Number of the Day: leader burnout

A new survey finds rank-and-file employees aren't the only ones suffering from pandemic-driven stresses.
By: | October 28, 2021

Pandemic-driven burnout has now been plaguing employers, and specifically HR leaders, for more than a year-and-a-half—prompting new strategies like collective time off, enhanced wellness offerings and policies to better promote work/life balance. While the wellbeing of rank-and-file employees has been the focus of this work, they are not only ones suffering, according to a new report from leadership development provider ExecOnline.

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In a survey of several thousand senior leaders, the organization found an alarming rate of burnout: 72% of leaders polled reported being burned out. In particular, the majority reported being “somewhat” burned out, followed by “slightly,” “moderately” and “extremely.”

What it means for HR leaders

No matter the level of severity of leader burnout, it’s an issue that requires immediate attention, says Stephen Bailey, co-founder and CEO of ExecOnline.

Stephen Bailey, ExecOnline

“When leaders are burned out, it is even more likely their teams are burned out,” he says. “This can negatively impact everything from productivity and workplace culture to mental health and employee retention. Because of this, HR leaders need to address the bigger issue at hand, which is the ability of leadership to effectively and empathetically manage current work environment challenges.”

See also: What’s behind the Great Resignation? Blame burnout

For leaders, that includes a host of new issues. In the ExecOnline survey, respondents said their top challenge is managing workloads with smaller teams. In a similar survey earlier this year, they cited supporting their teams’ wellbeing as the top challenge, which has fallen slightly down the ranks, suggesting progress is being made to address employee burnout; however, more than half of leaders still remain concerned about the stresses affecting their employees.

Many of the factors that have fueled employee burnout are also impacting leaders, yet they have added worries, Bailey says.

“Senior leaders, like the teams they manage, are feeling the effects of the pandemic on their mental and physical wellbeing; however, leaders have to shoulder much of the responsibility of ensuring there is no breakdown in productivity,” he says.

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Bailey advises HR leaders to devote specific resources to tackling leader burnout. They should be offered access to development and learning experiences that “arm them for the new future of work,” he says, along with being taught leadership styles that enhance wellbeing on the entire team. Modeling a healthy work/life balance through all levels of the organization can also be effective, he says.

“It is critical,” Bailey says, “that HR leaders address burnout within their organization starting at the very top.”

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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