Spotting the Signs of Employee Burnout

Chances are that if you hold a leadership position, you’ve seen your team members weather incredible highs and disappointing lows throughout your time together. However, when those emotional valleys seem to last longer than usual, you may be witnessing employee burnout.

What is employee burnout? Burnout was first coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, and refers to a physical and mental state of cumulative stress caused by severe exhaustion. Employee burnout happens when an employee assumes too many responsibilities, which can lead to impaired concentration and emotional breakdowns.

What does burnout look like in the day-to-day operations of a company? An employee may be suffering from burnout if you notice they’re particularly lethargic, irritable, or unable to focus. They might call out sick with greater frequency, express a sense of hopelessness or cynicism towards their career, or isolate themselves from friends and colleagues. Often, the tendency is to frame burnout as a personal problem, like poor time management. In today’s fast paced work environment, burnout may even be seen as a necessary part of being productive, and as something that should just be worked through. But employee burnout can in fact be prevented from a management perspective.

How can you prevent burnout? For starters, conduct regular check-ins with your employees to assess how they’re managing their workload. Though it’s tempting to throw several projects at our best talent, multitasking can exhaust employees and in fact take away from their overall productivity. Managers should focus on fewer, more critical activities, and stress the value of project prioritization to their team members.

In that same vein, express to your employees a sense of flexibility around deadlines. Rigid timeframes—though a great structure to work within—usually exert more negative pressure on employees than positive. This isn’t to say you should get rid of deadlines completely, but you should work collaboratively with your team to establish mutually accepted deadlines that allow them to perform at their highest level.

As a caring leader, you also have the power of setting norms that others look up to. Leverage that responsibility to normalize self-care. Discuss with your team how you relaxed over the weekend or what personal hobbies you partake in. If your employees can see that their manager values personal time, they’ll feel comfortable taking time to replenish their own energy levels.

Why is addressing burnout critical? Beyond the general wellbeing of your employees, burnout poses serious business threats, as well. A recent study determined that workplace stress causes additional expenditures of anywhere from $125 to $190 billion dollars a year in various healthcare costs and paid leave. Moreover, burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be seeking a different job. In this sense, addressing burnout effectively safeguards your company’s future talent and future success.

If you neglect to address the root causes of employee burnout in your organization, you won’t have a workplace that empowers employees to perform at their best. As a caring leader, it’s your job to support your employees so they can best support you in return. That includes reading in between the lines for signs they feel overwhelmed, and stepping in when they don’t realize they need help. If we look out for one another and acknowledge that duty as an essential step in the collaborative process, there’s no telling where our collective potential will take us.

Picking and Perfecting Your Diverse Leadership Behaviors

Yesterday, my family and I went to the pumpkin patch. We went through a complicated selection process, picking up different pumpkins and testing them for size, weight, shape, color, cleanliness, overall appearance, and more. We debated if this particular pumpkin was too green, or if this one was too round, or if this one was too small—essentially conducting mini focus groups for every imaginable quality.

Of course, we rejected a few gourds in favor of others. Though it may seem like a stretch, I would liken this fall tradition to honing our own leadership behaviors at work. In my new book, The Art of Caring Leadership, I explore nine different behaviors that caring leaders exhibit. I believe a truly caring leader encompasses all nine of these behaviors with aplomb and confidence.

But here’s the thing: we as individuals get to choose how many of those behaviors we exhibit. Sometimes, we call on certain behaviors that suit us in the moment. Other times, we take a different approach, it ends up not working, and we have to pivot and adjust in response. Just as we troubleshot different pumpkins in the patch, a caring leader tries every approach at their disposal when guiding their team.

The process of caring leadership is all about trial and error—experimenting with different approaches until you find the ones that work best for you and your team. So how do we discern which behaviors suit us best?

First, we need to be meeting and engaging with our people often—both as a larger team and one-on-one—in order to find out what they need from us. Though it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: the needs of your team members come first. Instead of showing up the same way every day across the board, we should personalize and customize our approach to best address their changing needs and expectations. Each team member is an individual, and should be treated as such. What may seem like too small a pumpkin may be just the right size for someone else, and leadership behaviors are similarly received in different ways based on the person.

