How to Help Your Team with Burnout When You’re Burned Out Yourself

As a manager, you want to do right by your employees and support them through intense work periods so they don’t get burned out. But this can be a challenge when you’re feeling overly stressed yourself. How can you take care of yourself so that you have the time and energy to support your team? What steps do you need to take to reduce your stress level? And what actions can you take to improve your team members’ well-being?

What the Experts Say
It’s tough to find the energy you need to help others when you yourself are at your limits. Burnout — as opposed to more run-of-the-mill stress — can cause you to “feel utterly depleted,” says Susan David, a founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching and author of Emotional Agility. And it “can permeate all aspects of your life. You are overtired and under-exercised; you’re not attentive to food and nutrition; and you’re disconnected from relationships.” But it’s not just you who suffers. “Your team is picking up on your stress, and it’s making everything worse,” says Whitney Johnson, the author of Build an A-Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve. So for the sake of both your health and the health of your employees, you need to summon all the resources you can to improve matters. Here’s how to do that.

Make your own health a priority
Before you can help your team members manage their stress, you need to manage your own. “Instead of hunkering down and concentrating” on your job, “you need to stop, look around, and figure out how you’re going to help your people get what they need,” says Johnson. A good starting point is to take care of your physical and mental health. Eat healthy, wholesome food; exercise regularly; get plenty of sleep at night; “try meditating, and find someone to vent to”— preferably “not your boss.” Taking care of yourself is not an indulgent luxury; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Johnson suggests sharing your tension-management techniques and rituals with your team. “Say, ‘here’s something I’m doing to manage the stress. This is how I cope.’”

Tackle the problem as a group
Even if you haven’t fully reigned in your stress, it’s helpful to demonstrate that you take the issue seriously. You can even suggest that you all take on self-care as a team — learning meditation as a group or sharing tips about what practices are working to reduce stress. You can make it a team goal to keep stress under control, says David. “Say to your team, ‘Even in the context of this change, how do we come together?’” This is helpful for the group but will also keep you accountable for taking care of yourself. Don’t force anyone into these activities though. A sense of autonomy can counteract the symptoms of burnout so you want people to feel they are making their own choices.

Exhibit compassion
Don’t be so hard on yourself or your team. “Burnout can often feel like a personal failing,” says David. But of course, that’s not true: We are all susceptible to it — and, in fact, our “environment precipitates” it. We are “living in an imperfect world, and yet we expect perfection.” Many organizations breed stress. “The ambiguity, the complexity,” not to mention the 24/7 nature of technology, leads many of us to feel “an extreme level of strain.” Be compassionate. Recognize, both inwardly and publicly, “that all of us are doing the best we can with the resources we have been given.” This doesn’t mean that you’re “lazy or letting yourself off the hook.” Rather, you’re “creating a psychologically safe place for yourself and others.” Johnson recommends talking your team through stressful periods in an honest but upbeat way. Yes, the workload is intense. And yes, big, high stakes projects are daunting. Tell your team, “‘We are in this together, and I know we can deliver.’”

Set a good example
You also need to “think about the [behaviors] you’re modeling” to your team, says David. “If you’re running from meeting to meeting and don’t have enough time in the day to breathe,” what message does that send? Set a good example by making downtime a priority. Show your team that you don’t always operate in full-throttle mode at the office. “Bring humanity back into the room,” she says. Johnson agrees. When “your people are completely overwhelmed,” you need to “encourage them to take regular breaks,” she says. “They need time to rest and rejuvenate and disconnect from work.” It’s also important to set limits on how much work encroaches on evenings and weekends. Whatever you do, “don’t send anyone on your team an email at midnight,” says Johnson. “You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this out.’ But you’re also throwing a grenade into your employees’ peace of mind.” Instead, she recommends using Boomerang, or a similar program, that allows you to schedule emails.

Focus on the why
A common symptom (and cause) of job-related burnout is a “disconnect between a person’s values” and the work at hand, says David. “You feel stressed and tired, and yet you continue to work and work and work,” all the while forgetting what drew you to your career and organization in the first place. “It can be toxic.” As a leader, you need to “develop a shared sense of why” — as in, why are we driven to accomplish the mission? As a boss, it’s your job to galvanize your team. Remind them of the objective and why it’s important to the organization and your customers. When people have shared values and connection they are more likely to feel positively about their work.

