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ATD Blog

The Burnout Cure: 4 Skills to Improve Workplace Dialogue

Friday, March 11, 2022

Let’s start with a hypothetical situation: You sit down to work. Your to-do list is a mile long, in no small part because half your team has moved on to other organizations. Now you’re trying to get your own stuff done, which is difficult enough, but you also have additional responsibilities. You don’t even know where to start. And it makes you sad.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work-from-home versus in-office fight, and the Great Resignation have beat down workers across the country. Increased workload, lack of proper staffing, and more headaches are taking their toll. The result is that one in four workers is burned out, and many more are tired or pessimistic about their careers and current positions.

The good news is most of us have co-workers who can solve these issues. According to a January 2022 survey by Crucial Learning, 60 percent of people concerned about staffing and workload know someone who can alleviate their concerns, and 75 percent of those who are bogged down by a lack of information or resources know someone who can help, as well.

Unfortunately, we can’t communicate effectively with these co-workers to get results. For example, almost half (46 percent) of respondents concerned about lack of staff have been unable to express their feelings—and even after speaking up, only 7 percent have been able to resolve the problem. A too heavy workload ranked as the concern easiest to resolve—even then, only 9 percent succeeded. Resolution of every other concern ranked less successful, with several under 5 percent.

Yet for many issues, there is a clear inverse correlation between speaking up and burnout—even if those issues don’t get fully resolved. Specifically, when discussing topics like physical or mental health, concerns with co-workers and managers, compensation, or lack of information and resources, employees who voiced concerns were less likely to show signs of disengagement, exhaustion, and pessimism. Ultimately, speaking up can be a powerful antidote to burnout and is the first step to resolving lingering concerns.


Simply listening to employees and helping them feel their opinions are valued opens the door to constructive conversations and resolutions. Here are a few tips to start:

1. Listen deeply. Before you can change culture, you need to know where you stand. The best way to do this isn’t with a safe, antiseptic survey administered by outsiders. It’s for executives to vulnerably engage with the employees who know best. Pair leaders up with groups of eight to 10 employees. Spend 60 to 90 minutes asking open-ended questions like: What advice would you give a friend if they came to work here? What does it take to succeed here? If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would change?


2. Approach as a friend not a foe. We live in a culture where speaking up is often seen as an attack. Avoid this misperception by welcoming feedback. For example, you could say, “I’d like to hear what you’re worried about, so we can find a way for you to be successful and reach our team’s goals.”

3. Stick to the facts. Avoid broad conclusions, such as accusing the person of incompetence or laziness. Instead, focus on specific incidents, events, and actions. “Your last three assignments were late. What can we do to help?”

4. Take action. Listening creates expectations. Once employees risk sharing their perceptions, they watch to see if you listened. They’ll want to see evidence. Pick a couple of valued and visible concerns, and address them quickly. This builds trust in your sincerity to make longer-term changes that may extend to employees themselves changing their behavior.

Remember: Employees who voice concerns are less likely to experience disengagement, exhaustion, and pessimism. By listening to the negatives, you’re creating a positive workplace. If you’re hoping to avoid burnout across your organization, encouraging dialogue is a great place to start.

About the Author

Jordan Christiansen is the marketing communications manager at Crucial Learning.

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