Sometimes, work can be satisfying and fun. A project completed before the deadline. An important deal that goes through smoothly. Profits are up, and the team mood is great! Yet at other times, work is challenging, frustrating or downright stressful. This is normal, and expected. It might even be a good thing. After all, a little bit of stress is motivating. It can drive teams to pull together, push themselves harder and perform better. The problem starts when stress becomes overwhelming or chronic, then it is no longer healthy or helpful. When an individual is under a lot of stress, they become less productive, less resilient and more unhappy. When a team is under stress, each individual is affected, but the entire team is impacted too. Rather than working together like a smooth, well oiled machine, the team becomes out-of-sync, inefficient, and eventually, burned out.
How can I know if my team is burned out?
Burnout is the inevitable result of overwork and excessive stress. At any given time, more than half of employees say they are burned out. Unfortunately, burnout in the workplace is not uncommon. But that doesn’t make it OK. Once burnout sets in, it is hard to fix. Especially in teams, where the wellbeing of each individual directly affects the functioning of the group. The key to avoiding burnout at work is by paying ongoing attention to the team’s behaviors, mood and performance, so you can spot the signs of excessive stress, and take steps to reduce it before it gets out of hand. Here are some ways to know if your team is burned out at work (or getting close to it):
- Decreased productivity: If your team is struggling with tasks that were previously completed with ease, or if they seem overwhelmed by reasonable challenges, it could be a sign of burnout.
- Low morale: When the team seems less enthusiastic and less engaged than usual, then something is clearly bothering them. It may be that stress is taking a toll, leading to a collective apathy and lack of energy.
- Increased absenteeism: A key sign of burnout is when employees frequently take time off or call in sick. If this is happening to several members of the team, then it could be more than just an individual problem – it could be that the team is burned out.
- Lack of communication: When team members are feeling positive and productive, then communication usually flows well. However, if there is a lack of communication and collaboration, or if communication has become unhealthy or toxic, then it could well be because the team is feeling ‘fed up’ and burned out.
- Increased conflicts: Every team sometimes has disagreements and conflicts. However, if there seem to be more or frequent conflicts among team members, or if people are getting triggered by seemingly innocuous interactions, it may be that burnout has already struck.
- Physical symptoms: Burnout at work is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches, neck aches, fatigue or frequent illness. If several team members are suffering from these kinds of symptoms, it might be time to consider whether the team has a case of burnout.
If there is evidence of burnout in your team, it’s important to start implementing tools and strategies right away, to prevent it from getting worse. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be to recover. One of the best tools for stress management – and one that you can easily provide for avoiding burnout in the workplace – is mindfulness.
Dealing with burnout with mindfulness
Mindfulness is an ancient eastern meditation practice that trains individuals to develop a greater awareness of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they happen, without judgment. By learning to be present in the moment, mindfulness can help people identify the signs of stress, acknowledge and accept them without resistance, and learn to let them go. This is a very powerful way of managing stress before it becomes overwhelming and turns into burnout. A wonderful advantage of mindfulness meditation is that it can be done anywhere, anytime, including at the office. Many people prefer to start out by using a meditation device, until they become more experienced meditators. There are several meditation apps and courses available at affordable cost, and many companies are offering them to employees as part of their corporate meditation programs. Mindfulness practice can be even more effective by combining it with biofeedback. Biofeedback is a mind-body technique in which the individual uses a device to track and display their physiological activity in real time. For example, a biofeedback device can measure heart rate, breathing rate, brain wave activity, temperature and even the skin’s galvanic sweat response. The individual practices relaxation exercises while using the device, and watches how their physiological markers respond. In this way, they can learn how to calm the body, relax the mind and prevent burnout too. The Reflect biofeedback device is ideal for an office or workplace setting, because you don’t need to attach any sensors or wires to your body – just rest your hands on the orb, and the physiological measurements are tracked through the skin. The myriad biofeedback benefits make it an ideal companion to mindfulness meditation, to help reduce burnout among individuals and teams at work.
How can mindfulness help prevent burnout?
There is no magic involved; mindfulness meditation has been shown in hundreds of clinical studies to have beneficial effects on physical and emotional health. Mindfulness is more than a technique – it is a mindset and it impacts every aspect of life, including stress that leads to burnout. Here are 5 ways that mindfulness is effective at reducing burnout in the workplace:
- Relieves stress: The mind and body are inexorably linked. When the mind is stressed and overwhelmed, the body responds with a host of stress-related symptoms, such as headaches, stomach upsets, insomnia, heart palpitations and more. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and breathwork, help calm the mind by focusing deeply on the sensations of the body. When the body relaxes, the mind follows – and when the mind is calm, the body responds by calming down too. Mindfulness helps individuals get into a relaxed and healthy mind-body loop. This is incredibly important to reducing the buildup of stress and preventing burnout.
