How to Handle Manager Burnout in 2024

Burnout is a rising problem among employees. As much as 48% report symptoms of burnout, but even more managers suffer from burnout with rates of up to 53%.

And manager burnout is only getting worse.

Although all employees experience stress at work, managers have even more on their shoulders. From budgeting to layoffs, trying to lead with empathy through a tight labor market, and holding it all together through the aftermath of a pandemic, managers wear many stressful hats.

Because managers have different responsibilities and higher rates of burnout than employees, it’s important to have a clear plan to prevent, recognize, and prioritize the reduction of manager burnout.

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What Is Manager Burnout?

Burnout for managers includes personal symptoms, like feelings of exhaustion. Managers can develop a mental distance from their job, as well as negative feelings about most aspects of their position. On the job, employees and other managers may notice that their quality of work has been reduced.

Burnout also has an interconnected relationship with depression and anxiety. It is normal for people who suffer from burnout to also demonstrate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How Is Manager Burnout Different Than Regular Employee Burnout?

Burnout is defined the same, whether you’re talking about burnout in regards to employees or middle manager burnout. However, it does reveal itself more intensely due to the stress and workloads that managers have to deal with.

Not only can burnout symptoms be more acute among managers, but it also has the potential to affect the entire team. Burnout can affect leadership abilities, which affects the performance of employees. Not to mention, employees with burnt-out managers are more likely to experience burnout themselves.

What Are the Symptoms of Manager Burnout?

Dealing with burnout at work can be difficult. Some managers may not know that they’re feeling burnt out, while others may know they’re struggling, but they don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about it.

HR, other leaders, and senior managers need to know what to look out for. After all, the first step to fixing burnout is knowing the signs of manager burnout first.

Symptoms of manager burnout include:

  • Dreading going to work: They show up on time or even late when they were previously on time or early. They may also be grouchy or seem detached in the morning.
  • Exhaustion: Maybe their cup of coffee in the morning has turned into all-day coffee drinking, they seem less animated, and they regularly seem drowsy during meetings.
  • Decreased ability to have compassion for colleagues: When once they worked together with employees to understand the challenges they were facing, now they just want them to get the work done.
  • Decreased ability to regulate emotions: This can show up as angry outbursts or quietly crying in private, but they also may demonstrate unexpected emotions, like a lack of joy at getting off early on a Friday.
  • Circular and obsessive thinking patterns: They might focus on irrelevant details to the detriment of the overall project, or they can’t seem to let go of something someone else did or said.
  • Low motivation: They used to volunteer for new projects, but now they don’t. They may be doing their job, but they’re doing the bare minimum, when before they used to enthusiastically help with certain tasks.
  • Generally not feeling like themselves: Look for general personality changes. Someone who used to be bubbly and outgoing may keep more to themselves, or someone who used to take walks on their break now sits in their car.

What Causes Manager Burnout?

Whether you notice the symptoms in yourself or a manager you work with, it’s important to know what causes these symptoms. When you do, you can face them head-on and stop burnout in its tracks.

Some of the most common causes of manager burnout include:

  • Dual role of doing their work and managing
  • Heavy workload
  • Too many distractions
  • The nature of a manager’s role has changed
  • New to being a manager
  • Lack of support
  • Managing a remote/hybrid team brings challenges
  • Lack of rewards
  • Lack of control
  • Lack of fairness

Dual role of doing their work and managing

Managing others can be challenging in and of itself, but most managers have dual roles. They manage members of their team, but they’re also doing their work.

Managers often feel like they’re being pulled in two different directions. It isn’t uncommon for managers to spend the majority of their day multitasking, but that can have disastrous consequences. Multitasking can increase stress levels, raise blood pressure, and raise your heart rate, in addition to being associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

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Heavy workload

The workload itself can be a stressor for managers. Not only do they have dual roles, they simply have a lot to do.

Managers are entrusted with more simply because they’re in a managerial role. It is easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. With so much to do, managers often focus on the wrong tasks at the wrong time, further contributing to the sense that they have an overwhelming workload that they’re struggling to manage.

Too many distractions

With so much to do, one would think that it would be easy to avoid distractions in the name of getting more done. Sometimes, the opposite is true, and it’s especially true if you’re also feeling burnt out.

It's easy to get lost in a sea of emails, for example. It can give you the feeling of being productive, but hours later, you don't have anything to show for it. It could be a dinging cell phone, constant interruptions from team members, or even a cluttered desk that you simply don’t have time to clean.

The nature of a manager’s role has changed

Once upon a time, a manager’s job was simply to delegate tasks to members of their team. Although that is still part of the job today, every manager’s role has changed in the 21st century.

