Preventing burnout in 2022

Jun 12, 2022

Actionable solutions for owners and employees alike to promote the longevity of high performers in today’s workplace.

Per the Mayo Clinic, “Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress – a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

Exhausted, unmotivated, and stressed employees are a benefit to nobody but alcohol and pharmaceutical companies. Firm owners and employees all agree that burnout should be avoided, but I think that today’s work environment is vastly different from that of several years ago and deserves an updated and refreshed set of approaches to solve the issue. Here are some actionable solutions for both owners and employees alike to promote the longevity of high performers in the workplace:

  1. Take a real lunch break. Research shows that during COVID, employees were working an average of 48.5 minutes more each day. While working from home, many of us find ourselves eating in front of our computers while trying to crunch out one of our tasks for the day. When we work through lunch, we deprive ourselves of the following benefits:
    1. Increased productivity. Taking breaks might sound counterintuitive when it comes to boosting productivity, but it’s one of the best ways to do so. You may find that you’ve renewed your level of focus and energy when you return to your tasks.
    2. Improved mental well-being. Our brains need time to recharge. Taking some time away from the desk to go for a quick walk or unplug from your devices has a way of reducing stress and improving mental well-being. In Peace in Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh expands on the benefits of ensuring that you find a consistent time to disconnect from your devices (amongst other things) every day.
    3. Creativity boost. Taking a break can give you a fresh perspective on challenging projects. If you find yourself spinning your tires for a bit too long on something, take a breather and come back to it with a fresh mind.
  2. For employers: Create immediate rewards for positive behavior. People often say that the human brain is an incredibly complex supercomputer that we haven’t even come close to understanding yet. While this may be true for the most part, we’ve also learned that there are simple ways to train this supercomputer and encourage it to create positive habits via positive reinforcement (aka rewards). The most common and well known, tangible form of positive reinforcement in the workplace is merit-based bonuses. If you notice your employee putting in extra hours and effort to help you execute on your vision and build your company, you reward them at the end of the quarter/year with additional compensation. From an employee’s perspective, this is always appreciated, but I don’t think it’s effective at combatting burnout. In Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that the more time there is between a reward and an action, the less effective our brains are at associating the two together to create a habit. Long-term rewards require more conscious thought and decision making from the employee to hold on to that motivation and put in the extra time necessary to claim the reward at the end of the period. Long-term rewards require more discipline and willpower.
    I suggest supplementing your long-term reward with a short-term reward that offers more frequent positive reinforcement of the behavior that the employee is displaying. My suggestion: if your employee is working late into the evening, allow them to order and expense dinner. It costs roughly $20 to have Chipotle delivered to wherever your employee is working, and it acts as an immediate reward and display of your appreciation for the additional effort that they are putting in. To the brain, the thought of working additional hours until the end of your bonus period is a much more daunting endeavor than working until your Chipotle arrives in an hour or two. Our brains are complex but creating and fostering productive habits can be simple.
  3. Utilize locational cues if working from home. In Atomic Habits, Clear also explains that our brains use locations as “cues” that are to be followed by an action. In other words, our brains naturally associate certain locations with certain actions and/or habits. (This is why the urge to use the restroom is amplified as you get closer to the toilet.) Before COVID, the locational cues for work versus relaxation were clear for most. Now those lines have been blurred and many are struggling to find and maintain a balance between work and life that is sustainable. For some, they may have found issues remaining productive at home with all of the distractions. For others, they may have been too successful in bringing their work home and now have issues finding time to unwind, causing them to feel more stressed and burned out than ever. Clear’s suggestion: create more precise locational cues within your home. This requires a bit of discipline, but it’s effective if you’re persistent and intentional. For me, this means that I no longer allow myself to bring my work laptop to my couch, bed, or dinner table. Those locations are used exclusively for leisure and relaxation. This also means that under no circumstances am I allowed to peruse social media or watch YouTube videos while sitting at my desk. That location is used to complete productive tasks and get work done. This method of separating work from relaxation when working from home requires a fair amount of discipline and an almost comically strict implementation of the ground rules (yes, you have to stand up and walk to your couch to scroll through Instagram). However, it becomes more habitual over time and has been an effective way for me to find a healthy work-life balance that promotes longevity and prevents burnout.

There’s not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to combat burnout as every person is unique, but hopefully one of these suggestions proves to be useful to you. 

Andy Chavez, CM&AA is an advisor within Zweig Group’s M&A advisory services team. Contact him at achavez@zweiggroup.com.

Leadership Skills for AEC Professionals This program provides AEC professionals with the skills to become more competent leaders and helps attendees develop and affirm the leadership skills, strategies, and techniques necessary to grow personally and professionally. Join us in New Orleans August 11-12. Click here to learn more!

Click here to read this week's 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.