scattered around, and a pair of glasses on the table to the left.Burnout. It’s a hot topic these days. 

What’s up with that? Is burnout really happening so much more now than in the past? Or is it simply getting more attention, given a growing shift in how we view employees and their experience? 

Or both?

I suspect both – and more.

Yes, burnout has always happened; I can attest to that myself, having survived several rounds of it. And yes, these days we’re focusing more on employee wellbeing and mental health. (Side note: I’m not a fan of how either of those terms – wellbeing and mental health – are being over-used in ways that are often merely performative, but that’s a whole different conversation.)

With the explosion of change in the world, impacting both personal lives and workplaces, burnout is indeed happening more often, which brings it more into awareness. It’s not (and never has been) an individual issue; it’s collective, systemic within an organization and within our lives. 

And we’ve established – I hope! – that a vacation, a spa weekend, and nap pods in offices (!) aren’t any kind of solution. Nor is exhorting already-exhausted employees to “practice better self-care” a solution; talk about adding insult to injury.

So if it’s related to the rapid rates of change these days, what can organizations, leaders, and managers – and individuals! – do?

Historically, organizations have focused on change management: the practice of planning, defining timelines and milestones, allocating resources (including people), and Getting Stuff Done. There’s a whole – and excellent – body of knowledge around this, created, taught, and promoted by the Project Management Institute and its associated chapters and certifications. I’ve spoken for various PMI chapters, and, as a project manager in my own career, I have great respect for the work they do and the importance of what they teach.

But it’s only half the picture.

The other half has traditionally been obscured by the industrial-era reluctance to acknowledge that employees are human, with emotional responses and reactions that cannot be kept out of the workplace, even when leaders would prefer otherwise.

Change, even change for the better, is hard and stressful, and the more change someone experiences, the more likely they are to burn out if that change isn’t led while also being managed.

Change leadership is a separate set of tools and practices, and it’s how leaders and managers can support their people through the challenges of change, helping overcome resistance and burnout.

Are the skills of change leadership a silver bullet or magic wand to solve the problem of burnout? Of course not. 

But they are, or can be, a significant factor in reducing the impact of change on people’s lives and careers.

Change leadership is my thing. And if you’re facing changes in your organization (who isn’t?!), contact me and we’ll set a time to talk.

What IS change leadership? Read all about it here.