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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How to Deal With Burnout as a Manager

As a manager, you spend most of your time focusing on your team: addressing performance issues, providing training, and helping people stay motivated and succeed—without burning out.

But what about when you start feeling burnt out?

I was a few years into my management career when I started to recognize the symptoms. I was feeling constant pressure from the higher-ups, stress from an overloaded plate, and the emotional drain from constantly keeping my employees engaged. Eventually, I started taking it out on them, snapping at my staff every time they’d ask a question, irritated that they would dare approach my desk when I surely looked very busy.

It was a classic case of burnout—but as a manager, it felt selfish. After all, management is all about other people. And that means I couldn’t exactly check out or wave off urgent questions and requests with a quick, “Sorry, I just need some space today.”

Sound familiar? If you’re feeling burnt out in your management role, it’s important to find ways to deal—and it starts with recognizing where those feelings are coming from. Here are a few of the complaints I found myself muttering and what I did to overcome that feeling of professional fatigue.

Complaint: “I Always Need to be Accessible to my Team”

Try: Taking a (Well-Deserved) Break

In the midst of my burnout, I realized that I was working long days with no breaks—and had been for quite some time. If I made it away from my desk, I was usually helping one of my employees on the floor or leading a team meeting. I’d even made a habit of eating lunch at my desk, which made me readily accessible for questions and calls, even through mouthfuls of Lean Cuisine.

When you can’t get away from work long enough to scarf down a sandwich, it’s not surprising that you'll start to feel the effects of burnout. To fight that feeling of fatigue, I’ve made it more of a priority to at least take some sort of break during the day. I may only be able to get away for 30 minutes for lunch, but that half hour of peace and quiet helps me get back on track to finish the day feeling reenergized. As a bonus, it’s helped me encourage my employees to make decisions on their own, even if I’m not available at my desk to approve their plans.

Complaint: “My Employees Are Driving me Crazy”

Try: Pinpointing the Cause

As I looked a little closer at why I was feeling so exhausted, I was able to narrow it down to the way my employees asked me questions. Several of them had developed a habit of sending me an email, then immediately approaching my desk to ask, “Did you get the email I just sent?” I tried to hide my annoyance and answer their questions as well as I could, but I developed a silent resentment, wondering why they didn’t realize that this method was incredibly patience-draining.

Once I pinpointed this issue, I was able to think it through and figure out an actionable solution. After all, I was the one enabling them to use this method, instead of diplomatically training them to approach it differently (“I haven’t gotten to that email yet, but I’ll let you know when I’m up to speed and have a few minutes to discuss”).

Whether you’re unhappy with your boss, an inefficient process, or the behavior of your employees, once you pinpoint the cause of your frustration, you’ll have a much clearer idea of how you can advocate for a change. And sometimes, even a small change can make all the difference.

Complaint: “I’m Just Stressed. Period.”

Try: Reevaluating Your Life Outside of Work

After eight (or more) hours at work every day, it’d be nice to go home, lounge on the couch, and fall asleep by 9 PM. But, let’s face it: That’s not always possible. And when you don’t get that proper down time, your stress level never has a chance to return to normal before morning rolls around again—creating a never-ending cycle of anxiety.

So, it’s important to evaluate how you spend your time outside of work and make sure it’s not adding to your feelings of frustration. Are you working on a personal blog every evening until midnight? Your lack of sleep may be positioning you for a rough time at work the next day.

It could also be something that you’re not doing. For example, maybe you spend every evening thinking about the deadlines and meetings you have scheduled for the next day; by 5 PM, you’re already dreading the next morning. In this case, you may not be able to magically take away your stress—but it might be a good idea to add something to your schedule that provide a distraction, like a sports league or book club.

By making sure that you have your home life in check and that you consistently make time for you, you’ll be more equipped to start each work day with a newfound enthusiasm.

Complaint: “I Just Don’t Like my Job Anymore”

Try: Remembering Why You Took the Job in the First Place

Remember how excited you were when you landed your first management gig? It was more than the title, the raise, or even the office—there was a thrill knowing that you’d be helping your employees succeed. You’d have a direct impact on the company through what your team would accomplish, with you leading the way.

So, when you feel like you’ve had enough, focus on what brought you to the job in the first place. But beyond just thinking about it, bring an element of that excitement into your day today.

For example, do you love hearing about your employees’ accomplishments? During your next team meeting, invite team members to share a success from the past week. Do you revel in your employees learning new skills? Plan to have a mini training next week, where one staffer teaches a skill he or she has learned to the rest of the group.

For me, it’s about the people. I enjoy hearing about their lives, joking on a personal level, and learning the intricacies of their personalities. And so, when I’m feeling burnt out, I’ll take a break to pull up a chair and just shoot the breeze with my team for a few minutes—about anything except work. No, it’s not directly helping my team achieve goals or enhancing the company—but it does improve our relationship and help me get excited about my job again.

Photo of burnt out manager courtesy of Shutterstock.