Preventing burnout during a pandemic

Apr 20, 2020

Burnout prevention is the key to healthy, growing, and resilient organizations, especially now.

There’s currently a “new normal” that is helping accelerate the wide-spread acceptance of the “new era,” both of which work in contrast to past practices. The burden to effectively adapt rests on leaders and leadership teams – and time is of the essence.

At issue for many is the fact that new demands and stresses have been placed on old ones, putting leaders, leadership teams, and organizations at risk.

In order to best ensure success moving forward, the first step is to make time during this period of change to take a fresh look at how we can become healthy, growing, and resilient.

The goal. At any time, having a healthy, growing, and resilient organization allows us to:

  • Realize our mission and make a difference.
  • Create value for all those we serve.
  • Increase prosperity for ourselves, our employees, families, communities, and beyond.
  • Attract and retain ideal employees and clients to help grow and sustain our success.

The hurdles. Before COVID-19, several elements were holding organizations back, including:

  • Leadership and management teams that were too busy and consumed by work and work-related demands, resulting in growing levels of burnout and lower levels of employee engagement.
  • Too great a focus on client success versus both client and employee success.
  • Too much attention on the “urgent” of the day versus the “important” of the future.
  • A limited appreciation for the genesis and the daily impact of organizational culture.
The ideal means to move organizations forward was leadership capacity development as, the fact is:
  • “Leadership is everything” when it comes to organizational success.
  • Leadership in the “new era” has evolved beyond just business strategy to also include culture, diversity, innovation, and sustainability.
  • Leaders need to continuously “feed” others, but rarely “get fed” themselves.

What has changed now with COVID-19?

  • For most organizations, there is a temporary suppression of a number of work activities in the name of employee and public health and safety.
  • New acute demands and stresses placed on leaders and leadership teams as they respond to the crisis and ensure safety and survival in the “new normal” (this is on top of the chronic pressures and stresses put on by the work demands and growth leading up to the crisis).
  • Work forever – specifically in terms of needing to better accommodate remote working and the associated need to improve workflow management, communication, talent development, and the ability to lead from afar.

What has not changed with COVID-19?

  • In order to have healthy, growing, and resilient organizations we need to have healthy, growing, and resilient leaders.
  • Large backlogs of work and the likelihood of having “more work than people” once we safely proceed past the crisis.
  • The presence of burnout and disengagement throughout organizations, particularly among principals and managers as a result of chronic (and now more acute) work overload and associated personal and work-related frustrations that are most often not fully understood or appreciated (see image below).

What is needed to successfully move forward?

  • A new level of awareness and understanding of how the “new era” of business, work, and life must be reconciled with past practices and then integrated with the “new normal” imposed by COVID-19.
  • A common language and structured process to work through and successfully implement needed team and organizational improvements.
  • A “safe-zone” for leaders to be able to “put their own oxygen masks on first” and receive the information and encouragement necessary to lead their teams and organizations forward from a position of knowledge, perspective, and strength.

The value proposition for successfully moving forward and preventing burnout now:

  • As individuals – the opportunity to build critical personal, professional, and organizational leadership capacity during this clearly defined period of change.
  • As leadership teams – the opportunity to leverage new ideas and perspectives to differentiate in the workplace, marketplace, and recruiting space.
  • As organizations – the opportunity to have better tools and processes to achieve the goals of a healthy, growing, and resilient organization presented at the top of this article.

As a practitioner, I have lived through both acute stresses and chronic demands. There is a positive and productive path that leads away from overwhelm and burnout and toward greater engagement and growth.

To better equip you and your team to take action along that path, you can access these free resources:
  • Audio and PDF downloads with complete chapters of “Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners” that define and walk you through the Burnout-Disengagement Cycle.
  • A 12-question quiz to help determine whether you or your team are merely feeling overwhelmed or are perhaps burning out. There’s a big difference between the two and, along with your results, you will receive two special reports designed to help you take control and begin to resolve overwhelm and reverse burnout.

Peter Atherton, P.E. is an AEC industry insider having spent more than 24 years as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for high-achieving firms. Pete is now the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and the creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process. Pete is also the host of The AEC Leadership Today Podcast and leads The AEC Leadership Mastermind. Pete works with AEC firms to grow and advance their success through better strategic planning, executive coaching, leadership and management development, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design. Connect with him at

Click here for the full issue.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.