by Amy Johnston, LCSW, PMH-C

3 simple tips” will not prevent burnout. 

“5 easy strategies” are not going to erase your symptoms of work-related anxiety or depression.

“10 ways to say “no” to things” doesn’t always work.

Hands up high, I have been guilty of writing about tips, tricks and strategies for employees to cope and even maybe feel better. In an effort to give people a sense of agency and control, I worry that we might be inadvertently placing the burden in the wrong spot.

This morning I saw a well-meaning post about three easy ways to prevent burnout and something inside me died a little. Burnout. Exhaustion. Depression. Stress. Overwhelm. These are very real experiences that so many of us have been having over the past few years. We DO need strategies to fix this pervasive problem. It’s just that every time we suggest that employees can take control of their situation by acting differently, we let leaders, organizations and systems off the hook a little bit. Burnout is a system issue. Unrealistic expectations, too much responsibility and not enough control, and lack of authentic connection and genuine relationships are all ingredients of this toxic pie.

Individual responsibility to “solve” our own burnout problems puts folks in an unwinnable position, and when the tips and tricks don’t work, the blame can rest squarely on the person who couldn’t cope, instead of the organization that didn’t create a culture where mental health and wellbeing take priority. The tips and tricks ARE helpful. They can support you to cope with the stressors and challenges you’re up against. But they’re not the solutions to the real problems.

So how about some simple tips that can  help prevent burnout. Helpful tips  for the leaders.

  1. Show appreciation to your employees.Often. In all kinds of ways.Compensate them well. Respect their time. Provide support and training. Say thank you. Showcase good work. Give credit where it’s due. Honor and encourage time off for family, rest and fun.
  1. Cultivate and maintain real, authentic, caring relationships with your people. Get to know them as humans. Let them get to know you. Model vulnerability. Learn about mental health and how to be there for others. Share wins and losses. Celebrate and commiserate.
  1. Make sure workloads are reasonable and manageable. Ask how you can help. Follow through. Recognize that over 2 years into a pandemic, people’s capacity isn’t what it used to be. Productivity is not the only measure of a successful organization. Let your people recover.

Creating a mentally healthy workplace culture isn’t easy.  It takes time, commitment, a reshaping of priorities, and real effort on the part of leaders to make changes.  If you need some help in untangling it, we can help.

Amy is a social worker and therapist in Chicago.  She helps organizations and leaders to understand, address and support mental health at work.  


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