Remote Working

The Root Causes Of Burnout On Your Remote Team And Why It Matters

Does this sound like you and your team?

If you’ve said yes to any of the above questions, this post is for you. 

For me as a coach that specializes in working with remote teams, understanding the root causes that lead a team to feel burnout and stress is vital. 

If we don’t understand the root cause or causes (because more than often it’s more than one), we’ll never be able to create a sustainable organization that truly thrives and thus, grows.

It’s sometimes easier for leaders to turn a blind eye to the root causes of burnout. Some just can’t go there- it’s too difficult, feels too heavy and requires changes on a lot of levels. 

But if we continue to turn a blind eye, we continue to put our business and our team at risk. 

Job burnout is real. It’s so real in fact that The World Health Organization finally recognized burnout as an occupational health issue in 2019.

Between December 2020 and July 2021, employees reported a 21% increase in burnout and 17% increase in physical symptoms of stress like muscle tension and fatigue, as well as added work-life balance challenges and overall job stress.

If you’ve found giving your team mental health days off hasn’t worked for the long-term, it’s probably because your organization hasn’t addressed the root causes. 

The Importance of Burnout Root Causes

Although the root causes can at first seem overwhelming and complex, taking the time as an organization to get clear on these blockers provides a tremendous opportunity. 

After all, how would your organization or team look if everyone on your team felt healthy, happy, productive and autonomous to establish and maintain work-life practices that worked for them? 

Success isn’t just achieved from the things we do as an organization or team, it’s achieved by the people that we become. 

Every day, we as a team are choosing. 

We’re choosing whether to accept a way of work and life that leaves us feeling depleted and fatigued or we’re choosing to create a place to work that feels calm, energetic, authentic, and peaceful.

In my time of working with teams that are experiencing the endless cycle of burnout, I’ve come to identify the most common root causes of burnout on remote teams and I want to share with you the concepts and strategies that will help you and your team, face the problem and solve it- head-on!

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Root Cause 1: The Hustle Mentality

We can all create more calm within our teams. And we should strive for calm. Because calmness breathes creativity and innovation. 

Working without constant interruptions is important. Previous research has shown that interruptions increase the likelihood of errors being made on a task, in that important components of the task are either repeated or missed

Uninterrupted work creates a balanced working life that produces passion and excitement at work. It creates space and time for deep work, for deep thinking. Calmness empowers us to nurture ourselves and prioritize self-care which is vital to reduce chronic workplace stress. 

Many companies focus too heavily on outputs as opposed to inputs. They focus on the hours that their team members work each day and their Slack activity instead of helping them to effectively measure and understand their output. They consistently expect their teams to be performing at 100%, all of the time, creating unrealistic expectations that cause heightened levels of stress that can eventually lead to their employees burning out. 

True efficiency comes from a balanced approach to work, especially when we work remotely. It comes from understanding that there are times and days when we will be more productive than others. It comes from understanding that it’s not about WHEN we work, but about the outputs that we produce at the end of the workweek. 

This shift in mindset is something that needs to be changed at a cultural level so that we can start to truly create psychological safety for our team to feel good about looking after themselves so that they can show up effectively for their work

Research shows that we’re not productive after 50 hours of work per week. John Pencavel found that productivity per hour declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.

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Root Cause 2: Lack Of Remote First Processes

If you don’t have root cause 1 in place, your processes are more than likely based around the office environment. For example, your team probably focuses heavily on meetings and real-time conversations to get work done. This is called synchronous communication.

To be effective at remote working as an organization and to create an infrastructure remotely that scales as our team grows, we need remote-first processes. 

Why? 

Because without remote-first processes we work in ways that are built for when we work together in person. 

And that’s where friction occurs. 

Friction like, overwhelming amounts of meetings and communication

Too many notifications and emails

Our teams and us constantly being in reactive mode

It’s not sustainable and it’s a major contributor to burnout in our remote teams. 

If your team has an overwhelming calendar consisting of meetings all day, most days, you can guarantee your team members don’t have adequate time to take breaks, get fresh air or even eat lunch. 

After a time, this becomes a vicious cycle and eventually leads to burnout. 

Many companies still hold a subconscious belief that to be ‘seen’ to be working, employees must be online and involved in meetings. This, along with a lack of valuing time contributes to endless meetings that are often unproductive and ineffective.

What we need to understand is that the research shows remote workers on average are more productive than their office counterpoints. That when they are left to have uninterrupted time to work without meetings, they can get their work done much quicker than they would if they were in the office all the time. 

