Argh! How can we talk about preventing burnout when the @#*$&! pandemic isn’t over yet?! We’ve been struggling through this horrible time in one way or another since March 2020. It’s enough already!

What are people feeling these days?

Here’s good list from a recent Harvard Business Review letter, written by editor Gretchen Gavett: 

  • Anticipatory grief about an uncertain future
  • Feeling as if you’re regressing
  • Absence of relief
  • Absolute exhaustion
  • A profound lull in enthusiasm

Check, check, check, check, and check. 

Leaders everywhere are facing these feelings themselves as well as seeing them in their team members. They are struggling to find answers — solutions to employee burnout that will help people to cope and even thrive while the pandemic eventually winds down. 

Downstream solutions can only treat — not avoid — burnout

There are two kinds of solutions – upstream and downstream. Upstream solutions focus on fixing the source of a problem, while downstream solutions are about reducing the effects of the problem. In many organizations, I see a focus on downstream solutions. For example:

  • Virtual social gatherings
  • Shout-outs for outstanding contributions
  • Inspirational messages
  • Employee assistance programs

These are important ways for leaders and organizations to acknowledge the challenges people are facing and their efforts to keep the ship afloat. But they don’t address the root causes of the problem, and in some cases they can feel like superficial or irrelevant temporary fixes that don’t really help anything.

Preventing burnout starts with upstream causes

Other companies are having more success with upstream solutions. These include interventions such as:

  • Reducing paperwork
  • Limiting the number and length of meetings
  • Prohibiting emails on evenings and weekends
  • Providing childcare support
  • Allowing employees to donate PTO to each other
  • Bringing in temp workers to help manage the workload.

Especially in companies where there has been a lot of turnover, the work demands on the remaining employees are heavier than ever. Upstream solutions can provide real relief, not only for the duration of the pandemic but in the long term as well.

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