Well Workplaces Start with Well Leaders

Organisations are facing an employee burnout crisis. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job. 

That's because, as Gallup finds, it's not just the hours, work-life balance, or workplace location that leave employees dissatisfied. Instead, what matters is how they experience that work — how managers lead, coach and treat their team members. 

The link between leaders and burnout

Gallup has found that factors leading to burnout include: 

  • unfair treatment at work 

  • unmanageable workload 

  • lack of role clarity 

  • excessive time pressure 

  • lack of communication and support from one's manager. 

In addition, managers either entirely or significantly influence all five of these experiences, which puts leaders who care about their employees in a challenging situation: They don't want their team to burn out, but they also need to encourage productivity and performance.  

What if the leader is struggling?

Gallup recently discovered that leaders are even likelier than the people they manage to experience burnout. 

And when leaders are exhausted and alienated, your organisation's vulnerability increases. Given managers are responsible for the antidotes to burnout, when they burn out, individual team members can't hope for much help. 

In other words, the people most responsible for team performance are also at the highest risk of burning out. 

So how can managers be expected to improve the engagement and wellbeing of your workforce if they, themselves, are burned out? 

Leading WELL

We can't ask managers to start caring for the people they lead more than we can ask them to speak a new language. So instead, we need to teach them the skills of good leadership.  

That's where the Journey to Leading WELL comes in.  

A Journey to Leading WELL is about people, purpose, and results. Thus, it starts with a primary responsibility towards oneself, i.e., knowing that you will influence the wellbeing of those you lead as a leader.  

Then you'll have to implement best-self practices to have the right mindset and energy levels to be able to RISE.  

Toxic behaviours and their impact on burnout

The comprehensive research conducted by McKinsey found that when toxic behaviours are present, any attempt to improve burnout won't see meaningful improvement.  

According to the research, addressing other organisational factors doesn't meaningfully improve burnout when there are high levels of toxic behaviour. 

Recent research conducted by MIT, where researchers analysed thousands of glass door reviews, identified which behaviours are responsible for the five most significant causes of a toxic workplace:  

  1. Disrespect 
  2. Non-inclusive  
  3. Unethical  
  4. Cutthroat  
  5. Bullying 

Toxic behaviour is not always intentional and can present when individuals are themselves stressed and therefore not equipped to respond with calm and compassion under pressure.  

And regardless of intent, Mckinsey's research also discovered that toxic behaviour spreads faster and wider than good behaviour.  

RISE the antidote to toxic behaviours

RISE stands for: Respectful leaders who value Inclusion and create Supportive cultures where Ethical behaviours are the norm.  

It encourages leaders to think primarily about how they communicate and interact. Everybody desires to be seen, heard and feel like they matter, and when leaders can tap into these elements, it will come back to them in spades.  

RISE gets leaders to realise that every interaction can pull someone up or knock someone down. It helps them to understand and own the shadow cast by their actions and interactions.  

In other words, it reframes success as creating human value and organisational value in harmony. 

The focus must be on increasing the managers' wellbeing and decreasing the likelihood of toxic behaviour. 

Take these three steps to start: 

  1. First, identify the most significant toxic behaviours currently present in your company. 
  2. Meet your leaders with targeted support and educate them about burnout. 
  3. Finally, address the biggest red flags with coaching solutions. 

The bottom line

Underneath all the health, safety and wellbeing programs to prevent burnout, there is a pressing need for human-centred leaders.  

So, rather than approach support through programs and benefits, we also need to coach managers on fostering cultures of care, inclusion and psychological safety, starting with taking care of themselves. 

Because in the end, Leading WELL creates value. That's the key. When looking after people, we have to move from managers to leaders. From manipulation to respect, exclusive to inclusive and from me to us. 

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