How to lead burnt out teams
3 November 2021
In the current edition of VICDOC magazine, AMA Victoria’s Leadership development consultant and coach, Dr Anna Clark writes about the pressure many doctors are facing due to burnout. Here, she provides tips for leaders on how to manage burnt out teams.
Looking out for yourself and protecting yourself from (further) burnout is part of leadership work. Some small actions and behaviours that can be effective include:
Address work issues
- Talk openly about what things are like right now. This will normalise – in your workplace context - that this is not business as usual. As difficult as it may feel, teams will need to talk openly about how to manage an exhausted workforce and balance a load across time and people.
- Team leaders may need to think about different ways to sustain their teams, to ensure leave is balanced where possible, and that people are not working themselves to the point of being sick and then needing sick leave. Look out for colleagues and find ways to create short breaks.
- Information is helpful – ask team members to share with you concerns they may have or what small changes may help them get through.
Adopt de-stressing strategies
- Share with your team that social connection is a protective factor, and short phone calls or walks with a friend are helpful.
- Talk about the importance of self-care and give legitimacy to this practice in your work context.
Address any perfectionism traits
It’s important to understand that feelings of distress and failure and even guilt and shame might be higher than usual given the huge pressure and strain of the current situation. Help your junior doctors and colleagues understand that this is ‘not business as usual’, and that work is coming with additional burdens to doctors regarding working outside of their usual roles, routines, and protocols. Working with stressed and inadequate resources means that different decision-making and prioritising is required. And while ‘cutting corners’ is not OK, it may be the reality for now and we don’t want to add to that the psychological burdens of internalised failure and negativity.
Talk to your team to help them understand that while these may feel like ‘individual problems and failures’, these changes are at a whole of system level. The system as a whole is having to change and cope with unprecedented demand and changes to resourcing. This can help individuals disentangle themselves from the way things are and understand the situation and response from a wider perspective.
A note to leaders and team members
Part of your work of leading others is sharing with others how you lead yourself. That is, sharing by talking about how you try to manage workload, protect some timeout, seek social connection and support, and do some self-care things to reenergise. This sort of sharing – sometimes called an aspect of being vulnerable and authentic – relies on your own self-awareness and sense of self. There is no right way or ‘perfect’ way to do this, but be reassured that sharing with colleagues if and when you feel symptoms of burnout is ok. I am not suggesting let others see you panic or feel completely lost – but let them know that these are challenging times, and we are all doing our best to get through – and that’s OK.
Dr Anna Clark (PhD)
AMA Victoria Leadership development consultant and coach
The leadership coaching service aims to provide members with a space to talk about the leadership challenges they face at work and develop further knowledge, skills and behaviours to address these effectively. There are different formats available – consults of 1 or 2 sessions to provide support for working through specific issues and challenges, and longer programs of 4, 6 or 8 consecutive sessions for deeper dives into leadership skill building and action plans to support ongoing development. Visit the leadership coaching section here to find out more.