How Leaders Are Looking At Well-Being And The Burnout Crisis In A New Way

Burnout is real and leaders are learning how to combat this issue in order to better address their employee’s mental health and wellbeing. Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, is a great example of a company-wide approach to burnout. 

Patagonia thrives on giving their employees the appropriate time to do what they love and keep coming back to work. His philosophy, “Let My People Go Surfing”, is the backbone of the company, which allows the people of Patagonia to work flexible hours (the only requirement is that the work gets done – without negatively impacting others).

The Let My People Go Surfing philosophy and policy gives employees the freedom to “catch a good swell, go bouldering for an afternoon, pursue an education, or get home in time to greet the kids when they come down from the school bus.”

Who would leave a company that lets them leave work to go catch a swell? I wouldn’t. I think many people would agree. Not only is this model a genius business method to retain valuable employees, but it also creates a better culture of wellness and incentives for employees to come back and want to work. 

Another example is that of Gardenuity, itself. Gardenuity gives their employees a “Grow Well Day”, where they can spend their time doing whatever they choose to do. The only requirement is that all team members come back to share with the group what they did on their day off and why it was an experience that helped them grow in some way. 

What if all companies gave their employees a little bit more leeway, a little less time in meetings, and a little bit more freedom for doing the things that they love? 

What is Burnout?

Burnout, as defined by the National Academy of Medicine, is “characterized by high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment from work.” This condition has become a huge problem with “71% of employees” reporting that they experienced burnout in 2020.

In fact, research has shown that the main reason people are choosing to leave their jobs is due to burnout and stress. An easy and fast fix to this problem would be for companies to offer more vacation time, Summer Fridays, or No Meeting Mondays.

These ideas are all a great start, but they are not going to effectively combat the exhaustion and levels of disdain of burnt-out employees. 

How to Combat Burnout as a Leader

One of the main symptoms of burnout is a sense of cynicism towards the job. In order to alleviate cynicism, it is crucial for leaders to promote a need for work-life balance, as well as offer up support to assure employees that they are valuable assets to the company. 

Many employees, especially in the United States, feel that they have to be “on” all of the time. How is someone supposed to go home and unwind if they are worried about getting an email or a slack at 10 o’clock at night? Portugal understood this dilemma and decided to ban all after-hours work emails. Unfortunately, that law is probably not going to come into effect in most countries anytime soon. However, there are different ways leaders can alleviate the stressors of their employees. 

One of the best things a leader can do is lead by example. If you are sending out emails hours after work ended, never taking a vacation or any time off, and refusing to work remotely on occasion, your employees will follow suit. This creates a toxic work environment where your inferiors feel pressured to work in the same draining and exhausting way, leading to more burnout and cynicism. 

If you are a leader, take a step back and evaluate how you could change your work habits in an effort to encourage others to do the same.

Burnout and The Planet

How can we shift the conversation of work-life balance to life-work balance?

The nonstop, fast-paced, and cutthroat work culture that has been ingrained in much of western culture is demanding, stressful, and rather unrealistic.

Work is a part of life, however, it is my humble opinion that work should not be your whole life.

We work to live, not live to work. When our entire lives are focused around our work, being on all of the time, glued to our computers, and on call for clients or bosses or coworkers, rather than focusing on ourselves, it’s no wonder burnout is such a crisis! 

As Gardenuity founder, Donna Letier, says “Burnt out people are going to burn out the planet.” The cynicism and frustration that people experience within their employment settings and circumstances can leak into other parts of their life, as well. In order for us to properly care for people and the planet, we need to care for ourselves first. 

A great analogy that one of my mentors gave to me once is this: Imagine you are a hose. Imagine the people, passions, and planet you care about are your grass. Water is able to flow freely out to help hydrate and nourish your grass. But, when there is a knot in the hose, no water flows through. If you have a knot in your hose that you have not addressed, your water is not going to be able to reach others. 

In other words, you need to take care of yourself, in order to take care of others. Self-care is not selfish, it is actually quite the opposite. You cannot be selfless and give to others, without first caring for yourself. 

Self-care can look many different ways from going on a walk, taking a yoga class, eating a cupcake, having happy hour with friends, or reading a book. Life can be much more fulfilling and exciting when we look at things WHOLE-listically – balance is huge. 

“Stop Working” Moments

I interned at a company when I was in college called Wonderkind Co. It was a quasi start-up with around 10 people on the team handling design, photography, marketing, and social media for around 30 brands. Due to the newness of the company, as well as the small size, I had a lot of responsibility, which was a great learning and growing experience, but also stressful as I was a full-time student. The management of this company did a lot of things wrong, such as emailing, texting, calling, and expecting work long after hours, however they also did a lot of things right. A unique part of this company was the fact that they would incorporate “stop working” motivators throughout the week, if not daily. This would include activities like team potlucks, ventures on a boat to Lake Austin, fitness classes, trips to ranches, and even private chefs coming in to cook for the team. These experiences were a key factor in retaining employees and making us feel excited and valued to be working for them. It also reminded everyone that the work could and would get done, even if we stopped working for a little bit during the day to treat ourselves to something special. 

Back to Surfing

So, I return to the philosophy of Yvon Chouinard – Let My People Go Surfing. Although this model may not work for every kind of business, it is a good base to jump off of. The fact that employees have lives with family, friends, and life experiences that they want to be a part of, should not be overlooked. By giving employees more autonomy, you create a culture where people get to live their life and come back to work feeling refreshed, creative, and eager to get what needs to get done, done. 

Give it a try and see how you, your business, and your employees can grow!

For more information, we recommend reading “Let My People Go Surfing” and checking out this article on Forbes or this article on Inc for great ideas to combat this problem.