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How to Prevent Your Top Talent from Burning Out

By Lindsey Nehls, Senior Consultant, The Piras Group

Prevent Talent Burnout

I couldn’t think clearly, I wasn’t able to sleep, and I had lost a lot of weight. I called a few wise people and they said, “you are burnt out.” It was true. I had hit industry breaking records that year, given every bit of myself to work, and could no longer function. It got so bad, my doctor forced me to take medical leave for three months. When I returned to work, everyone thought the company had sent me on vacation because of my performance. I wish! 

Burnout is real and it is scary. A five-year study in the UK found that the mental health of 20% of the top-performing leaders of UK businesses is affected by corporate burnout.

I write this now, almost nine years later, thinking how could I have let that happen?! How could I not have taken better care of myself? The reality is that I was actually just really motivated by the mission of what we were doing. I was given a lot of opportunity, getting incredible feedback, so I just kept doing it until I physically and mentally crashed. 

There's a lot a company can, and should, do to protect their high performers from burnout. Here are a few:

  • Don’t keep piling on the work just because they are really good at it: It seems obvious but it happens all the time. I have coaching clients who are running some of the most successful pieces of the business and they are also asked to plan the annual sales conference, develop the culture for the company, develop a company on-boarding program, and plan the annual team event. What?! Make sure you don’t take advantage of your high performers. 
  • Let the high performers pick one thing they really want to do: Often we don’t want our high performers to take on anything else. We need them focused on the most important things. The reality is we always ask them to do more. For once, ask them: what is one thing they really want to work on? If it is too much, don’t tell them they don’t have time, provide the resources to help them make it happen. This can be incredibly motivating. 
  • Get creative with ways to say thank you: There are so many ways to recognize high performing employees other than a salary increase that can be more timely and often more meaningful. If you see a high performing pulling crazy hours, when they finally close the deal or ship the product, mandate they take vacation and give them a $1K spot bonus for the hotel or flight. Don’t just tell them to take vacation. They will think they have too much to do and never leave. Mandate it and pay for it. 
  • Celebrate the wins: As a leader, make the time to celebrate your team and their wins, and whatever you do, don’t ask them to plan the party! I’ll never forget closing the largest deal our company had done. It was written up in the NYT. I wanted to recognize the team and say congrats. I mentioned to my boss that we should do something. He thought it was a great idea and then, promptly, asked me to plan the party. I had pulled an all nighter that week to help get the deal across the finish line and there I was emailing places to rent out. As a leader, get the team to stop and celebrate what they have accomplished together and have someone else plan the party:)

Burnout is very real and very painful. Please don’t let your high potential employees burn out.


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