Poor Leadership: 8 Ways Managers Burn Out Their Employees

Man dropping computer

In 10 Ways Organizations Create Burnout:  An Overview, I shared common mistakes that organizations make when trying to introduce change in the workplace.

Based on my original research on what causes and maintains burnout during organizational change, this Top 10 list came from the observations and perceptions of my burnout survivors.  So, there were no “clues” nor “hints” based on what I thought change managers were doing wrong

What was the #1 organizational factor that leads to employee burnout?

A whopping 92.9% of participants cited poor leadership

Are you surprised?  If you are like many people, you probably aren’t.

But just knowing the poor leadership can lead to burnout is not enough:  what specifically did these leaders do wrong?

Eight leadership mistakes were repeatedly mentioned as contributors to employee burnout:

  1. Refusing to provide the necessary support that I need to complete my projects
  2. Ignoring my emotions or fears relating to the changes
  3. Blaming me for problems that are outside of my control
  4. Threatening me with job loss if I refuse to take unethical (or even illegal) actions
  5. Overlooking or ridiculing my experience and KSA’s (knowledge, skills, abilities)
  6. Never recognizing or thanking me for a job well done
  7. Giving preferential treatment to the “in group” employees – even if their performance is substandard (particularly frustrating if my performance met or exceeded goals!)
  8. Micromanaging

Sound familiar?

A Case Study:  How poor leadership contributed to burnout.  In one real-life situation, there were many leadership problems that created high stress and burnout for this employee.  For example, her manager:

  • Did not include her on job-specific email distribution lists despite repeated requests for inclusion
  • Ignored requests for information and support
  • Continuously changed performance standards every quarter
  • Violated published organizational policies and Federal, state, and local employment laws
  • Created unrealistic workload demands that exceeded the scope of the job
  • Pressured her to violate personal ethics – even going so far as to recommend, “You better start thinking politically”

Eventually, the manager left the company and was replaced with a more experienced leader.

Nothing changed on an organizational level when the new manager took over.  However, the employee in this case study actually perceived that her stress levels decreased even though there was no respite from the enormous transformational changes that the company was attempting.

What caused these feelings of reduced stress?

Although the content of the changes had remained the same, the context had radically changed.  With the new manager, this employee not only knew what to do (because she was “in the loop” and received the necessary information in a timely manner), but also because the new manager generally cared and supported her in the execution of her duties.

In other words, a single person in the form of the new manager changed this employee’s entire work experience AND enabled her to begin her ascent out of burnout.

Puleo’s Pointers:  5 Ways Leaders Can Avoid Burning Out Their Employees

Mutual respect does wonders to avoid and overcome burnout in both yourself and others.  Here are 5 tips to help managers avoid contributing to a burned out workforce during organizational change:

  1. Standards. Set standards that are reasonable and internally consistent, explain their relevance to organizational goals, and encourage (rather than ignore) questions to promote greater understanding and buy-in.
  2. Resources. Provide the necessary resources (e.g., technology that works, tactical guidance, emotional support) that will enable an employee to perform at his/her highest level during the change initiative.
  3. Attitude. Support and develop (rather than punish and ostracize) workers who question the standards – particularly if the basis of their questions is to help them better plan for and meet the new standards.
  4. Equity and compliance. Comply with all corporate policies when dealing with all employees – playing favorites not only potentially violates employment laws, but it also leads to a demoralized workforce.
  5. Respect and appreciation. Re‑familiarize yourself with why you hired the employee in the first place – they proved that they had the skills to do the job, so guide them, support them, then step back so that they can do the jobs that they were hired to do!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

5 thoughts on “Poor Leadership: 8 Ways Managers Burn Out Their Employees

  1. Rewrite:

    However, the employee in this case study actually perceived that her stress levels even though there was no respite from the enormous transformational changes that the company was attempting.



    1. C –
      Thanks for noticing this omission! I’ve made the change — in fact, this employee’s stress levels DECREASED because the context of the changes (i.e., the new manager) radically affected how she viewed the content of the changes. In other words, a manager with good leadership skills can actually lessen the feelings of stress in his or her subordinates.
      Dr. Geri Puleo

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