• Nov 08 2022

Burnout and the Bottom Line in the Era of Constant Change

Burnout negatively impacts our productivity and engagement at work, as well as our physical and mental health, and more than 70% of today’s leaders report feeling burned out.* What are the physiological causes of burnout, and what strategies can organizations and individual leaders adopt to become more resilient and create thriving work environments?

During a virtual event, Dr. Srini Pillay, neuroscientist and human behavior expert, and Stephen Bailey, CEO and co-founder of ExecOnline, discussed how to harness insights from brain science and organizational psychology to build a resilient workforce. Here are the key takeaways from the conversation.

Empathy is the Future of Leadership

Empathetic Leadership is identified as one of the three most valuable future-ready skills leaders can develop. Why? 

As the pace of change in the business environment continues to accelerate, organizations will face more frequent shocks and disruptions to strategy, workflow, and process. These conditions lead to workforce burnout if employees are not sufficiently supported by leaders and organizational culture at large. 

Leaders must have the skills to practice emotional empathy (understanding how colleagues are feeling) and cognitive empathy (understanding colleagues’ point of view) in order to foster change resilience, engagement, and wellbeing on their teams.

What Leaders Can Do to Prevent Burnout 

Disrupt the Stress Triggers

Chronic exposure to stress can cause the body’s fight-or-flight response to become overactive and leave us feeling drained, depressed, and anxious (burned out). Leaders and teams can adopt and practice the CIRCA method to disrupt the physiological stress spiral:

  • Chunking: Bucket and stack rank work priorities to tackle an overwhelming to-do list. 
  • Ignore Mental Chatter: Disrupt stressful thought patterns by turning your focus to your breath. 
  • Reality Check: Remind yourself that the stressful scenario is only temporary. 
  • Control Check: Focus on the stressors whose outcomes you can control, and let go of those not in your control.
  • Attention Shift: Shift your focus from the problem to the solution.

Harness the Unfocused Mind

The brain’s default mode network is what allows us to make connections between concepts, memories, and ideas. But it can only be accessed when we stop focusing. If feeling stressed and drained, rather than trying to force yourself to focus, a better strategy might be to take a break and let the unfocused mind take over while you recharge. (Tip: doodling or going for a walk are great prefrontal cortex recharge activities)

What L&D Teams Can Do to Prevent Burnout

Empathetic leadership must go all the way to the top. If employees don’t get the message to prioritize their wellbeing from seniormost leadership, best practices for preventing burnout won’t be adopted at scale. Cultural transformation is needed to truly achieve a human-centered workplace. 

L&D has a significant role reinventing organizational culture to focus on the experience of its employees. Leaders need to develop skills that will help them retain and engage diverse talent while driving business results. 

When designing transformational learning and development strategies, L&D should view futurized and humanized leadership capabilities as guideposts.

Dr. Srini Pillay, CEO of NeuroBusiness Group, Duke Corporate Education faculty

Your strategy for cultural transformation through learning should have specific goals that you want to achieve over a specified period of time. There are three factors that determine the speed with which your strategic goals will be achieved: 

  • Clarity: Your objectives should be well articulated and understood, serving as clear guideposts as the strategy evolves. 
  • Unity: Consensus and buy-in from key stakeholders should be confirmed at key stages of the strategy.
  • Agility: The L&D strategy should be flexible enough to adapt to emerging challenges and needs while maintaining momentum toward long-term goals. 

Dr. Pillay teaches a series of on-demand programs designed to help leaders leverage brain science to become more resilient and creative at work. The experiences are available in ExecOnline’s Applied Experience Platform and can be paired with individual and group coaching to accelerate learning outcomes. 

Connect with the ExecOnline team to learn about our integrated leadership development solutions, offered in partnership with the world’s top business schools and management experts.

*Source: ExecOnline Q2 2022 Alumni Survey

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