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July 19, 2022

Managing Exhausted Team Members – #MTTalk Roundup

Mike Barzacchini


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©© GettyImages/FG_Trade

Balance in work is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.

– Betsy Jacobson

How Can I Help You When I’m Exhausted Too?

Under the best of circumstances, work can be exhausting. Too many projects, conflicting deadlines, and resource shortages may combine to cause stress and anxiety and drain our energy. (Have you noticed that while there are often resource shortages, there's never a shortage of projects?)

Mind Tools Coach, Mike Barzacchini
Mind Tools Club Coach, Mike Barzacchini

How to Help Team Members Avoid or Recover From Exhaustion

I've helped lead teams for nearly three decades, through reductions in force, mergers, reorganizations, and most recently, a global pandemic. The following five practices have helped me help my colleagues to survive and succeed through ongoing changes and stressors of the workplace:

  1. I first need to make sure I'm taking care of myself. I can't very well help a colleague manage their stress and fatigue if I'm not able to manage my own. My own wellbeing must be a priority.
  2. Next, I try to be present and pay attention. One of my mantras is work the day, don't let my day work me. If I'm working my day, I'm attuned to the people around me. Who needs help? Who's facing a challenge? How may I help?
  3. The next step is to listen openly and actively. So many times we want to jump to the solution. Our reflex may be to try to "fix" things, when what our colleague really needs is someone who will listen. One of the leadership muscles I've grown over the years is to help people find their own solutions by simply being there to listen. Often workplace fatigue and dissatisfaction come from a feeling of not being acknowledged. A practice of open listening helps to build trust and lets your colleague know that they matter and that they are heard.
  4. To do this, I make sure I'm connecting consistently, both formally and informally. For example, our team has a daily 9:30 a.m. check-in and every team member participates. It's a great way to find out who may be overloaded and who may be able to help. It's also a chance for us to celebrate and share successes. That's energizing in itself!
  5. Finally, I try to lead with empathy and compassion. I may not fully understand the situation, but if I’m exercising empathy, I'm letting the other person know that I'm there to help. And here's the thing about practicing empathy – it creates an energy of its own. I often leave a conversation where my colleague or I are reaching out in a way that conveys empathy and I find myself energized.

These five practices remind me that no matter my job or my role on the team, I seek to be of service. Letting that purpose guide my efforts helps me to effectively manage workplace stress and fatigue, for myself and others.

Managing Exhausted Team Members

During Friday’s #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed the ways to identify and address signs of fatigue and burnout within ourselves and with others.  Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:

Q1. How do you recognize signs of exhaustion (in yourself and/or others)?

@SayItForwardNow Many ways, including: actually looking tired, missing deadlines, forgetting information that is usually at one's "fingertips," and higher-than-usual anxiety.

@pavelStepanov77 You are exhausted when you can no longer focus on what you are doing and your brain is telling you to take a rest.

Q2. Is there a difference between exhaustion and burnout? Explain.

@NWarind Exhaustion needs recharging whereas burnout needs rebooting.

@JeffBledsoe33 With exhaustion, there is an opportunity to recover. With burnout, you run the risk of developing resentment or no recovery to a point of no return to a task, job, or career.

Q3. What can you do if someone can’t see their own fatigue/exhaustion?

@ColfaxInsurance Approach the subject in a way that won't make the other person feel like you're attacking or judging them. If you come from a place of caring and understanding, they will (hopefully) be more open to seeing the problem.

@ThiamMeka2Gogue Raise their awareness about the issue and recommend them to take a break, such as: clearing their schedule of nonessential tasks for a few days; taking an extended vacation; or booking an hour of time for themselves each day.

Q4. How would you approach someone to discuss the impact of exhaustion on their performance?

@CaptRajeshwar As leaders, we should have that aura where anyone can approach us with their challenges. Exhaustion happens also with small skill gaps, to which people get struck and feel ashamed to ask for help. We should read between the lines and create a barrier-free, fearless space.

@_GT_Coaching There may be various formal processes but informally I would aim to create an environment that encourages people to go to others knowing there will be no judgment. My approach is always one of coaching so asking them for their thoughts about their performance.