Another underutilized tool is organizational surveys. Whether it’s pulse surveys or more sustained, 360-degree feedback, all that information is valuable data we should listen to when trying to determine what areas of improvement need attention and how we can best address them. Instead of randomly trying out different behaviors until one resonates, you can use that energy to intentionally listen to your people’s voices, and architect your leadership approach accordingly. In short: listen first, act second.

The nine behaviors I explore in The Art of Caring Leadership are the arrows in your quiver, the tools in your toolbox, the paint in your palette, and yes, the pumpkins in the patch. Whichever metaphor inspires you most, the message is the same. Picking and choosing different leadership behaviors based on the individual situation is an act of care, and a demonstration of your acuity as a leader. It will take time to become comfortable switching between these behaviors, but that time spent is valuable practice for yourself. So get out there, get practicing, and find the pumpkins that suit you best.

Learning from the Little Moments

I’m often asked where I find my inspiration. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. Of course, I am always inspired by my work, my clients, and the diverse people I connect with every day. I even find there’s nothing more motivating than helping others overcome obstacles, enhance their organizations, and achieve their goals.

However, caring leaders have to source their energy from places outside of their work as well. If your mind is firmly locked within the four walls of the office, you’ll have a significantly harder time coming up with creative solutions, replenishing your energy levels, and fortifying a sense of self-worth independent of your job performance.

So where should you look for that inspiration? I argue that sometimes you don’t even need to look in the first place. By that I mean, inspiration often reveals itself to us when we least expect it. We’ve all experienced the phenomenon of “shower thoughts,” or getting your best ideas in the shower when your mind is seemingly turned off. If you’re desperately searching for epiphanies, your overthinking might be scaring them off.

Just the other day, I was sitting on the couch, becoming visibly stressed out as I went through my mental to-do list. Like most of us, the list felt neverending. My ten-year-old son noticed my anxiety, and suddenly said, “Don’t worry about any of that. Lay down, take a few deep breaths, and breathe all those things out of your mind and let them go, and everything will be alright, okay?” Naturally, I was taken aback by his precociousness, but I went along with his suggestion. “Are you teaching me about meditation right now?” I asked, and he replied, “Yeah, about mindfulness, Mama.”

Sure enough, a moment of quiet reflection did me good, and I was grateful that my youngest child was there to pull me out of my spiral and grant me the time and space I needed to recenter my focus. Of course, this is a great reminder of how much we can learn from our children, but there’s a larger universal message here as well. Teachers, instructors, and educators are quite literally all around us. Caring leaders know that life’s most teachable moments often arrive outside the workplace, usually without the fanfare of a grand “Eureka!” moment. It’s our job to take those lessons and leverage them towards improving those we lead. Whichever experiences are fueling those “a-ha” moments are what make your perspective truly unique and needed.

Inspiration not only gives us new ideas for possible innovation, but it also replenishes our energy levels and reminds us of our core purpose in whichever field we choose. This element of self-care is critical, as caring leaders must fill up their own emotional/mental cup so they can continue to pour from it for the benefit of others. Whether you find inspiration in art, nature, literature, food, family, or even reality television, carve out time in your schedule to hold space for the things that bring you joy and excitement. Take note of those places where you get your best “shower thoughts,” and save them for when you need an extra boost of encouragement. Welcome those little moments back into your life—even if it seems counterproductive—and I promise the creative and emotional return will be worth the small investment.

6 Tips for Honing Your Unique Leadership Style

In the countless interviews I’ve conducted with leaders as part of my podcast, Leadership with Heart, I’ve grown to appreciate the multitude of leadership styles my guests bring to the table. I’ve learned through these dialogues that no two people lead in the same exact way, and that it’s these differences that make the workplace such a nuanced and complex ecosystem.

Within that environment, I often find my clients struggling to develop their own unique leadership style. And with a growing body of literature and thought leadership out there, it’s harder than ever to cut through the noise and carve out a meaningful path for yourself.

