How to Help Your Team With Burnout As the World (Seemingly) Burns Down

Six matches with green heads stand against a dark gray background, with the third one burned, to represent the concept of burnout.To say that we’re living in stressful times is a massive understatement. COVID-19 case counts in many places are climbing rapidly, and officials are reinstating restrictions. For instance, Illinois recently announced a ban on indoor bar and restaurant service effective Oct. 30 in response to escalating positivity and hospitalization rates in the city, according to WGN.

At the same time, we’ve all had to endure a highly contentious election season. It’s no surprise people across the country are feeling worn out and worried. Nearly 7 in 10 American adults report experiencing higher stress levels during the pandemic, and 71 percent agree with the statement, “This is the lowest point in our nation’s history that I can remember,” according to the Stress in America 2020 report from the American Psychological Association (APA).

As a leader in the cybersecurity space, you’re likely overextended right now as you seek to secure remote work infrastructure and fend off coronavirus-inspired cyberattacks. There’s plenty of awareness surrounding the serious problem of CISO burnout: Googling the phrase yields more than 100,000 results, including plenty of articles about the role’s high churn rate, stemming from the complex and demanding nature of the position.

However, while it’s incredibly important to take care of yourself and preserve your mental health as a leader, it’s also crucial to understand that you’re not the only one who needs to beware of burnout: Your team is at risk as well, especially after enduring months of pandemic-related restrictions and political turmoil. They’re probably just as tired and anxious as you are, and as their leader, it’s your duty to do what you can to help them cope with the pressure cooker that is 2020.

How to Spot Burnout in Your Team Members

Even before COVID-19 emerged, burnout had already attracted attention as a cause for concern around the world. In the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The WHO definition describes three dimensions that characterize the syndrome:

  • Exhaustion
  • “Mental distance” from or cynicism and negativity toward your job
  • Declining productivity

In addition to these signs, you might observe these symptoms in someone who’s burned out, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Irritability and impatience with colleagues
  • Lack of focus
  • Trouble getting started (e.g., logging in late)
  • Frequent complaints of headaches, stomach issues and other physical problems

If this sounds like any of your direct reports, it’s vital to act to remedy the issue as soon as possible. The Mayo Clinic warns that untreated burnout can have serious consequences down the line, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased susceptibility to other illnesses.

What You Can Do to Help

If your team seems burned out by the stressful slog of the past seven months or so, you should act to address the issue as soon as possible. Even if the people who report to you seem to be faring well, it can’t hurt to proactively shore up their well-being to prevent burnout in the future.

Here are just a few ways to show you care and ensure your staff returns to or stays in a relatively healthy headspace:

    • Check in with them frequently and listen attentively. Go beyond the standard “how’s it going?” and ask what you and your company can do more specifically to make their lives easier, as advised by the Harvard Business Review article “8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health.” If your staff is working from home full-time, it’s also important to maintain high levels of communication to make up for the fact that you’re no longer stopping by their desks or saying hello to them in the hallways. For instance, you might schedule weekly one-on-one video calls with each team member to not only go over their assignments but also ask how they’re doing.
    • Express gratitude and recognize their achievements. One of the biggest drivers of burnout is a lack of recognition and support from leaders, with 31 percent of corporate professionals citing it as one of the causes of their condition, according to a Deloitte survey. So, when one of your staff members receives a certification, adeptly addresses a client’s issue, or otherwise accomplishes something notable, don’t hesitate to let them know you appreciate their hard work. For example, you could send out an email to your entire team detailing the achievement and offering praise.
    • Encourage them to take breaks and time off. Another major cause of burnout revealed by the Deloitte survey is working overtime and weekends, with 29 percent of respondents reporting it as a contributing factor. Leaders can help by ensuring their team knows it’s not only ok but highly recommended to use your vacation days, not log into your email all weekend, and step away from your desk for a brief walk or coffee break during the day.
    • Launch health and wellness initiatives. Beyond simply reminding your staff to practice self-care by eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep and exercising, you can incentivize a healthy lifestyle with company-wide programs that offer support and rewards for beneficial behaviors. For example, at Stratosphere Networks, we have a monthly health challenge where employees pick their own objective from an extensive menu of options (e.g., walking or running 5 miles per day) and then track their progress. Anyone who participates for 10+ days is eligible for a giveaway. Our latest prize is two Ubio Labs wireless charging pads for mobile phones.

Ultimately, you can’t get by without your team supporting you. In this time of extended crisis, attending to their mental health is just as important as taking care of yourself.

If you’d like more insights into effective IT security leadership, don’t hesitate to reach out to Stratosphere Networks by calling 877-599-3999 or emailing

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