All Posts by James Burroughes

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Jul 22

Burnout – and 5 Things You Can do About It

By James Burroughes

As leaders, we can start thinking about doing these five things for ourselves and our teams to avoid burnout.

I moved back to NZ on Christmas Eve 2019 and hit the ground running. I’ve been house hunting twice, bought an apartment, a car, and re-established links with friends I haven’t seen in a couple of years; whilst working. I was burning the candle at both ends for sure. 

And then COVID happened. I am sure most people are sick and tired of hearing about COVID related stuff, but it struck me that we have gone through, and in many countries, continue to go through, is the greatest disruption of a generation. This disruption has transcended business, home life, family life, and well, just about everything. And it’s taken its toll.

The Impact of COVID

COVID created a lot of issues because people treated it like another business problem and started sprinting towards trying to solve it. This was exacerbated by the psychological windows of lockdown and Levels which bound the temporal concept of our experience. The reality is that people are still running and experience burnout. But they are trying to run a marathon at sprint pace 

I have been discussing with colleagues and clients how they are feeling and many have said they aren’t sleeping well and are over-tired. They are putting on weight, using alcohol to ‘self-medicate’, eating junk food because of the long hours and not really feeling like they are in control of their lives at present. Many are still trying to work out how to adjust to the new expectations of working from home and feeling like they need to work longer and longer hours. All of this is tiring.

I had breakfast with a group of future thinkers I did a webinar with a few months ago and they said much the same. People are absorbing their commute into the working day. They aren’t moving around as much due to the endless zoom meetings. Self-care was deprioritised whilst home-schooling and remote work became the priority. The result? People are really fatigued. The adrenaline rush of COVID has abated, to be replaced by chronic fatigue and burnout. 

Some symptoms of burnout described by the Mayo Clinic are:

  • Becoming cynical or critical at work
  • Having to drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients
  • Lacking the energy to be consistently productive
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel
  • Sleep habits changed

This pattern of working is not sustainable for companies or employees. The long term wellbeing consequences are even scarier if leaders don’t act to help themselves and their people:

  • Sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to other illnesses

The pool of people I am connecting with are mostly leaders. And if they are struggling, how do you think their teams are feeling? My guess is pretty similar. After all, life doesn’t discriminate when it comes to these types of things. 

So then the next question is, what can leaders do about this? Korn Ferry wrote a great article using the oxygen mask analogy. Focus on sorting yourself out before you help others. But as leaders, we can provide some clear guidance and permission to our teams as they might not have the presence of mind to cope right now.

5 things you can do:

  1. Consider how you want to ‘show up’ to your team and how you want others to see you. Are you the leader who is still at full sprint? Or are you the leader who is in business continuity mode; planning and executing calmly. Your team will observe, react, and most likely mimic your example.
  2. Encourage and role model time in your calendar for recuperation and relaxation. Whether that is a shift to the four day week, a meditation half-hour, pics of you, and your family at the park. Share your R&R with your team and ask them to create experiences that offer the same.
  3. Examine your annual leave/vacation plots. Many of my clients haven’t taken leave since before COVID and many have been working more than 5 days per week. Encourage people to take a day off here and there. 
  4. Work out! It’s that simple. There is endless research on the benefits of exercise – even if it is a 5-10 minute walk around the building at lunch. Get out of your house, office, warehouse and do something. 
  5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! The biggest lesson we have learned through this experience is the importance of communication. You need to communicate relentlessly with your team. What is going well, what isn’t? Progress, challenges, good jobs well done, improvement opportunities. Expectation and commitments. Whilst people are in a mental fuzz, your team will need explicit and clear communication to feel assured that they are on the right track. Those who have regressed into work-zombie burnout won’t hear subtle or nuanced communications so you need to spot them and help.

Thanks for reading!
Jimmy Burroughes

Want to continue reading? You can find our latest blog on Blending Synchronous and Asynchronous Leadership Development Experiences here

Apr 24

Trust – Take the Time to Build and Maintain It

By James Burroughes

The concept of trust might feel like a funny thing to be talking about at this time. However, as the last few weeks have shown, it’s one of the key issues affecting business performance according to research by both Gartner and Gallup.

The dictionary defines trust as, ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something’. To me, the key part of this are the words FIRM BELIEF.

As a child, we mostly all hold a firm belief that our parents have our back. They will protect, provide and help us whenever and wherever possible. And yes there are exceptions to this rule, however, I’m working on the basis of good parenting. It’s interesting to me that most leaders never liken their role as a leader as having many similarities to parenting. And the situation now is something like when your kids are under immense exam pressure — x1000.

Trust In the Workplace

In business, your employees want to firmly believe that you aren’t virtually peering over their shoulder (micromanaging them); or that you are so “hands-off”, you have no idea what they are up to.

Employees want support. They want encouragement to be allowed to try things and know that you will be there to catch them when they fall. Or at least pick them up and dust them off if they do! Remember they are currently having to try a LOT of new things! They also want you to care about them, ask how they are and show your compassionate side.

