If you want to improve your workplace, the first thing you need to address is manager burnout. Since 2019, there has been a rise in manager burnout, and at the same time, employee engagement has been decreasing. This is not a coincidence because a manager's mood and approach to work affect the experience an employee gets. Modern businesses need productive, aligned, engaged, and healthy teams to function. Companies are rapidly changing environments that must be agile, constantly coming up with new ideas, evolving, and adapting. It is only possible with teams of people that are highly engaged and work well together. This was not the case in the past when most works was manual labor and the importance of engagement was not as high. However, today, employees have choices, and engaged employees are necessary for companies to thrive.
If you want to fix the engagement and workplace issues, you need to address manager burnout. To do so, you need to understand why it's happening and what causes it. The common understanding is that overworking is the cause of burnout, and technology enables overworking.
However, this is a symptom of the problem and not the issue itself. Burnout is caused by chronic stress over a long period of time. Managers develop chronic stress because they don't think they're good enough at their jobs. They have this constant nagging voice telling them they're not good enough, that they're not doing a good job, and that it's all going to come crumbling down. As they are typically hard-working committed people they respond to this voice by working more. Ultimately this leads to overworking and burnout.
This is why some people can work crazy hours for years on end without burning out. If they are working crazy hours because they want to, not because they feel they need to, burnout is unlikely to be an issue (although poor health might be).
Managers, in particular, suffer from this issue because most companies don't train them. When a team member gets promoted to manager, they have to change their working style completely. Until then, they were rewarded for working hard all the time, taking on as much work as possible, and getting along with everybody. Companies fail to recognise the change they need to undergo and provide training for it.
You also have to consider the levels of self-esteem required to be a leader or manager. As a manager, you have to make high-level decisions, handle conflict and say no to people. For many people, this doesn't require a step up in self-esteem but a giant leap. If you don't support new and existing managers to develop confidence in these areas they will likely burn out. Think of your managers as running a marathon race. If early to mid-race they feel like they're not doing a good job, they're going to pick up the pace and try to get ahead of the pack. Picking up the pace in the middle of the run leads to the marathon runner hitting a wall and not being able to finish. It's your job to help them run the race at the right pace.
To fix the engagement and workplace issues, companies need to prioritise addressing manager burnout. Three simple ways businesses can do this are:
1 - Facilitate results without burnout conversations between managers
Bring your managers together on a minimum of a quarterly basis. Create an open forum where managers can share their challenges and solutions around getting results without burning out. This is more powerful than any app or meditation course on the planet when it comes to reducing burnout. You might think you're too busy to make time for this, I always argue you're too busy to be letting your best people get burnt out.
2 - Suggest best practice working hours for managers
Parkinson's Law tells us that a task expands to fill the time that we allow it. One of the biggest problems managers have (exasperated by digital devices) is they mentally allow themselves time at home to do work. But as you know, there is always more work to be done. Emphasise the hours a manager should typically be working and hold them accountable to those times. Celebrate those who are doing it well and share the systems/processes they are using to achieve it.
3 - Develop managers
Ensure that all of your managers receive development training. Place the emphasis for this training not on the job specifics but on how to be a great manager. We have found the sweet spot for this lies in a crossover of development in health, engagement and getting results without burnout. This training doesn't have to be complex or long. Generally speaking, if you account for one full day a quarter you can give your managers more than enough to thrive.
Good development training for managers also pays for itself with a minimum of 10x return. Think of the cost of losing a manager to burnout. Think of the lost productivity as they manager was getting close to burnout. Think of the lost engagement from your teams who work under the burnt-out manager.
In conclusion, fixing manager burnout is the first step to improving your workplace. It's time to rethink the way we treat managers and recognise that they need training to adapt to their new roles. Focus less on reducing stress and gym memberships and more on developing and supporting your managers in how to thrive in a stressful environment. Once they have the right tools and training, they can lead teams that are engaged, aligned, productive, and healthy.
You can find free tools to help with burnout prevention and employee development below:
Mike Jones Better Happy Founder
Mike founded Better Happy in 2018.
He now works with a variety of businesses ranging from small accountancies up to large organisations such as Travelodge on improving employee happiness. Mike's vision and the vision of Better Happy is 'Every employee happy, every business thriving'