Burnout Is About More Than Long Hours. Nonstop work is part of what leads to burnout, but it's not the whole picture. Enduring productivity is often about balancing intense output with periods of regeneration.
Q: I'm worried about my employees burning out. What can I do to help? — Miller, Columbus, Ohio
Instead of thinking about ways to prevent burnout, invert the question. Ask how you can fill your employees with energy, creativity, excitement, and fulfillment.
Why? Because burnout is rarely about hours alone. You need to explore how much you're draining your employees and how much you're filling them up.
We must cultivate endurance. As a recovering adherent to the work-all-day-and-never-sleep lifestyle, it took me time to realize this. But now I realize that relentless work does not result in maximum output. I want my employees to work hard, care deeply, and push the limits of what they think they can achieve, and that requires a balance between intense work and rest.
Deep wells rarely run dry. Here are a few ways you can help your team feel balanced.
1. Embrace time off.
The traditional "two weeks off a year" is outdated, especially when we're plugged in all the time. Long ago I decided to offer unlimited vacation time. Is there a risk that your employees will take too much time off? Of course. But that's a hiring issue. When there's trust, good employees will take off what they need and have your back when you need it.
2. Remove the fear of failure.
Employees hate making a mistake and then receiving a terrifying email or text from a boss. We've all been there. A culture that doesn't tolerate errors is mentally draining. If you remove fear, you reduce stress and support creativity. Let your employees see this by embracing mistakes and using "failures" as an opportunity for everyone to learn and grow.
3. Invest in personal growth.
Every year, I ask my employees where they would like to improve. Then I encourage them to find opportunities that will help them achieve those goals and offer to invest in their growth. If you show your employees that you care and put actions behind your words, you might find that your employees do even more work for your company because it's fulfilling.
4. Understand career goals.
Similar to investing in their personal growth, it's important to understand how your employees would like to progress within your company. It's not just about the value an employee brings to the business; it's about the value you bring to the employee. If your employees know that you're thinking about how they move up the ranks, they're encouraged to stay and succeed.
5. Encourage deep thought.
Finally, give your employees time to zoom out of the day-to-day tactical execution. We get so busy that we rarely press pause, step back, and think strategically about big picture opportunities or pivots. At my consultancy, for example, we try to limit meetings and calls to two days per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), and leave three days open for deep work and creative thought. It's an easy shift that makes our team much happier.
There isn't one way to avoid burnout. And yet as a guy who has taken himself to burnout one too many times, I've learned this: If you want your employees to be hustlers, it's best to reject hustle culture.
Work is hard. But if you're consistently working to show your employees you care, investing in their growth, and providing opportunities to recharge and recover, you're likely to find that happiness and output will dramatically improve.