So how do you begin to discover and refine your personal leadership approach? In this article, I share six tips that can get you started on that journey.

  • Reflect on what makes your perspective unique. Right out of the gate, I recommend conducting an in-depth dive into yourself. Assess your personality, examine your dominant character traits, identify your core values and morals, determine your most comfortable communication style, etc. Because our behavioral traits will always influence how we make decisions and interact with those around us, it’s crucial to pay attention to how they manifest (consciously or subconsciously) in a work environment.
  • Identify your weaknesses. Knowing where your overall skill set is lacking can help you better leverage your team’s strengths as a countermeasure. Moreover, being fully transparent about your shortcomings can inspire your team to improve themselves, as well.
  • Build a culture of feedback. In all honesty, you will never know how effective your personal leadership style is if you fail to solicit feedback from your peers. Gauging your performance on a frequent basis and in a constructive manner will help you adapt your strategies in real time, and make your team members feel valued and respected.
  • Take notes from leaders who have inspired you, but don’t copy too closely. Take stock of leaders you’ve connected with in the past, and consider what they did to truly impact your life. However, in my opinion, there is nothing worse than a poor imitation of another caring leader. Of course, we as humans learn from observation, and you should always be looking to others for inspiration and motivation when crafting your unique approach. But avoid emulating others too closely, or it may come across as inauthentic and disingenuous. After all, your leadership style should be your own.
  • Learn from past leadership mishaps—others or your own. Conversely, reflect on instances of poor leadership. What went wrong? What did they do (or didn’t do) that negatively influenced the outcome? As with many things in life, learning what not to do may be as productive as learned what to do.
  • Put yourself in new (and potentially uncomfortable) situations. Discomfort is one of the most effective self-discovery tools in the caring leader’s arsenal. Take on a project outside of your wheelhouse, talk to someone you wouldn’t normally connect with, or sit in on a meeting in a different department. When honing your leadership style, venture outside your comfort zone to discover how you instinctually react in moments of growth.

With all that said, it should be noted that introspective questions like these should be returned to every so often. Our leadership styles are always evolving with the times, and changing as we learn new information. As such, a critical element of honing your leadership style is remaining flexible and open-minded enough to adapt it as needed, so you can ensure your approach maintains relevance in a rapidly progressing world. If you welcome these adjustments as the necessary learning opportunities they are, you’ll find you’ve created a leadership style all your own before long.

Why Caring Leaders Are Artists in Disguise

When it came to writing my upcoming book, I kept circling back to one phrase in particular: “caring leadership is more art than science.” Why art? When we think of art, we think of creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and resourcefulness. Art challenges, motivates, and excites us, and even pushes us out of our comfort zones at times. I would argue many—if not, all—of those qualities apply to caring leadership, as well.

But how else do leaders embody the artist spirit, and why is that mindset even useful to us?

In perhaps a roundabout way, reconceptualizing leaders as artists can help us lead in more generative and transformative ways. By expanding our definition of leadership beyond a results-oriented framework, we can empower our teams in a more personal and imaginative manner. Below I outline a few parallels between leaders and artists, and why it may be worthwhile to keep them in mind.

  • Leadership and art are deeply personal and subjective practices. The beautiful thing about art is that there’s no one right way to do it; it’s completely individual. In that same vein, caring leadership is not a cookie-cutter approach, simply because not everyone exhibits care in the same way. Just as we might think of Monet or Picasso as artists with different styles, each leader finds personal inspiration to lead in their own unique way. I myself gained many of my key leadership skills, such as empathy, growing up as the product of an interracial and interfaith marriage. Whatever your sources of inspiration, the real art form is exhibiting your own special pastiche of them all.
  • Leaders and artists alike must use a diversity of tools and strategies to get the job done. If you’ve ever seen an artist’s studio, you know how varied and abundant their materials are. Sometimes they need this type of pencil versus that type of brush, or this hue of paint versus that shade of charcoal. Likewise, the effective leader leverages different strategies for different problems. You might employ conflict resolution skills one day, project management strategies the next, or active listening another day, or perhaps all three simultaneously. As a caring leader, it’s your job to become comfortable harnessing your own capacities.
  • Both leadership and art is a daily, perpetual journey—not a destination. Leonardo Da Vinci is often quoted as saying, “art is never finished, only abandoned.” Being a caring leader requires consistent practice and growth. Just as artists sketch or write on a regular basis, the more you practice caring leadership, the easier it will get. Some argue effective leadership is proven with increased profits, but I argue that a leader’s responsibilities extend beyond the realm of quantifiable metrics. Caring leaders are tasked with inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves. Sure, you can get a sense of this through engagement surveys and performance reviews, but if a leader makes a truly profound impact, it’s near impossible to measure. Remember: a masterpiece isn’t determined by its price tag.

