4 Phase Approach to Managing Burnout in Organizations


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Burnout is a culture killer right now.

Many employers are talking about it and trying to figure out what it is, how it differs from stress and what to do about it.  If you are trying to manage burnout in your teams, this post may help give you some helpful places to start to help your team manage burnout. 

What is Burnout?

Burnout is different from stress.  Stress is defined as psychological strain or distress resulting from exposure to unusual or demanding situations known as stressors (Schabracq, Winnubst and Cooper 2004)

Going a bit further on this, occupational stress is defined as a response to occupational stressors in the workplace that pose a perceived threat to an individual’s well-being (Schabracq et al, 2002).

And wrapping it up on stress to include psychological stress which is a reaction of the environment in which there is a:

  • Threat of net loss of resources
  • A loss of net resources
  • A lack of resource gain following the loss of resources

Now on to burnout.

Burnout is the affective reaction to prolonged exposure to stress at work to which the demands of the job exceed the individual’s adaptive resources. 

The definition looks like this:  It is the state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life or a relationship that has failed to produce an expected reward. 

Do you see now how they correlate?  Burnout is what happens if stress in the workplace continues without being addressed or without direction towards hope of things improving.  

In my prior life, I worked as a Physician Assistant.  For 7 of my 13 years in practice, I worked in Cardiology.  I loved working in that practice and had the opportunity to work with 8 amazing doctors and a few different PA’s and NP’s.  The work I did there was rewarding and fulfilling for the most part because I loved developing the relationships with my patients and I loved being able to help them. 

I’ve always been wired that way.  I love helping other people.  

I became a Health Coach while working in cardiology and experienced my first moments of being able to help people in a very different way.

Before getting certified as a health coach, I remember feeling like I could do more and feeling frustrated because insurance wouldn’t pay for my patients to see a dietician to help them lose weight which would help them get off their medications. 

If I were to look back now, that frustration I experienced and the feeling like I could do more was likely burnout.

It was this feeling of “I got into medicine to help people, but it seems like I can’t give them the help they need or want.”

My patients felt stuck.  

They felt like no one was listening to them.  

They felt hopeless and that crushed me. 

Health Coaching was the answer I found and it was something I could do to effectively help patients. 

So how did that affect burnout for me?

It gave me hope.

It gave me action steps to take to make a difference.

It allowed me to develop skills and develop myself. 

Feeling frustrated without knowing what to do to feel better is like feeling trapped under water not knowing what to do to get your head above water. 

Knowing what this feels like and seeing what is going on in the world post pandemic, there is hope to move individuals and your organization forward from burnout to establishing a healthy culture. 

One of the things I do is work with organizaitons to help them set the foundation of where they are.  Many of them highlight burnout or problems with retention as the foundation of where we are starting. 

For this post, let’s focus on the 4 things you can do to start moving away from burnout culture and move toward collaborative teams. 

Phase 1:  Focus on self efficacy and individual burnout management.

In other words, it’s about helping your people by giving them language on how to feel better.  The first thing I do in this phase is gauge where we are or set the foundation for each person.  Everyone on the team gets the same language, tools and training.  From there, we move forward with self awareness of resilience based on personality type. 

I use something called the 5 Voices Assessment which is a free tool.  It is a personality assessment and yes I know what you are thinking.  Another personality assessment….

Here’s why I use this. 

Personality assessments (this one in particular) help to increase self awareness.  Without understanding our tendencies and understanding how to feel better or the specific steps we can take with our individual personality, how can we manage stress and burnout? 

This assessment allows a much deeper dive into what can help each personality get back to health faster.  It is a way to recalibrate quicker and it is incredibly useful.  

I’ve read a bunch of studies on burnout and all of them highlight self efficacy as a way to help manage burnout.  This makes perfect sense because individually, we have to know what makes us feel better when we are feeling stressed or burned out. 

Phase 2:  How to manage burnout – shifting towards forward thinking

Now, remember that I am a coach.  What do coaches love?  We love to see progress and growth.  I’m no different.  

Phase 2 is all about how to set the tone of a healthy culture moving forward.  

Set the foundation of where people are at in phase 1, but in phase 2, hit the ground running with a vision of where you want your team to head.  

Phase 2 is increasing self awareness and then moving towards understanding others or growing emotional intelligence.

Setting the tone or the baseline is an important first step towards growth.  You have to know where you are before you can set a clear vision of where you are headed.  When you are working in a team, it is crucial that you have a clear vision for your team to grab onto. 

Phase 3:  Building Collaborative Teams

This phase is all about build.  

You know where you started.

You have gained self awareness and others awareness.

Now is the time to keep moving forward.  Remember, everyone is using the same leadership language, they have the same tools and training so this expedites the process of growth as a team.  

If you have ever read the book Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath… we are directing the elephant here.  We are directing the path for all the people so it makes things move in one direction.

Phase 3 is all about setting the tone to how everyone will function in the team moving forward.  We discuss things that can kill culture and how to get past those.  We discuss ways to communicate so that every voice around the table is heard because remember, we are focused on building collaborative teams here.

Phase 3 sets the foundation for what is expected moving forward.

Phase 4:  How to Build and Keep Trust and Problem Solve as a Team

Now that you have the expectations set for healthy culture, Phase 4 is all about how to build and keep trust as well as how to solve problems as a team.  

Now that you have teams that can collaborate, this is really working the muscle of being able to use the teams to create massive impact for your company.  

Phase 4 is the healthy culture you want to see.  

Here’s the thing you might be asking.

I have to wait all the way to Phase 4 to get these kind of teams and my answer is no.

You will notice a shift along the way of engaged leaders who want to continue on this path of feeling better, because you started helping them with language and steps to feel better in Phase 1.  

People want to feel seen and heard.  If you start there, engagement improves rapidly.  

Giving people the same consistent language and tools is the other massive thing that kicks this process into high gear. 

So there ya have it.  If you are noticing burnout, turnover, employees who are just not engaged – this pathway is for you. 

If you want to build a strong culture of committed employees who rave about where they work, this process will deliver just that. 

If you feel like this might be you, feel free to book a Leadership Audit with me.  I’d love to help you gain clarity.

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