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Protect Your Most Important Asset - A Leaders Guide to Preventing Your People from Burning Out

Whenever we try to help our people with anything, we need to remember one of the keys to being a great leader, leading by example. If you feel like you are struggling with overwhelming stress yourself, you may need to get yourself to a more balanced place before you can help prevent anyone else from getting burnt out. The good news is, once you experience this for yourself, you will be much more effective at helping others manage stress.

Burnout is something we want to prevent from occurring before it ever happens. Once an employee is officially burnt out, it takes a lot more work to get them back to the motivated, high-performing, positive person they were before the stress became too much.

The worst thing about burnout is it usually happens to the fast-paced, competitive, highest-performing reps. You know, the one that is first to the office, last to leave, and answers every email/text/call within minutes? They are great. Until the day when they break. You will notice a few or all these signs listed:

Performance at work begins to decline.

Overwhelmed and not accomplishing much

Complain more often and cannot come up with solutions to improve the situation

Response times become longer (and they might even forget to reply at all)

Care less about their appearance

Start working later and stop working earlier.

Become easily frustrated with colleagues and clients

Talk about being tired all the time.

Lose interest in upward movement


Like you can predict, prevent, and overcome burnout by focusing on your attitude, approach, and actions, you can help your team members with the same approach.

You can usually predict burnout by noticing a few key things about a person’s attitude:

Do they doubt their abilities even when they have completed all the training (and did well)?

Do they get overly upset when they encounter rejection?

Are they disappointed in themselves when they are not number one (even if they are still in the top 5%)?

A person’s attitude determines how they bounce back from a situation and impact how they respond to setbacks. Burnout occurs when people are frustrated and stressed for an extended period and do not address it before it is too late.

If you think someone’s attitude is the area to focus on, here are a few ways you can help them adjust their attitude to prevent and overcome burnout:

Give them recognition. It is important to make praise specific and focus on both small and big wins.

Foster a sense of community. According to Maslach, a healthy community is necessary to mediate the stresses of work: "People thrive in community and function best when they share praise, comfort, happiness, and humor with people they like and respect. In addition to emotional exchange and instrumental assistance, this kind of social support reaffirms a person's membership in a group with a shared sense of values."

Make sure you show them how much you care about them as humans. Take time to ask about their family, friends, interests, or anything else you genuinely care about. This creates an environment where they feel cared about, which improves their attitude towards work and helps them bounce back when things get difficult.

It is simple to predict someone’s risk of burnout by studying their approach. Here are a few key things to look out for:

Do they plan their day/week/month before it starts?

Are they willing to take on all extra responsibilities?

Are they focused on more than 1-2 key priorities most of the time?

Some individuals can go 110 mph for a surprisingly long time, but the day will come when they are forced to slow down. That slowdown usually is a complete shutdown if someone gets to the point of true burnout.

As leaders, you can do a lot to positively impact your people’s approach that will enable them to prevent and, even overcome, burnout. Below are just a few ideas:

Give them ample time-off and help them plan how to use it. Especially in sales, people do not want to take off because nobody else will sell for them while they are out. As their leader, you can help them front-load their activity in the month so they can take time off and still complete enough work to be able to relax while they are out.

Have team members share best practices on their approach. What is working that we should do more? What is not?

Help team members prioritize their tasks. 

The final area of focus, when predicting burnout, is our actions. This can overlap slightly with our approach, but the approach focuses more on the plan for success, while the actions are what we ultimately do. Here are some signs that you will notice in future burnout:

They respond to emails and all other communication 24/7/365.

They accomplish much more in a day than anyone else (this is great if we can help them sustain it).

They sleep less than 7 hours/night.

They drink copious amounts of caffeine and/or alcohol.

As you know, we cannot force anyone to change. As leaders, we can greatly impact someone’s decision, and, in the end, it must be up to them to implement something new.

Below are a few ways we can help someone prevent and overcome burnout by starting a new action, stopping an old one, or both:

Encourage team members to read books and listen to podcasts on time management, balance, and key skills needed to be great at their job.

Reimburse employees for a portion of gym memberships, home fitness equipment, or any other wellness-related expense. I worked for an organization that allowed us to expense $300/year on this.

Refrain from emailing people outside of work hours or on their days off and, if you cannot do this, let them know you expect them to have set hours where they do not work and focus on recharging instead.

Give them a wellness day off once a quarter that does not impact their PTO and provide training on how they can get the most out of this day. Watching 8 hours of TV while drinking beer will not give them the intended recharge. 

Many people do not get burnt out because of the workload alone. The chances of burnout greatly increase or decrease depending on the quality of their leaders. It is up to you to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your team, and it is up to you to do what you can to keep your people productive and happy for the long run.

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