Advocate for your team
If you and your team are suffering under a heavy workload, it might be time to ask your boss for a reprieve. It is your responsibility “to advocate for your team within the context of your organization’s goals,” says Johnson. She recommends talking to your boss about the effect stress is having on morale and performance. “Say, ‘My team is fully committed to this project, but people are tired. And we all know the law of diminishing returns.’” Convey the consequences of burnout and describe how it is in your boss’s best interest to take action. “There are going to be mistakes and slippage. And those will be costly.” Explain that you’re worried you might lose people who are valuable to the organization. Then ask, “can this deadline be pushed back? Or can this assignment be curtailed?” Think, too, about what you can “put in place within your team that can help,” says David. Perhaps certain meetings can be discarded or at least shortened. It’s “important that leaders go to bat” for their employees.

Be a source of optimism
Whenever work is frenzied and frantic, make a concerted effort to promote positivity, says Johnson. This is hard to do when you are stressed out but “look for the good,” she says. “Smile at people. And be kind.” Make sure you regularly acknowledge, recognize, and thank people for their efforts. “Say, ‘I notice you did X. Thank you. I appreciate it.’” Cultivate a feeling of community and social support. When your team hits a milestone or when a particular crunch time is over, celebrate. Acknowledge the accomplishments — yours and the team’s.

Principles to Remember


  • Encourage your team to take regular breaks and seize opportunities to rejuvenate.
  • Support your team with inspiring language. Your message should be, “We are in this together.”
  • Go to bat for your team. If the workload is too heavy, ask your boss if deadlines can be moved or tasks reassigned.


  • Neglect your health and wellbeing. Take good care of yourself and share your favorite stress-reducing strategies with your team.
  • Consider burnout a personal failing. Recognize, both inwardly and publicly, that people are doing the best they can with the resources they have.
  • Get bogged down in negativity. Be a source of optimism and try to cultivate positivity in the ranks.

6 Ways to Prepare Your Organization for Change

Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is among those who believe the coming business transformation will be on a par with the vast changes brought about by the steam engine, electric power, and the introduction of computing.

Schwab identifies several ways businesses will need to change to survive in this new era:

  • They must look “outside in” to embrace the developments outside their industry that have the potential to radically change what’s happening within it.
  • They must create internal cultures of innovation willing to embrace rapidly-changing ways of doing things.
  • They will need to “resist short-term thinking” and keep focused on the long-term changes that these technologies can bring to their business.

Schwab argues that the profound nature of technological developments in areas like artificial intelligence and genetic engineering will require business leaders “to draw deeply on their values and those held by their employees and stakeholders to both navigate and shape” this new industrial revolution.

Three Factors That Define Organizations Ready for Change

First, effective leadership is in place at all levels in the organization. Your organization may have excellent pay, benefits, and employee-friendly policies, but if incompetent leaders are in place, your team will not be motivated to adapt and change.

Second, your people are personally motivated to change. Change happens when people are sufficiently dissatisfied with the status quo and are willing to make the effort and accept the risks involved in doing something new.

Third, your company culture is accustomed to collaboration. Effective change demands collaboration between willing and motivated parties.

Six Techniques for Fostering Change in Your Business

Here they are:

  • Share information freely. Information is the lifeblood of any organization.
  • Help people see why the change is necessary. During times of change, getting and disseminating information is critical to operating effectively, flexibly, and quickly.
  • Encourage participation within your team. Allow others to make informed decisions, rather than imposing your own. This will increase employee autonomy and empower your team members to do their best work.
  • Make communication a two-way process. Talk but also listen, especially to people who are resistant to change.
  • Get into the trenches with frontline employees to better understand the day-to-day issues they face.
  • Push decision making down to the lowest levels possible. Give people practice in collaborative work between functions by tackling problems and assigning projects through cross-functional teams.

Change is part of the new normal. Outperforming leaders will be those who help their people get ready.

Although creating a culture that is ready for change is not easy, it will be worth it.

5 Steps Towards Maximum Productivity, Across Your Life

We all know the things we’re supposed to do to be healthy, like exercise and eat well. Did you know doing them more can also help you do more, in work and life?
Activities that are physically and mentally healthy can directly correlate to a rise in productivity. There are 5 life hacks that you can do today to boost your productivity.

