Date: 15 Jun 2022

Author: Jemini Team

More than 1 in 10 workers in New Zealand could be suffering from burnout, according to research from Auckland’s University of Technology. According to Jarrod Haar of the university’s Business School, the writing’s on the wall when you witness workers who have problems staying focused, have emotional exhaustion, an indifference to work and an inability to control their emotions. What’s most worrying is that Managers are 219% more likely to be burned out — exactly the same group of people who you’re expecting to lead people from the front and keep whole teams of people motivated.

So why is burnout getting worse for managers in particular? Was it a phenomenon simply caused by COVID-19? — and is there a way to you can stop this toxic trend from reducing the effectiveness of your workforce?

When we look at the last two years (2020 and 2021), it’s easy to blame rising stress levels and other burnout related symptoms on COVID-19. Without a doubt that turned peoples’ lives upside down and had businesses of all sizes fighting for their lives. In some sectors — it was a perfect storm. A rapid switch to remote working, the challenges of dealing with a much higher level of absence and in many industries, a great exodus of people in what became known as the great resignation. The remaining workers were left to pick up the slack and managers had their work cut out to keep the show on the road and maintain productivity with a much lower headcount.

However, there’s evidence out there that suggests that there’s more to this than meets the eye. In 2019 (in a pre-COVID world), BusinessNZ and Southern Cross released their Workplace Wellness report. In the two years from August 2017 to August 2019, their research found that stress had risen by a significant 23.5%. Nobody seems to be able to put their finger on why exactly this is the case — but the trend towards so-called "Hustle Culture" could be one of the causes of this malaise. Particularly in white-collar jobs, professional services and the technology sector, workplace culture has glorified ‘busyness’. People feel the pressure to impress bosses by working long hours — being the first one in and the last one out.

Modern day culture makes people feel like they need to ‘have it all’ and puts pressure on people to make the most of their every waking hour. There’s the pressure to be the perfect parent. The pressure to be fit and make time for Yoga and the gym. The pressure to eat the perfect diet. Then to add insult to injury, a plethora of smartphones, social media and business collaboration apps mean we receive updates, emails and reminders 24/7, completely removing any notion of separation between work-life, home-life and family-life. We are glued to screens 24/7 — and have a crazy addiction to our smartphones.

As a manager with targets to hit and people to manage, that pressure to keep checking emails and keep responding to work emails is only intensified. Which is why some countries like France have created legislation that gives people the right to disconnect outside of working hours. Given the extra layers of responsibility that managers must carry in the workplace (looking after the welfare of others as well as their own), how can you protect the people who must deliver your most important strategic imperatives quarter after quarter?

Globally renowned people and analytics consultancy Gallup have been tracking the upwardly creeping burnout rates of people in Management roles. Their research has found that there’s a few key factors that can lead to Manager burnout:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Lack of communication
  • Unreasonable time pressure
  • Lack of support from senior management

Furthermore, they make specific, simple to understand recommendations to reduce manager burnout:

More than 1 in 10 workers in New Zealand could be suffering from burnout.

Research from Auckland’s University of Technology

1. Ensure that leadership provide clear and open communication

Even post COVID, the world remains a fragile place. War in Ukraine, coupled with rising global inflation means there is a lot of uncertainty. Businesses are having to adapt fast to ensure they thrive and survive. Managers need to be able to reassure their teams and speak truthfully about what changes mean to business as usual. By keeping open lines of communication with managers across the business, they can keep everyone up to date and avoid teams blowing off course. Your managers need to be delivering employee performance management based on a business direction and strategy that is up to the minute. You can’t afford for misinformation to blow things off course

Tired Young Woman Leaning Head on Hands
Beautiful Businesswoman Working Late in the Office Using her Laptop

2. Managers need performance appraisals too

It’s all too easy for Senior Managers and Directors to assume that Managers will manage themselves. The truth is, they need access to the same performance management techniques, development opportunities and constant coaching via regular 1-2-1 reviews. Ensure managers don’t feel stuck in their roles; ensure they too have career development plans and understand how they can build themselves in your organisation. If they can’t build a career with you — it’s likely they’ll move to somewhere where they can. Ensure managers are encouraged to take their own medicine — i.e. adopting the same strategies they recommend to their own teams. That might be the importance of reinforcing access to down-time, the right to switch off after hours or even easy access to support with their health (especially mental health). Use performance management software to diarise and manage regular coaching with more senior managers so it becomes habitual — and not just an activity that happens when something goes wrong.

3. Upskill, upskill, upskill

Your managers will have a fighting chance of beating stress and burnout when you make them feel confident to be effective in their roles. Give them the opportunity to build their resiliency. A lot of people are promoted to become managers because they were highly effective in their previous roles. Whilst someone might display great competencies and just the right cultural fit ‘to be management material’, management skills don’t just come naturally. And it takes more than just reading a book or a company manual. Invest in your managers’ skills and competencies so they can get better and better at managing teams of people. By feeling confident to take on whatever life and work throws at them, they’ll succeed instead of feeling out of their depth and overwhelmed. Through an effective performance appraisal system, you’ll capture the skills, competencies and gaps that your managers have — you then have the insights needed to fill those gaps.

Let technology do some of the heavy lifting for you. For example, performance management software can allow you to quickly poll all of your managers via a pulse survey. You can test the temperature of teams in different parts of the business — sensing where work needs to be done.

Let’s face it — stress is inherent in all jobs and at all levels. In fact, low levels of stress can even help 'tune up the brain' and motivate people to achieve better. In your organisation — you need to collectively learn to spot the signs of extreme levels of stress and the other symptoms of burnout. By taking a proactive and serious approach you’ll keep your most valuable management assets strong, healthy, motivated and with the ability to keep their own departments and teams fighting fit to take on your business’ next biggest challenge.

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