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Leaders Burnout Too

July 14, 2021

By Mary E. Corrado, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

During a crisis, leaders are supposed to be the strong ones, right? But we are all human, all have emotions, and all experience stress.  Just as employees can burnout, so can leaders. While a leader must persevere and lead an organization and its employees through a crisis, it’s OK to share vulnerability and empathy with your employees.

I remember after the recession in 2008/2009 thinking I never want to do that again. Well, I think the pandemic was even worse, because of its sudden onset, never experiencing anything like a global pandemic in my lifetime, and not knowing when the end was in sight.  And of course, the personal side of family (and myself) getting the virus and the loneliness of working remote for more than a year. 

I wasn’t alone…a new survey released by Verizon Media and the mental health nonprofit, Made of Millions, revealed that 66% of managers polled stated that they experienced burnout over the past year.  76% felt overwhelmed managing their employees. In addition, 28% of managers said they had experienced mental health issues. Only 58% of the managers surveyed described their mental well-being as “healthy.”

In short, leadership experienced the same effects of the pandemic as their employees did. spoke with some leaders for advice on how to manage stress levels as we return to work:

  • One senior VP of operations advises executives to take breaks from the screen. We’ve been told this over and over again, but it’s important to actually heed the advice.  Take small breaks throughout your day.  Go for a walk around the block.  One piece of advice I really like is to take note of your moods throughout the day.  You might find that you need a break after a string of meetings or at a certain time of day.
  • A president and general manager advises to stay mindful by utilizing such things as meditation or breathing exercises.  EPTW recently published a great article with some tips and tools for practicing mindfulness, Why Google, Target, and General Mills Are Investing in Mindfulness.
  • Another president stresses the value of self-awareness. She stated, “Whether it’s connecting with a friend…going for a walk or getting a good night’s sleep, it is your responsibility as a leader to make sure that you are prioritizing the appropriate level of time needed to focus on your health and happiness.”

At the very beginning of the pandemic I wrote a blog, entitled, Trust and Empathy During a Crisis. I think now is a good time to revisit some of ways to build trust and empathy as we begin returning to the office and experience some of the stressors that come along with that.

Share Information with Empathy and Optimism
HR and leadership should recognize the uncertainty employees are feeling as many return to the office.  Let them know that you have concerns as well and want to hear their anxieties so that they can be addressed.

Lead with Empathy
“Leadership isn’t about a title.  Leadership is a relationship.”  Employees (and leaders) continue to experience pandemic-related stress, and it is crucial to recognize that.  While initially the stress was about leaving the office, it’s now about returning to the office. Ask employees how they are doing.  Ask them how you can support them.  Share ways to help them deal with stress and the burnout they might be feeling from the overwhelming year we’ve all had.

I remember after the first few months of the pandemic, when nearly 2/3rds of ASE’s service lines came to an abrupt halt, wondering if and how ASE would recover from this. There were many stressful days and sleepless nights. Thank goodness for my husband who would provide constant reassurances.  As we near the end of the pandemic, I am happy to say we handled everything pretty well, the staff stuck together, we formed solutions, and the ASE board provided leadership.  I was not afraid to share my concerns with the staff but did so with the intention of coming together to form solutions. 

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