This cultivation of trust is key to employees delivering at their best. David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of The Truth About Trust states that trust is “essential to boosting employee engagement, motivation, and candor.”

This begs the question, how does one build trust?

  1. There needs to be a simple alignment of expectations and obligations between managers and employees. A virtual one to one can create enormous alignment, and therefore build trust using the four simple questions above. Employees are more likely to follow through on goals set by a manager they trust. Likely to be more forthcoming about the challenges they see on their level.
  2. Formally known as incidental socialisation, these are the water cooler conversations. The just passing by your desk questions, the lunchroom chats. Meetings tend to start and end with business and not trust-building small talk. We are relational animals and therefore need this interaction to feel a connection and trust.
  3. Try moving to a 45-minute meeting format which starts with small talk. It’s never been more important to maintain social connection with your team. Scheduling a shorter meeting time will also force those in the call to get down to business and clear up actions quickly.

The intent for this is to remind you to take the time to build and maintain trust with your teams. They really need it right now.


Find out more on what we do in building professional skills here

Feb 13

Millennials – Five tips to Lead Them More Effectively

By James Burroughes

It’s estimated that by 2025 Millennials will make up as much as 75% of the workforce.

Leaders across organisations have realised that they need to adapt and embrace the changes occurring because of this.
Let’s dispel the myths about Millennials. Whilst they are often termed “entitled,” “lazy,” “narcissistic,” and “disloyal job-hoppers”, research from Gallup indicates that millennials are not so different from previous generations of young people.
So what is important to millennials in a job and how can you lead and inspire them more effectively?

1. Career Development is their number one priority

The careers of millennials will be more like webs than ladders, so offering diverse and broadening experiences will give them new perspectives and keep them engaged. Aim to offer them experiences across your business, so they can expand their networks based on their interests and contribute to a wider cause.

On-the-job experiences are most the effective (and cost effective) method of development. When there’s real challenge involved, if you think a team member is ready to try something new, let them try their hand. Show them you have confidence in them and are willing to step in to help if they need you to.

The opportunity to shadow you and others around them in action can be as effective as formal training. It also helps team members gain additional skills to step in and help when pressure ramps up.

Change your mindset from one of time-served to equipping them with experiences. The average tenure of millennials in roles is 15-18 months before they look for a new challenge or diversification. A mindset of 3-5 tenure years won’t work. Providing stretch experiences based on their potential can offer business value for you and retain them longer.

2. Help them connect to the purpose of your organisation through their work

Millennials don’t just work for their salary. They want to be a part of an organisation that they feel is making a difference in the world. They value social responsibility and are loyal to organisations that are providing specific solutions to social issues. 

Position work linked to the values and purpose of your organisation. More than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, according to a Fast Company article. In this study, by PWC millennials who have a strong connection to the purpose of their organisation are 5.3 times more likely to stay.

3. Be transparent with them

There are still plenty of leaders out there who believe that information is power. Millennials seek information and context. Not communicating with them erodes their trust and makes them more likely to look elsewhere for transparency.

Involve them in discussions about their future in the organisation. If they are able to openly discuss their desired career path and feel you are working to enable this they are more likely to stay.

Be clear on expectations and be prepared to offer help. Share with millennials what outcome you are looking for and ask them how they believe they can achieve that. Then ask what help you can offer and what they need from you to be successful.

4. Be prepared to let them know how they’re doing – regularly

The Millennial generation is defined by heavy debt and uncertainty. Never has a generation entered the workforce with such debt already incurred from university education. This was only to find out that the average house costs nearly 10x the average family salary where they will be, on average, 36 before they can afford their first home.

They also endured the GFC and many will have experienced the stress of parents being made redundant and things being tight at home. This adds to stress levels about performance but also steels them to be more determined to succeed.

Use strengths focused micro-coaching and mentoring (not the same as constructive feedback). According to Gallup workgroups that receive strengths-based development see 14% to 29% increase in profit.

Millennials are constantly “beta testing” behaviours and actions whilst assessing whether they get the positive response they hope for. They grew up in a world of social media likes and comments. They were educated using frequent assessment and provided with regular course corrections. Validate areas where they are on the right track quickly and often, and discuss their ideas for how they might adapt their approach where they aren’t.

5. Embrace technology

Flexible work is no longer a unique selling proposition or a fad in the recruitment process, it is an expectation. If you have a remote team, your management style will need to change from facetime management to performance driven management. Learn to manage without being able to see them in person. 77% of millennials say flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive and enjoyable.

10% of millennials would rather permanently give up a body part than their smartphone according to research by Tappable. Growing up with so much technology has made millennials the pros at mastering new tech quickly. They love to work through issues and improve efficiency with the use of tech.

Leverage their skills to upskill yourself. Millennials love to share what they know. One successful company initiative, involved inviting new graduates to tour the company for a week. It showed workers how to setup and use Instagram, WhatsApp and other apps; quickly upskilling executives and senior leaders who had previously avoided technology through fear and ignorance. It also allowed the millennials to meet staff and form relationships as part of their new network.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, 

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