Managers aren’t expected to just manage. They are expected to be leaders. They have to lead their team with empathy and understanding, acting more as a caring mentor than a boss. It’s a lot easier to feel overextended when managers give more of their time and attention to their employees than ever before.

New to being a manager

Burnout can creep up slowly after years on the job, but it can just as easily show up quickly, as is often the case when it comes to new managers.

Once the excitement of the new job wears off, overwhelm can take over and quickly turn into burnout. It can be especially difficult for a new hire to navigate their work and manage others when there isn’t a lot of support, clear expectations, or frequent feedback. Many managers are instead thrown to the wolves, so to speak, in the name of making life easier for others above them.

Lack of support

New hires can struggle with a lack of support, but so can experienced managers. It can be difficult to know what to focus on, especially if you don’t know what’s important to upper management. It’s easy to wonder if you’re doing a good job. Without feedback, you’re stuck feeling like you aren’t doing the right things, but you don’t know what to change either. It won’t take long before it starts to affect your mental health.

Managing a remote/hybrid team brings challenges

Remote work is here to stay. Most workers report being more productive in their home office, but it comes with problems. Communication can be a huge challenge, as can collaboration. A whopping 60% of remote employees in one survey reported wanting more guidance about what is expected of them.

These challenges often fall on the shoulders of management. Trying to make sure everyone on the team is filled in, they can collaborate easily with each other, and they know what is expected can add even more to an already full plate.

Lack of rewards

It isn’t uncommon for workplaces to focus what little attention they have on improvements. For example, a yearly performance review might focus on how a manager could have done things differently to get a better result.

If you don’t focus on the good too, you’re setting your managers up for burnout.

Recognition is the number one thing that motivates employees to work harder, and yet 29% of employees report not receiving recognition for good work in over a year. That number is likely higher for managers, as they tend to receive even less recognition than employees. Not feeling like you’re contributing in meaningful ways can have serious consequences on your mental health over time.

Lack of control

Many people strive to become a manager to have more control over their work, but the truth is, that managers can experience a lack of control just like regular employees. They have to take on the tasks they are given, manage their team according to company policy, and show up for endless meetings. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have any control over your workday, and when you don’t feel like you have control, it’s easy to end up feeling burnt out.

Lack of fairness 

A lack of fairness in the workplace can be especially disastrous to mental health. Whether it’s another manager who is receiving special treatment or you feel like upper management unfairly considers others’ expertise without considering yours, feeling like you aren’t being treated fairly is a recipe for burnout.

What Are the Risks of Manager Burnout?

On the surface, leadership burnout can seem like a personal problem. After all, it is a personal reaction to working conditions, but that personal reaction can have some serious consequences.

The top risks of manager burnout include:

  • Retention plummets
  • Team performance suffers
  • Employee growth stagnates
  • Erosion of trust

Retention plummets

Burnout is responsible for as much as half of annual workforce turnover. If managers are searching for relief from their symptoms but don’t get that relief through support at work, they will get that relief by leaving their current position. That means you spend way more time and money than you should to replace them.

Team performance suffers

Managers have a huge impact on the employee experience. They can increase engagement and performance, but they can also negatively affect employees.

How long an employee stays in their position is heavily influenced by their manager, with employees who have burnt-out managers leaving their jobs much more quickly than those who don’t. 

In addition, as much as 70% of an employee's perception of their work environment is influenced by the actions and behaviors of management. If feelings of burnout drive those actions and behaviors, you can bet those perceptions won’t be good.

Employee growth stagnates

Employees have to receive the right support to learn and grow on the job. Much of that support comes from management, but if their manager is burnt out, they are not going to be able to provide the support they need. Profits can stagnate or decrease, productivity slides, and employees disengage from their work and start looking for new jobs.

Erosion of trust 

Unbelievably, trusting employees are 260% more motivated to work. They call in sick less, and they are a lot less likely to look for another job.

If their manager is burnt out, chances are they aren’t doing the things they said they would do. They probably don’t have the brain power to provide support or growth opportunities, and if their emotions are affected, they are probably inadvertently creating an uncomfortable atmosphere that eventually creates a toxic, untrusting work environment.

How to Prevent or Mitigate Manager Burnout

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to burnout. Preventing it from taking hold in the first place is always the best choice, but the nature of the job means not all symptoms of manager burnout can be prevented.

Fortunately, whether you’re trying to prevent burnout or unravel symptoms after they have arrived, there are steps you can take to help managers get back and stay on track.