In closing, I’d remind you that art is for anyone & everyone, and the same goes for leadership. If you value technique and skill as much as heart and integrity, you’ll find there’s plenty of room for your own style of leadership wherever you choose to let it flourish. Thinking of your leadership style as an art form hopefully mitigates the fear of stepping up in your own right. I believe a single stroke can change our lives forever; you need only find the courage to pick up a brush.

How Holistic Leadership Shows You Care

In my upcoming book, The Art of Caring Leadership, I speak to the importance of leading the whole person, and not just the face value of the employee that shows up to work every day. Often I witness managers “handle” employees through a narrow lens of their performance inside the workplace without ever considering them as whole people and their lives outside of work. But to truly elevate our leadership game, we must take into account the mind, body, spirit and emotions of those we lead.

This approach of leading the entirety of your employees is often referred to as “holistic leadership.” Why exactly is it so critical for employee engagement and organizational advancement?

In a nutshell, leadership that only addresses workplace concerns doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of how employees actually function. It’s simply unrealistic to think we check our personal worries, excitements, and challenges at the door when we enter the office. What happens outside of work impacts our energy levels, sense of control, and ability to feel engaged and productive. As a leader, asking your employees to constantly separate parts of themselves establishes an emotionally repressed environment, a lack of confidence, and true disconnection. No team or organization can weather that.

The caring leader knows that maximizing their relationships with those they lead means purposefully integrating their employees’ lives in total—including what’s happening in their personal lives. That can look like many things: regular check-ins before meetings begin in earnest, sending birthday cards/memos, respectfully asking about family matters, or providing emotional support and project flexibility in times of personal crisis. However you choose to demonstrate empathy and compassion, the most important aspect is to visibly show you are comfortable meeting your team members in the fullness of their identities and experiences.

As with all management strategies, however, there’s a careful balance to strike. In my personal crusade to empathize with others as best as I can, there have been times when I became too close to someone else’s pain and overly zealous in trying to alleviate it. As you try to lead the whole of someone else, don’t lose sight of your own wholeness along the way. Holistic leadership requires not only a broad awareness of others, but a deep awareness of yourself and your emotional boundaries.

Cultivating that balance will take time, but I genuinely believe the payoff is worth the effort. Leading the whole person cleanses the guilt of authenticity, and creates a foundation of trust you can leverage in future collaborations. Especially as the emergence of remote work has blurred the boundaries between professional and personal spheres, holistic leadership is needed now more than ever to integrate all parts of ourselves in a safe and inclusive manner. If we can honor that truth in our employees, they will honor it in us in return.

133: Leaders with Heart Provide Hope and Possibility for Those They Lead

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In this episode, Heather joins the show without a guest to talk about the status of her next book, The Art of Caring Leadership, which is based upon this podcast. She also tells her perspective on the death of Chadwick Boseman, a former Marvel star and king of Wakanda, the fictitious country in the Black Panther movie.

Key takeaways:

  • All employees are looking for hope, and they need leaders to help them discover it.
  • There is power in seeing someone who looks like you in the highest positions of leadership.
  • Be flexible in your recruitment and promotion practices to be more inclusive, and to provide the symbols of hope.

Updates on the Book

I did finish writing the Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations. 

