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Avoiding Burnout at Times of Change

Kerry Thompson
Business has to change and people need to go through it as humans, not cogs in the wheel of an organisation. Often in retrospect, people realise the change was good and an opportunity for growth, but as that change is happening, it never feels good.

Stuart Webb is a Strategic Management Adviser and Coach, and founder of ‘The Complete Approach’. He has kindly provided a guest blog on a subject he works on with his own clients; avoiding burnout at times of change….

Change causes burnout, and that can destroy your business - here's how to avoid it

“We can't be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, maybe the very reason why you don't have something better.”

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Business has to change and people need to go through it as humans, not cogs in the wheel of an organisation. Often in retrospect, people realise the change was good and an opportunity for growth, but as that change is happening, it never feels good.  

Too often as managers, we fail to recognise the effects of changes we know need to happen to make our business successful are having on the people most affected by the changes. Change can produce burnout in an organisation. Why?  

Change often takes away the ability for people to choose how to work. Having the ability to make at least some decisions about how you spend your time also serves as a hedge against burnout, says Joyce Maroney, director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos. As long as wages are not substandard, employees who can make decisions about job roles and feel they have choices will be more engaged. “And generally speaking, the data says engaged employees do a better job for your customers, they’re more loyal to your company, and they’re going to stay longer. All good things flow from that,” she says.

Giving employees the freedom to find meaning in their work and make an impact pays off, says Michael C. Mankins, co-author of Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, and a partner in management consulting company Bain & Company’s San Francisco office and a leader in the firm’s Organization practice. “Some people reach burnout at 40 hours a week, some people reach burnout at 90 hours a week. It’s very dependent on the individual, and it’s very dependent on how much autonomy and impact that individual feels they have in their job. If you have no autonomy and you’re having no impact, you’ll probably burn out at 40 hours a week,” he says.  

What can managers do to prevent burnout during a change:

  • Create an action plan: By explaining the plan clearly and getting everyone to set manageable goals, creating a series of steps to get from one goal to another, people will feel more in control of the situation, which should help minimize stress. This preparation will also reduce uncertainty, which will minimize people worrying about the unknown associated with upcoming change. 
  • Encourage the use of support networksSocial support is essential in alleviating stress. Encourage people to talk about their fears and answer them among multiple social groups within the workplace. 
  • Encourage people to take care of physical health: The NHS notes that caring for your physical needs by eating healthy foods, exercising, finding time to relax, and getting plenty of sleep can help with coping with stress. This is especially important if there are big changes are on the horizon. 
  • Good, old-fashioned workplace policies are still important: Employees look to their managers to set the example. If a manager is sending emails on a regular basis after hours, employees will feel pressured to do so, too. Conversely, if a manager treats a day off truly as a day off by unplugging and trusting their coworkers to step up in their absence, their employee will be much more likely to do so. France has made it a right to ignore emails when not at work, and although that may seem extreme, it might protect people from excessive burnout. 
  • Ensure that people base everyday actions on self-worth rather than self-esteem. For example, encourage exploration of what is valuable about work (and why), vs. how valuable they are. 

People need to be given enough information about the changes which are planned and by ensuring people think about their self-worth during the change, it is possible to reduce the risk of burnout during a change.  

To find out more about Stuart’s work, check out, where you can read what advice The Complete Approach offers start-up and growing businesses. 

Struggling with burnout? Contact me to start fighting the fire!

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