Decrease burnout by increasing learning

Jimmy Burroughes
5 min readDec 6, 2022

Did you know that the highest number of employees who report burnout are in mid-senior career roles? We wondered why.

Just over 18 months ago we started researching burnout and its impact on performance in organizations. Since then we have developed a suite of tools and frameworks which help people identify and overcome the causes of burnout, and help them unleash their potential to perform.

The fourth factor we discovered in our research is the idea of being in the learning and growth zone and its impact on preventing burnout. Essentially, those who explore are much more likely to stay the course versus those exploiting the same skills over and over.

As a junior members of the team, we are constantly learning and the world is full of training to help us develop our technical skills. We are learning how to become experts in our role, constantly encountering new situations and adding tools to our toolbox.

This constant learning keeps us fresh and rewards us with a sense of achievement and growth. This striving to learn and grow has been proven to release neurochemicals that help prevent burnout. It’s the same reason special forces selection candidates and extreme athletes who are working toward something huge are able to keep going — they are driven by the sense of exploring something they previously didn’t think possible.

Fast forward 15–20 years and generally, you are now a senior, experienced member of the team, and that learning curve has flattened dramatically. In fact, most executives can’t remember the last piece of professional development they undertook. This curve flattening is a combination of being more time-poor and believing that development and exploration are less of a priority than delivering against KPIs or targets. There is also a cultural nuance in most businesses that senior people should only focus on helping more junior people learn. Not that they too should be continuing their development. (How wrong we can be).

Equally, as we become more senior, we tend to rely more on what we believe works. We don’t innovate or experiment so much because we believe the stakes are too high if we were to make a mistake. So we keep dipping into the same toolbox and whilst that might be fine when the environment is the same, throw in a global disruption or two, and leaders who have forgotten how to learn are left exposed or are running to catch up. This puts on additional stress.

We have had to adapt more in the last 2 years than in the last 50. Imagine being unfit and being asked to run a 10k with little to no training. Many have found their business performance the same. If we add to that the fact that the 10k is in the middle of an earthquake and you get the idea. Those who are learning and growing, are more able to adapt.

From all the research, we also saw that burnout from lack of learning and exploration tends to hit those leaders who are working on the same problems, over a long period of time. They feel like hamsters on the wheel.

So what can you do to explore more and help stave off burnout? Here are a few ideas that our clients have shared during feedback sessions:

1. Seek new opportunities to learn

This doesn’t mean changing companies but it might mean stepping into a secondment or leading a project. Perhaps you could temporarily step into a new role internally where you can try some new skills out. Younger generations are swapping roles every 12–18 months to keep learning new skills. Graduate programs offer rotations. If you’ve been at the same thing for more than 5 years, you might not be learning as much as you could. Remember — at a senior level, your role is to lead, not necessarily “do” so the technical skills are less important than the leadership skills but you will learn huge amounts from the move. One client has an extremely successful senior leadership rotation program where leaders change jobs or projects every 2 years until they have amassed the experiences they need to be executives. It is amazing!

2. Bring new ideas to old problems.

Work with younger members of your team to explore new ways of solving old problems. Not only does this have the benefit of helping them feel included more, and gives them the opportunity to develop, but it exposes you to new thinking and ideas which you may not have considered previously. Be open to letting them share ideas and explore with them. You’ll learn and so will they.

3 Spring clean your routine

We noticed that a lot of burnout victims also have ingrained routines which often require mental energy without them even knowing it. With a little bit of thought, these can be switched up to make things more novel and stop you from wasting mental energy on, for example, “blocking out the noise” so you can concentrate. These types of things can unconsciously sap energy and increase the likelihood of burnout. Look at how you start and finish your day, and where you work from. Identify which areas of your office/locations bring out your creative energy, help you concentrate, and support deep work.

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Jimmy Burroughes

Showing leaders and teams how to change their conversations to change their business performance results. jimmyburroughes.com