  1. Don’t Multitask, Do Multipurpose

Researchers have found that multitasking is impossible. Our brains can concentrate on just one thing at a time, and if we get distracted, it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus.

That doesn’t mean, though, that people can’t do two things at once. Productivity coach Nicole Bandes encourages what she calls “multipurposing” — accomplishing one focused task and one routine task at the same time.

For Example:

  • Listen to that skills-building podcast while you’re shopping for groceries.
  • Instead of eating lunch alone, grab a bite with a colleague and have a work meeting.
  • Schedule a conference call as you’re commuting (but not driving!) in the morning.

“It’s about getting multiple benefits out of one task,” she says. “You can complete two things if it doesn’t require having you to focus in two different directions.”

  1. Keep Moving

For years, Kaitlin Bitting aimed to schedule a workout into her day, but the Philadelphia public relations professional could never find the time. Finally, about a year ago, the natural night owl started setting her alarm for 6 a.m. to get to the gym first thing.

“I can sleep with the best of them,” she said. “But I needed to find uninterrupted time to exercise.”

While she started the workouts to improve her health, Bitting quickly noticed another payoff: She was far more productive at work.

Consider This:

  • Work out in the morning or at lunch, when you still have work left to do — it can help you do more during the day.
  • Get a standing desk. “Sitting is the new smoking,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of executive and international medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “So even getting a workstation where you can stand up can help.”
  • Take the stairs as much as you can, and get up and go for a walk during a work break.

Bitting became so productive, she found time to start moonlighting as a health and wellness coach.

“I feel best when I’m motivated and energized to do what I need to do during the day,” says Bitting. “It’s taken time, but I now know my body and how to increase my productivity.”

  1.  Go to Sleep

Working sleep-deprived can be akin to working drunk.

“People have failed sobriety tests when they don’t get enough sleep,” Faubion says. “Our brains don’t work well when we’re tired.”

Getting seven to eight hours is a must, she says. Easier said than done, right?

Consider This:

  • Go to bed and get up the same time every day. Studies have shown this reinforces your circadian rhythm and helps keep sleep quality consistent.
  • Get a real alarm clock, and leave the phone in the other room. “If you wake up in the middle of the night and start looking at email, you’ll train yourself to get up at night,” Faubion says. And don’t look at the phone at least an hour before it’s time to go to sleep. The light from your phone can delay your body’s release of melatonin, which helps invite your body to sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
  • Don’t drink anything two hours before bedtime so your body won’t want to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night — and keep you up afterward, Faubion says.
  • Try a sleep mask and a white noise machine to combat noise and light distractions.
  1. Treat Food as Fuel

Healthier eating habits can give us more energy during the day, which in turn, makes us more productive.

Consider This:

  • Rule Number 1: Don’t eat a heavy lunch. “A lot of people get into a big slump after lunch,” Faubion says. “Eat light.”
  • When it comes to snacks, stick to fruits and vegetables. Heavy-in-carb treats, like granola bars, will give you a quick boost of energy, but you’ll crash about 30 minutes later.
  • Keep your coffee intake in check. A cup in the morning and another in the afternoon is OK, Faubion says, but more than that may cause you to become jittery and unfocused.
  • Take some time on the weekend for some healthy snack and meal prep — putting carrots into snack bags or prepping weeknight meals, for example — to avoid succumbing to unhealthy eating during a busy week.

We each react to food in different ways, so be in tune with your body, says Faubion.

  1. Lean on Tools

Taking steps toward a more productive life can be daunting, Bandes says. Don’t rely on your mental energy for everything — tools can help.

There’s no shortage of tasking tools like Asana to help you track and checklist tasks for everything from a work project to your wedding. Consider non-email communications tools like Slack and the AI-assisted Boomerang for Gmail to help make work communications more efficient.

While some of these programs take time to learn and set up, they can ultimately help make your work more efficient and “free up time to do the things that help you meet your goals and move you in the direction you want to go,” Bandes says.

And for the moments when you feel like you’re running on empty, there are meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, that can help restore the mind and bring back focus.

Bryan Borzykowski writes about investing, personal finance, small business and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, CNNMoney and BBC Capital. Bryan is on Twitter: @bborzyko.