They’ve sent out my book to three reviewers, which could be very scary. It was really nerve-wrecking. But once I got the first one, I felt that it’s not going to be too bad. They gave some really good feedback that made the book richer, more synced, and easier to read. I hope that you will be proud of how I was able to encapsulate some of the most important voices that you’ve heard here. I am super excited about that.

We have to learn to celebrate our little successes, our big successes—all the same. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Lessons from Chadwick

Just recently, Chadwick Boseman passed away at 43 years old. He died of cancer. If you’d recall, he played the king of Wakanda for Black Panther. He was the first black superhero.  When I saw the news, I felt like I was punched in the chest and the air left out of me.

I didn’t quite think about why until I reflected on some work I’ve been doing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Looking through survey feedback, we would just keep seeing over and over again their desire to see more people of color in executive leadership roles.

I realized that the reason why people are having such as response about Chadwick’s death is because we saw him as a hero. He was a beacon of light for people who has overcame much and at the same time has represented us.

He got some assistance and good mentorship from other people, and he made it where he was. He did it with grace, even when he was battling with cancer for the last few years.

Inside of organizations, those who are different or considered a minority often don’t feel like they belong. They don’t always feel like they’re part of a purpose that’s bigger than themselves.

When they are able to see people in the highest parts of the organization, they see that there’s so much possibility to become those persons in the role. It’s the possibilities that keeps them having hope and makes them want to stay because they want to see how far they can go as well.

We actually have the ability to achieve. We can do more than what we think we can. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

There are very few limits in front of us. We can place our own limits in front of ourselves with our own mindset. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Celebrating Self-care

We have to learn to celebrate our little and big successes all the same, or else, our life becomes one big blur of tasks. It’s interesting because in the book, I talked a lot about self-care and self -compassion. We need to make sure that we’re doing that more often. I did that for myself during and at the end of this process to celebrate.

If you are someone who leads organization where you have the ability to think outside the box regarding recruitment and your promotion practices, and to diversify the top ranks in your organization, do it.

We’re making sure that people of color and those who are different than the mainstream are going to be at the top roots, because you want to give everybody hope, a desire, a bigger purpose, and to know that they can do and be more.

It's the possibilities that keep your people hope and make them want to stay because they want to see how far they can go as well. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

If you have the power, use the power. Let's not just talk, but let's actually walk on this journey together. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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126: The Beginnings of the Art of Caring Leadership

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In this episode, Heather shares with listeners her very special Author’s Day presentation with her publisher and guests. In it, she goes over her personal background, her “why” for writing, and the main focuses of the book. Her editor also talks about what makes this book so different.

If you are a fan of the guests from this show, this episode is surely a treat!

A Very Special Day

I decided to share with you my Author’s Day presentation with my publisher for my second book, “The Art of Caring Leadership.” The majority of the book is founded on the interviews from this podcast. You will get to hear me present the book in an interview format.  You will also get to hear my editor offer his own views, as well as give comments and ask questions coming from the guests. 

This is a very heartwarming special day and I want to share it with you.

We ourselves are also hopefully striving to be caring leaders. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

A Very Special Book

Caring leadership is not some nebula, or a squishy thing. It is real.

Each of us knows it when we feel it, and when we experience it from those who lead us—whether it is our parents, aunts, uncles, leaders of the community, or those inside the workplace.

We ourselves are also striving to be caring leaders. In this book, I am going to put some real guard rails. I will be writing real fundamental principles down on what it means to care. 

This way, people can put their hands around something and it just won’t fall between their fingers. I hope you enjoy my Author’s Day.

Caring leadership is real. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

A Very Special Request

I’d love to hear from you via email or comment on social media. Please do me a favor, and don’t forget to write a five-star review on Spotify, Apple podcast or wherever you listen.

This means a lot. The more people would get to hear the content and the brilliance of the leaders that I have on here, the better the world is going to be. I truly believe that.

Thank you for joining and listening consistently. Thank you for your loyalty. I hope you sincerely enjoy this episode. Be well. You may find my presentation as unlisted in YouTube.


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