I recently read a humorous novel by Sophie Kinsella entitled The Burnout. Obviously the title piqued my interest. The protagonist, Sasha is working at a pressure-cooker start-up as director of special promotions.

The opening scene shows a frustrated Sasha, buried in umpteen emails, while simultaneously strategizing impactful marketing campaigns.

A typical day has Sasha in a constant state of panic:

How many emails do I have?

How many meetings?

What have I missed?

How will I cope?

Along comes the ‘empowerment and #wellbeing officer,’ who disapprovingly says, “Sasha, I’m a little disappointed with your level of engagement in our employee joyfulness program.”

Sasha retorts to herself, “When do I have time for joyfulness activities?”

The well-being officer continues, “The VP Marketing has also noticed your lack of participation. As you know he’s particularly committed to the joyfulness of employees.”

This interchange brings to light the issue that many workplace well-being programs have – the idea that if they have a calendar full of wellness activities, people will be happy. What they fail to consider is that many people are overworked and feel frustrated at the end of the day due to their extremely demanding workloads. Attending wellness activities is a low priority.

Workplace well-being starts at the top. Besides having a people-first culture, leaders need to ensure that managers are not simply promoted for technical skills, but rather for their emotional intelligence.

No matter what type of industry I visit when speaking to organizations, I’m finding people who are overloaded without any clue as to how to claw themselves out. They feel pressured to absorb all the extra work assigned to them when a colleague quits.

What is the answer for the overworked employee? Quitting? Maybe, but what about having a rational and honest conversation with their manager about changing the situation?

For example,

“Hi Joe, I’d like to have a chat. I love working for you, but we need to talk about my list of projects and define a clear set of priorities. I need to bring my schedule to a manageable workload.”

This shows clearly that you are not willing to continue to overwork. In Ask For It Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever suggest, “you need to communicate that you expect to be treated fairly and that you’re willing to stand up for yourself in a friendly and likable way.”

What can managers do to prevent burnout for their teams? Based on my interviews with hundreds of workers, here are their top needs and desires:

  • Flexibility
  • Reasonable workloads and deadlines
  • Control over work
  • Meaningful work with greater sense of purpose
  • Support and sense of belonging
  • Equitable treatment
  • To be heard

What are you doing to prevent burnout for your teams?