We’ve heard it from our team, clients, candidates and community: leaders in today’s workplace are stretched thin, pulled in every direction on multiple fronts.
They’re balancing work with home life, caring for their families and checking in on the mental health of their teams, and tackling their own long to-do list while supporting the performance of others. Many are also working longer-than-normal hours, especially if they work at home.
No surprise, there’s not much gas left in the tank for creative thinking, strategy work or even focus time, which is bad for business.
Even worse, leader exhaustion can affect the team as a whole. According to the 2021 People Management Report by The Predictive Index, employees are far more likely to feel burned out when their managers are depleted and 58% of those with an exhausted leader said they’re even considering quitting.
High-performing organizations need high-performing leaders. Here are some practical ways to get your leaders back on track.
Nine ways to energize your leaders
- Set better boundaries between work and home life. Develop and implement a Disconnecting from Work policy (contact us to see ours!) and encourage night owls to use the delayed delivery option in Outlook when sending late-night, non-emergency messages to colleagues. Establish meeting-free periods that everyone takes—even senior leaders. We’ve organized meeting-free Wednesday afternoons for focus time and booked a recurring reminder in our Leaders’ calendar so they can remind their team. For more practical tips on setting boundaries, see step 3 of Komal Minhas’s Top Tips for Building Resilience.
- Prioritize your leaders’ work. Remind leaders to focus only on the most important tasks and delegate the rest. This reduces their stress, frees them up to do more important work AND helps others grow in their roles as they take on more responsibility. For inspiration, we’ve turned to the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, which offers tips for doing less, but better, so everyone can contribute more. Reminder: if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will!
- Help your leaders get organized. As we learned in our webinar with resilience educator Komal Minhas, one of the keys to managing through stressful times is being organized. In a work context, Komal encourages leaders and their teams to plan for their on-season, off-season and pre-season, ensuring that you’re ready for the busy times and intentionally recharge during the quiet periods. Read more (step 4).
- Be more intentional with time. Want to know what’s really eating up your time? Try a time audit. Write down everything you do during a typical workday in 5-minute increments to see what you can either teach others or stop doing altogether.
- Encourage leaders to take time off. We encourage our leaders to take their vacation (and ask our team members to avoid contacting anyone while they’re off), provide two flex days per month so everyone can take care of life stuff, and offer flexible schedules for those who want time during the day to walk, work out, care for family etc.
- Ask leaders how they’re really doing: And we don’t mean the standard, “How are you?” which will generally elicit the basic, “I’m fine.” Instead, determine how your leaders are truly feeling by asking more precise questions like, “How’s your emotional health on a scale from one to 10?”, “How are you juggling work-life integration?”, or, “Is that task becoming too much for you?” everyone has their bad days, but if a leader is consistently at a 7 or below, they need support.
- Develop a buddy system. Many leaders avoid taking a vacation or other time off because they worry about coming back to a mountain of work. They also feel pressured to solve all the problems all the time. The key is better succession planning—developing your organization’s emerging leaders by showing them how to do tasks and walking them through the process (instead of just doing it for them). Even if it takes time upfront, it will pay off in the long run.
- Book better meetings. Working remotely has meant more meetings than ever for leaders because what used to be a quick coffee chat with a team member now needs to be a formal calendar invite. So, suddenly a manager’s calendar is full of meetings with no time to get actual work done. Some of the leaders we’ve spoken to also complain about the frantic pace of back-to-back Zoom calls, with no time to think or take a breather.
We’re trying to meet less often for less time and build 15-minute breathers between meetings to “context switch.” The 15 minutes allows people to absorb what was discussed and decided upon in the last meeting, and then prepare for the next one. Other strategies to support “context switching” include starting each meeting by briefly reviewing its purpose and recapping meetings at the end to leave attendees in the right headspace and focus. And be sure to check in with everyone on a personal note in meetings—something non-work-related to encourage team bonding.
- Encourage hobbies and life-long learning. You know what they say about all work and no play. Nobody wants to be dull…or tired. We encourage our team members to take courses that interest them—cooking, filmmaking, photography… they don’t have to be related to professional development—and spend time on hobbies that allow their minds to wander from work. It can’t always be about work and family; leaders need to take time for themselves, too.
Move beyond band-aids
Whatever you decide to implement, make sure it has a long-term impact. Sure, it’s nice to offer a special treat like a day at the spa, but those kinds of perks are short-lived. As soon as the leader is back in their seat, the exhaustion will follow them there, too.
Instead, make a concerted effort to address exhaustion over the long term by intentionally setting boundaries, prioritizing work and encouraging time off, so leaders can rejuvenate their minds.
And remember, all leaders look to their senior leadership team for guidance, so it’s important for senior leaders to walk the talk, too. They need to set boundaries, take time off, avoid sending emails outside of core office hours and prioritize their own mental health.