When companies start to shift their cultural mindset to one of asynchronous communication (delayed time communication) like Slack messages collaboration through voice, written, or even video form, we allow everyone to work on more autonomous schedules and thus, create better sustainable productivity. 

Root Cause 3: Leadership Ineffectiveness

All leaders aren’t created equal, and that’s why it’s even more important for organizations to equip their leadership teams with the skills, knowledge, and training that help them coach and lead their remote teams. 

Leadership ineffectiveness in itself requires an analysis of the root cause and isn’t just the fault of the leaders. For some, it could be simply that they don’t understand the fundamentals of identifying the red flags of burnout on their teams. For others, they may struggle to coach their team members when they do see challenges with overwhelm and stress. 

Leading teams in not only a remote but a pandemic environment requires a new set of skills. 

For example, research shows 55% of how we communicate is done through body language and 35% done through tone of voice, the rest is by what we say. If leaders aren’t equipped to build the emotional intelligence skills that can help them read and assess body language on their team, they are probably blind to the issues that their teams face until it’s too late. 

Similarly, if leaders are themselves struggling with overwhelm and stress in the workplace, which is extremely common today, it’s much more likely that their teams will also experience the same. The term ‘lead by example’ is incredibly important for remote leaders. 

Root Cause 4: Your Team Lack Self-Awareness

Self-awareness has coined a skill under the emotional intelligence wheelhouse, which means it’s something that can be developed. 

Self-awareness is what helps you understand others and how they see you, your temperament, and the way you respond to them in real-time. When new managers see themselves clearly, they make better decisions, build more meaningful relationships, and lead others more effectively.

And recent studies show that self-awareness is “the strongest predictor of overall success.” For example, a team at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations studied 72 senior executives at companies with revenues between $50 million to $5 billion. They found that it’s not the “tough guys” who finish first. Instead, leaders with the high self-awareness that forms the basis for strong interpersonal skills deliver better financial results.

Emotional Self-Awareness includes recognizing and understanding one’s own emotions. This includes the ability to differentiate between subtleties in one’s own emotions while understanding the cause of these emotions and the impact they have on one’s thoughts and actions and those of others.

To build self-awareness, we must strengthen our conscious connection to all three brain regions: our thoughts, emotions, and gut instincts.

Emotional Intelligence (commonly referred to as EI or EQ) is one of those constructs in life which we may have difficulty defining but feel “I know it when I see it.” It may come to mind when we notice someone ignoring our feelings or observing a less-than-mindful manager disregarding a team member’s fragile emotions. We may observe and feel it when we buy into a vision articulated by a particularly charismatic leader.

Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

EI accounts for 25-45% of workplace performance, and unlike IQ, EI is something that you can improve.

It’s a skill worth developing!

Especially when we work remotely.

As we continue to adapt to remote work and even hybrid environments, EI will be difficult to cultivate, but it is more important than ever. When we work in the office, it’s easier to be aware of our surroundings- we often don’t have to consciously think about body language, eye contact, and social cues. 

When we work remotely, our effectiveness is rooted in our ability to be conscious and observe how the people around you are reacting to you and each other, and adapt and respond accordingly.

There’s a difference between being able to work remotely and being truly effective at remote working. 

When we think of remote working, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to believing someone will succeed as long as they can effectively do their jobs. There’s a deeper level to being successful as a remote employee, manager and organization. 

To manage ourselves and each other in an online or multi-office environment, we need to have a high level of self-perception, how we see ourselves, understand ourselves, and how well we identify our own emotions. 

The autonomy that comes with working remote, and primarily alone, means we should be tapped into ourselves as individuals to better make decisions that promote our overall well-being. 

Working without in-person interactions daily means we need to adjust how we express ourselves online. 

If you want to reduce burnout on your remote team once and for all, I will help you do that. If you’re committed to a positive change in your organization in 2021, book a non-obligatory call with me, and let’s discuss and address your team’s root causes of workplace burnout and stress. 

About Me

Hi, I’m Shauna. I specialize in working with remote teams to help them create world-class cultures and internal systems. I have a background in Psychology and Executive Coaching with Neuroscience. I blend this with my 6+ years of research on remote teams to help companies make a difference in the long term. If this speaks to you, you know where to find me. 

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I help remote organisations sustain their engagement, productivity and wellbeing

HEY, I'M SHAUNA I'M AN ACCREDITED EXECUTIVE COACH AND CONSULTANT

I'm an accredited and award-winning transformational coach to founders, leaders and teams of fast-growing remote companies, a speaker, emotional intelligence practitioner and remote team researcher.

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