6 Pieces of Advice to Help PMs Handle Team Burnout
“Ugh, Monday’s here already!”
“I just can’t wait for this project to end and finally take a break.”
“I’m tired of being tired all the time.”
It’s startling how often we hear these things being said all around us but are too immersed in a whirlpool of our own tasks and to-dos to even notice. Sure, we’re all busy working to be on top of our game, and that does lead to some level of fatigue, but the impact of burnout is at a deeper level.
UX designers love their jobs for the challenges it brings and the problems they get to solve as a part of it. But the demanding aspect of their job – where their top task is to find creative solutions, day in and day out can take a toll. Burnout is quite common now with two-thirds of full-time workers having experienced it on the job, across all industries and roles.
As a product manager, you can spot the signs of burnout in your team, such as an increasing number of sick leave requests, or brainstorming sessions that are low on energy and ideas. There are, however, certain steps you can take to stem the impact of burnout on your team members.
Look for signs of team burnout
What leads to burnout? Well, it is important to note that burnout does not always have to be work-induced. Certain individuals can also experience a high level of stress from their life outside of work, which can impact the way they perform. Whatever the source of the stress may be, the PMs should know how to address burnout and ensure their team members receive the help they need. Combat burnout by showing gratitude, boosting morale, productivity, and reducing stress. Benefits of showing gratitude to employees include appreciation, recognition, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.
Burnout can take shape in various forms, such as physical, mental, or emotional, depending on the individual of course, but there are some telltale signs that help you better identify it –
- Lowered motivation and productivity
- Being in a state of constant anxiety
- Lack of focus
- Increased apathy
- Constant negativity or cynicism
- Heightened sensitivity (towards menial things)
These signs of burnout can also be applied to teams. If these are accompanied by an increase in sick leave requests along with a general loss in productivity, there’s a fat chance that the team may be experiencing burnout.
Tips to help your team deal with burnout
Get to the source of it
The first step is always to identify the origin of the stress and get to the root of what is actually causing burnout. Potential factors could range from massive workload to leadership issues, lack of clarity on roles and expectations, or unfair treatment. Not to forget, there could be factors outside of work, such as financial woes or family strife.
Speaking to your team member directly is the only way to help your team manage stress anxiety and burnout. This is not a situation where you can rely on your assumptions or hunches, no matter how long you’ve been working together or how well you know them. While it might seem easy to approach a team member already assuming you know what the problem is. However, you should aim to create an open space for your team where they can safely talk about what’s actually going on, instead of you leading the conversation.
Talking to the person is the best way to know what’s really bothering them and identify the best way to tackle it. Plus, the person at the receiving end is sure to appreciate how you’ve identified their concerns and want to help them overcome them.
Create a safe space to have these conversations
To begin with, acknowledge the fact that it can be supremely awkward for team members to feel free and talk about how the work environment is contributing to their burnout. Keep in mind that as the manager, you could be the very cause why your team is facing burnout. The fear of repercussions on their performance reviews or being perceived as less hardworking can be why they refrain from coming to you to seek solutions. If this sounds like something your team members might do, it is time to do a complete revaluation of the kind of work environment you’ve managed to build.
A good PM is someone who always keeps the door open for communication and makes sure that their team knows they’re available. Despite this, talking about work issues is complicated and intimidating to many, therefore you, as the manager, can take the initiative and be the one who starts the discussion. You can call the said person for a talk and be the one who acknowledges the problem and creates a safe space for the team member to say what’s on their mind.
Such one-on-one conversations are the best way to address the well-being of your team members. Addressing them as a group can create a few tensions, especially if there is conflict within the team that’s the root cause of the stress. So, burnout or no burnout, make sure that you make a regular practice of catching up with your team members one-on-one to discuss everything under the sun. This helps in creating a good rapport and creates a safe space for team members to share their thoughts without feeling odd about it.
Advocate for your team
Besides being responsible for the product outcomes, a major part of your deliverables is the well-being of your team. This involves taking charge of ensuring that your team feels cared for and supported in the organization and preventing team burnout. When your team members experience burnout, it is your advocacy skills that will decide how well they’re able to tide over the situation. Now, depending on what’s causing the burnout, you can choose how you take a stand for your team. You can offer help in multiple ways such as creating flexible work schedules where people have things to take care of at home. In case the cause of stress is the client (rude behavior, unrealistic demands), you can step up and diffuse the situation by taking it up with the relevant people in their company.
The steps you take to advocate your team’s needs might vary depending upon the source of the strain, but the fact remains that you’re the one who is responsible to lead their fight against burnout.
Let them know they have access to help
Burnout – regardless of what’s causing it – ends up creating a serious impact on an individual’s mental health. Therefore, it is important to provide team members with access to professional help if required. On your part, you can share details of wellness avenues offered by the company such as counseling sessions or periodic wellness retreats or insurance policies covering the costs of therapy, etc. Do what you may, remember that while you can guide them towards these avenues of well-being, you are not expected to advise them as a mental health professional would.
Be the one who sets boundaries and abides by them
There are PMs, who under the guise of “work pressures” or “deadlines”, make it acceptable to regularly contact team members beyond work hours. Well, their team would be pressured to oblige their leader, even in situations when they’re not expected to. As the PM you’re setting a precedent for what an acceptable work culture looks like for your team. Therefore, it is important that you set the boundaries and keep the work environment fair and healthy.
Take a step back from time to time to reflect on your own behavior to make sure you’re abiding by the boundaries you’ve set for your team. So the next time you get that fantastic idea at 11 PM that you can’t wait to share with your team, just wait. There’s always a tomorrow.
Encourage taking time off
A PM works best when they lead by example, not only in terms of professionalism but also in courtesy and social behavior. When you have a PM who rarely takes time off, their team members are bound to feel weird to do so themselves. PMs who frequently push for extended working hours will create a team that yearns for regulated work timings. Therefore, in the best interests of yourself and your team, take complete advantage of your designated time off and encourage your team to do the same. Regular breaks away from work will go a long way in keeping your team refreshed and raring to go.
A lot has changed in the way we work over the past couple of years, with remote working coming into focus. It has definitely had an impact on the stress levels of the collective workforce, be it positive or negative. Has anyone in your team been suffering from burnout lately? We welcome you to share your tips on how you helped them overcome it.