- Improved focus: A study in Australia showed that people who practiced mindfulness for 8 weeks had increased ability to sustain attention, even 6 months later. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can improve their ability to focus and pay attention, which can lead to increased productivity and better job performance.
- Increased self-awareness: Mindfulness helps individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, which can help them identify when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. This makes them more capable of raising a red flag when they are under too much stress, so they can practice self-care and prevent the full impact of burnout.
- Enhanced resilience: People who regularly practice mindfulness are more present with themselves, and more aware of what they are feeling. In this way, they learn to act with intention, seek out what they need and want, and become more resilient in the face of change. This can help them better cope with challenges and stay productive when setbacks occur at work.
- Improved relationships: By learning to be more present and aware, individuals often find that mindfulness practice improves their relationships too. Mindfulness helps people become calmer, more regulated, and less reactive to difficult emotions as they arise. All of this can benefit the team by helping individuals improve their communication and build stronger relationships with their coworkers.
By incorporating mindfulness practices into their daily routines, employees can enhance self-awareness, reduce stress and improve their overall well-being. As a result, they will be helping to make the team healthier, more productive, and more resilient to burnout.
Help your team create healthy habits
As a team manager, it’s important to cultivate a positive work environment and productive team dynamics that ward off burnout before it becomes a problem. Here are several easy tips and routines you can implement quickly to help your team create healthy habits:
- Have a morning check-in
A great way to stay connected with the team is to schedule a morning check-in before beginning the day’s work. It doesn’t need to be formal; on the contrary, a quick coffee in the kitchen, or just popping by each team member’s desk to see how they are doing is a meaningful and caring way to start the day.
- Set team intentions and goals
Teams are made up of individuals with their own goals and perspectives. It’s important to make sure that everyone is aware and respectful of one another, and to create shared intentions and goals where possible. Once a month, have an intentional meeting, in which the team can discuss where they are, where they are headed, and how they intend to get there together.
- Encourage short meditation breaks
Meditation is a powerful tool for stress management and relief, and the practice must be consistent to be beneficial. Encourage your team to take short breaks during the day to meditate when they feel they need to. Make sure there is a quiet space where they can meditate freely, and that they have access to the meditation devices or apps they need.
- Help them stay active during the day
Physical movement is a great stress burner, and prolonged sitting can lead to all kinds of aches and pains. Make sure to let the team know that they can get up and walk around if they need to, or even take a brisk walk outside. Encourage them to stretch at their desks. Standing desks and ergonomic furniture are also great at preventing the buildup of muscle tension.
- Lunch together
Try to get the team to eat together a couple of times a week. Sharing a meal is a wonderful bonding experience and a great opportunity to connect with one another away from the desk. If it’s a busy day and you’re not lunching as a team, check that all team members are making the time to eat properly. Being hungry and overworked is a sure road to burnout.
- Encourage vacation days and flexibility
Now for some great news: research says that vacations are good for you. In fact, one study showed that people’s reaction times improved by 80% after two to three days’ vacation. Teams should be encouraged to take days off when they need to. It doesn’t have to be a big trip abroad; even a weekend getaway or taking a mental health day in the middle of the week will go a long way to preventing burnout. Another tip is to allow your team flexibility in their schedules. For example, if an employee needs to come in late after dropping off the kids at school, that’s ok. Part of being in a healthy team means that people can cover for one another, so the work gets done, even when someone needs time out.
- Remind each other what makes you grateful
One of the most important elements of mental health is having a sense of gratitude. A study at the University of California, Berkeley proved just how much. Participants with mental health issues who wrote a gratitude letter every day reported higher levels of well-being than those who didn’t. The effects were still noted when the participants checked in after 12 weeks. By focusing on the positive, we can even change our brains: in the same study, fMRI scans of people who practiced gratitude suggest heightened neural sensitivity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which affects personality, behavior, planning, and decision-making. Encourage your team to express their gratitude regularly, perhaps by writing down things they are grateful for, giving shoutouts to one another to show thankfulness, or doing other gratitude exercises.
Mindfulness makes healthy and effective teams
While burnout at work is common, it is not inevitable. It is advisable to stop burnout from happening in the first place, because – like wildfire – once it spreads through the team, it can be very difficult to contain. The best solution is prevention, and that means being proactive with different strategies and tools that reduce stress and improve well-being. At the center of your burnout-prevention plan is mindfulness, a proven, safe and effective technique that any team can learn. Together with other tips and routines above, your team will be calmer, more productive, and less prone to burnout than ever.