They include:

  • Flexible work options
  • Empower managers
  • Redistribute workloads
  • Invest in manager and employee development
  • Provide wellness and self-care programs
  • Connect managers to the company’s mission
  • Ensure psychological safety at work
  • Reward managers fairly
  • Make sure employees take PTO
  • Double down on measuring manager engagement

Flexible work options

Any flexibility you can offer employees regarding their workday can be very helpful when preventing or eliminating symptoms of burnout.

Just a few options to give your manager include:

  • Ability to work remotely at least some of the time
  • Let them choose their start and end times with flextime
  • Condense the workweek into just four days
  • Expand leave with more opportunities to take time off
  • Offer the opportunity for extended leaves and sabbaticals

Empower managers

Empower your managers by giving them more control over their workload and their workday. Give them the ability to delegate tasks to their team members freely, allow them to say no to tasks that will overfill their schedule, and trust them to get the job done without micromanaging their every move.

Redistribute workloads

Empowering managers to delegate tasks and say no is a good first step, but not all managers are willing to admit that they need help. Prevent them from having to ask for help in the first place by redistributing their workloads.

Strive to create even, fair expectations and workloads for all managers. By sharing the load, all of your managers can find enough time in the day to get their work done.

Invest in manager and employee development

Development is important for employees, but it is also important for managers. Leadership skills aren’t just something you have or you don’t. They can be taught, and when you take the time to help them develop their management skills, they are much more likely to avoid symptoms of burnout.

Create a system of manager performance reviews that gives managers the ability to talk about development opportunities. Not only will they learn and grow, but it will also give them a sense of control over their development.

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Provide wellness and self-care programs

Managers are only able to take care of the employees on their team if they take time to take care of themselves. By offering wellness and self-care programs, you can increase your managers' chances of taking that time.

You should try to offer a mixture of physical and mental health programs to your managerial employees. Offer discounted gym memberships, start a walking club, or serve free healthy lunches whenever you can. Offer no-questions-asked mental health days, no-cost therapy sessions, and burnout training so they can recognize it in themselves and others.

Connect managers to the company’s mission

There’s power in feeling like you have a mission. When the company has a clear mission and managers know what it is and feel like they’re contributing to it, feelings of burnout are less likely to take hold.

Communicate your company’s mission so it’s top of mind, but you should also consider implementing a system of cascading goals to ensure manager and employee goals are aligned with the company’s overall mission.

Ensure psychological safety at work

Toxic work environments promote symptoms of burnout, while psychologically safe environments actively prevent symptoms of manager burnout from occurring in the first place.

The best way to create a psychologically safe place to work is to build a culture that accepts—and even encourages—mistakes. Establish clear norms and expectations, encourage open communication, practice active listening, and support team members by taking a what-did-you-learn approach when mistakes are made.

Reward managers fairly

Rewards are important to performance, with a 27% increase in employee performance when competitive rewards programs are in place. They also boost mental health, reduce absenteeism, and increase loyalty.

Whether it’s a raise, a bonus, or extra time off, it’s important that whatever system of rewards you implement is fair. Make sure it’s based on measurable behaviors by using a system of Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS) to ensure everyone has a fair and equal chance of receiving the reward.

Make sure employees take PTO

Providing paid time off is a good first step to preventing or managing symptoms of burnout. The trouble is, managers are notoriously bad at taking time off, with 54% saying they take less time off than what’s available compared to 42% of nonmanagers.

Cross-train managers so one can easily step in when another is gone and managers won’t feel like they can’t take time off because they are the only ones capable of doing their job. Upper management needs to set a good example by taking time off themselves in a culture of letting managers take time off without the need for questions or explanations.

Double down on measuring manager engagement 

Engagement is worth measuring among your managers because it can affect productivity, as much as a 23% increase based on HR research. Knowing how engaged your managers are can also help you identify manager burnout quickly.

Create a system of employee engagement surveys that enable you to understand the challenges managers are facing, as well as how their engagement changes over time. It allows you to make swift changes that can have a real impact on overall well-being, including burnout.

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Use Employee Engagement Tools to Track Manager Burnout

Engagement tools like PerformYard’s engagement tool are the best ways to identify manager burnout so you can stop it in its tracks.

An engagement tool allows you to send surveys that are measure engagement based on data-backed research on the most important engagement factors. Their replies are entered into a data analysis dashboard where you're able to zero in on who is exhibiting signs of manager burnout. Based on that information, you can speak with affected employees, mentor them in key areas, or balance their workload depending on which challenges they need the most help with.

An engagement tool is the best way to continuously monitor and manage burnout in your organization.