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Have the Burnout Conversation with Your Boss

While burnout is not a new concept, the pandemic certainly increased its prevalence. As we head into our third year of navigating heightened personal and work stress in an uncertain world, it’s no surprise that over half of employees have experienced burnout. In a survey from Deloitte, 77% of respondents state they have suffered from burnout at their current job while 51% have experienced burnout more than once.

Many of us feel like our chronic anxiety, lack of motivation, and physical and mental health are our problems to solve. Although you can take action to manage these symptoms yourself, we encourage you to also let your boss know how you’re feeling. Your boss influences your work life to a large degree, so it’s important for them to know what’s really going on so they can help.

We know that starting this conversation can feel uncomfortable, so we’re sharing a few strategies to make this discussion go smoothly:

1. Identify the source of your burnout.

Before approaching your boss, spend some time thinking about the cause of your burnout. Is it the fact that you’re working longer hours? Taking on too many projects? Is your team short staffed and creating unreasonable workloads? Do you fear returning to a physical office due to potentially unsafe working conditions? Blurred lines between home and work? Or perhaps, it is a combination of all the above.

Your manager likely doesn’t know you’re feeling burned out, so pinning down the sources of your stress will help you have a productive conversation about it. The more specific you can be the better – this way, you and your boss can work together to figure out strategies to address the overwhelm you’re experiencing.

2. Be honest about your experience and symptoms.

Burnout certainly creates a variety of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms, but they manifest differently in everyone. This means it’s essential to clarify the specific symptoms you’re experiencing and how they are hindering your work performance. You don’t need to overshare personal details, but you want to make your boss aware of how your prolonged stress affects your work life.

Think about cause and effect here. For example, you could say “I feel overwhelmed by the number of projects I have and as a result I’m not meeting any deadlines,” or “My exhaustion makes me more irritable, so I find myself becoming impatient with my coworkers quickly.” This will make it easier for your boss to understand how to help you. Plus, it will show them that you truly care about your impact on the company.

3. Think about the end goal.

Decide on what you’re hoping will change after this conversation and acknowledge that as the end goal of this discussion. Your goals should ultimately help you reduce some of your symptoms of burnout. Do you want to reduce your workload? Have more time for creative brainstorming? Adjust your work schedule?

Determining your goals up front will help guide the rest of this conversation. This will take the guess work away from your boss and you’ll know exactly how to start brainstorming solutions to the presenting problems.

4. Bring some potential solutions.

When you bring challenges to the table, you’ll want to come prepared with potential solutions as well. If you’re looking to reduce your workload, for example, tell your boss that one of your colleagues has offered to jump in and help on a project. Or suggest that you’d be happy to delegate some work to an equally capable person.

This shows your boss that you’ve already taken some initiative and that you want to help your team succeed. Be willing to listen to your boss’ suggestions as well because you both need to work together to pivot and devise a new plan. 

5. Continue the discussion over regular check-ins.

If you’re not having regular conversations with your boss, now is a great time to start. Ask your boss about having bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly check-ins to discuss the projects on your plate and your workload. This opens the door to talk about stressors and overwhelm in a more natural (and regular) way.

Talking about work stress should become a routine part of conversations with your boss. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first, continue to tie the topic of mental health into your check-in’s where it seems fit. Keeping your boss in the loop about your stress and productivity levels will pay off in the long run.

Creating a space for open conversations surrounding burnout and stress with your boss/manager/supervisor can help keep you afloat during turbulent times – especially if you communicate your challenges before running on empty.

We hope that making burnout and stress management an ongoing conversation in your organization will help make mental health a collective priority at work.

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