Addressing Engagement and Burnout in Two Easy Steps

Those phrases are fast joining the legions of leadership buzzwords (like “pivot” during the pandemic) that prompt staff to roll their eyes, wondering what those words really even mean. While the concepts certainly reflect real leadership concerns, the words have become such an abstract catchall for employee-related challenges that they have been diluted to . . . well . . . overused buzzwords.

Thankfully leading leadership thinkers have supplied us with a more targeted approach to addressing employee engagement and reducing burnout.

Marcus Buckingham, in Love + Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do; And Do It for the Rest of your Life, challenges individuals to identify what they love about their job — activities that energize them, that they can get lost in — and find ways to incorporate more of that into their day. Now for those who are thinking, “I can’t let my employees only do what they love and expect the work to get done,” Buckingham has good news. His research indicates employees only need a 20% threshold of activities they love to build engagement. 20%! Yes, that 20% will look different for different people . . . and therein lies the key for leaders. While you should absolutely have outcome expectations for teams, the most engaged teams are allowed flexibility in how they get there.

Patrick Lencioni, in The Six Types of Working Genius: A Better Way to Understand Your Gifts, Your Frustrations and Your Team, also looks at why some aspects of our jobs energize us while others deplete us of energy. As the title suggests, he has identified six types of “working genius.” Sorry, but none of us excel at all six. For most people two of the six are energizing, two are draining, and the other two typically lie somewhere in the middle. What if you consciously built a team where all six types of genius are represented, and then distributed responsibilities based largely on a team member’s area of genius? What do you think would happen to the team’s energy and engagement, and ultimately the outcomes they achieve?

Stated another way, both Buckingham and Lencioni are challenging us to find ways for those who work with us to maximize their unique gifts and graces. Unique . . . as in it doesn’t look the same for everyone. As long as you have all the bases covered on your team, why force someone to carry out tasks that suck the life out of them if someone else finds those same tasks energizing? In Let Your Life Speak, Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer noted, “Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess— the ultimate in giving too little!And as Buckingham and Lencioni identify, what one team member does not possess may be the ultimate sweet spot for another.

Struggling with engagement and burnout? Give your people more of what excites them and less of what drains them. It really might be just that simple.

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