Q5. What responsibility does a team member have for their own risk of exhaustion and how does that change your view of them?

@Midgie_MT We are all responsible for ourselves to do what is necessary; however, the person might be in denial and be so overwhelmed that they do not know where to start. Offer support and resources.

@DrSupriya_MT My view about such people would surely be supportive because taking care of yourself is what adult behavior is. Not standing up for yourself will create a trap for others, too.

Q6. What factors lead to a workplace culture of exhaustion or burnout?

@simplicitytown [One factor is] over-demanding bosses putting pressure [on their teams].

@MikeB_MT Too many projects, staff and resource shortages, unforgiving deadlines, unrealistic expectations, and a culture that doesn't forgive or make it OK to fail – all could lead to exhaustion among employees.

Q7. Which workplace policies can help to prevent exhaustion/burnout? How do they benefit employees?

@junkkDNA Team outings, prioritizing health, and work-life balance; they increase productivity, work efficiency and also keep employees mentally and physically healthy.

@PG_pmp Equality and transparency with no biases can.

Q8. How can you lead by example to prevent exhaustion and burnout?

@SayItForwardNow Model BALANCE between work and the rest of my life. Do not send emails to work teams late at night or very early morning. Do not work on vacation days! Discuss the importance of prioritization and of self-care!

@BRAVOMedia1 Depends on where you are working, but the "leader" sets the tone of the organization. Since that leader usually answers to a bigger leader whose "soul" purpose is only on ROI, it's doomed from the onset. (Not an optimistic thought but my truth from my corporate environment days.)

@greatergoodgeek I might ask a co-worker to take a quick 10-minute walk up and down the hallway with me, to stretch the legs on a long work day at the desk.

Q9. How can you best support an exhausted team member?

@AnuMeera2024 Give a genuine opportunity to share; feeling heard without judgment is a huge relief. Validate and don't dismiss. Let them have an unbiased, objective session to review the situation and come up with a wish list of solutions – to be determined and negotiated.

@ZalaB_MT Offer empathy and support. Don't judge or even assume people are making it up or seeing attention. If you see a co-worker struggling, try talking to them and if you see warning signs of deep exhaustion; talk to your manager and let them take the lead.

Q10. What are some tips to manage exhaustion and any associated guilt?

@Dwyka_Consult Don't live to work. Live to live. Practice self-compassion. It will also help you to be more compassionate towards other exhausted people.

@SabrinaCadini In addition to taking care of the basics (nutrition, sleep, movement, self-care), taking breaks can absolutely help and focus on your breathing. It can do wonders when feeling stressed out or exhausted; it's a little "reset" practice helping the body switch from the fight-or-flight state to a more relaxed state.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.

Coming Up

Managing our exhaustion and burnout can cause stress.

Good stress relievers include activities that calm the mind, body, and soul.  How do you feel when you're calm after being stressed or angry? 

In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like you to share the activities you find calming.

Exhaustion Resources

Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.

Are You a Fake-Aholic?
Your Top Tips to Avoid Emotional Exhaustion at Work
Recovering From Burnout
Managing Your Boundaries
How to Find the Right Work-Life Balance
How to Be More Organized
Managing Stress
7 Ways to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up

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2 comments on “Managing Exhausted Team Members – #MTTalk Roundup”

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for sharing the great post--really needed it after an exhausting work day and completely relate that, before I can help anyone else, I must be able to help myself. Would you give the same advice for work burnout--just getting tired of the same job or role? If not, what would be your guide to helping burnt out team members. Thanks for the advice!

    Ted Henry

  2. Hello, Ted: Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. Without knowing the full situation or your colleague, my basic advice would be similar to begin to help someone going through the type of burnout you describe. Be available, be present, and listen: These three actions won't solve everything for you or your colleague. But they are good first steps to help you help them find clarity and move toward meaningful solutions. All the best success to you. -- Mike Barzacchini, Mind Tools Coach.

Managers and leaders have been using Mind Tools for over 25 years

Now, 24 million learners globally benefit from our extensive Content Library, development tools, and custom learning experiences. See how Mind Tools for Business can help develop your managers and leaders.
Find out more

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