How to talk to your manager about burnout

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Everyone has spells at work where we don’t feel 100%. Maybe it’s the stress or exhaustion. But when these short spells turn into prolonged periods of fatigue, disengagement from work and a lack of motivation, it causes burnout.

But there’s good news: more and more workplaces are looking at their current policies critically and swapping them out for human-centric ones. Mental health and emotional wellbeing are no longer side issues, but something many workplaces are tackling head-on. Despite all this, the nervousness around talking to teammates and higher-ups about burnout remains.

Tips for talking to your manager about burnout

Managers are perfectly positioned to offer support, reduce workloads, and create safer environments for their teams while preventing or recovering from burnout. And so, we’re here to ease that nervousness and facilitate fruitful conversations with managers about it all!

Speak with a confidante

It can be daunting to jump straight into a deep conversation with your manager, so we’d suggest taking baby steps up to it.

Confide with a friend or reach out to a trusted colleague at work about how you’re feeling. The support you receive might bolster your confidence and give you much-needed clarity on the difference between stress and burnout. This can be one of the first steps to lifting the weight off your chest and streamlining your thought processes.

If you know a trusted colleague who’s dealt with burnout before, why not reach out to them? They may provide you with tips on handling burnout based on their previous experiences and can help rehearse your talk with your manager.

Take the lead

Your manager might not know how you feel unless you tell them. Levelling with your manager clarifies any assumptions about your role and responsibilities.

Plan a one-on-one meeting with your manager as it gives you the privacy and space to be vulnerable. If you already meet them one-on-one daily or weekly, you could ask to use that time for this conversation. However, if time doesn’t permit or you find that work tasks are getting all the attention, you can always block an hour-long slot on their calendar for a dedicated conversation about burnout.

Plan ahead for your conversation about burnout

When you’re burnt out, you may experience brain fog or find it challenging to articulate the way you usually would. And that’s okay! It’s perfectly alright to feel like you’re not emotionally strong enough to have a conversation with your manager. However, it is a conversation worth having.

A simple strategy that we’d recommend is to precisely write down what you want to convey to your manager. You can ask yourself questions about your work or your requirement for additional resources and time off from work.

Match each problem with a potential solution

Now that you’re prepared with what’s been weighing on your mind, it’s a good opportunity to weave possible solutions around them. For example, if five video calls a day are too much for you, tell your manager that and suggest an alternate way of team communication that is just as effective, if not more. After all, burnout affects not just you but also your team’s productivity. You’ll have a more impactful dialogue by showing the overall effects of burnout on the team or the organisation.

If you can’t think up solutions, that’s also okay — so long as you make that clear, too. You can then use the conversation to brainstorm potential solutions with your manager, so you’re both equally invested in your wellbeing.

Advocate for yourself

Burnout is not your fault — and recovery shouldn’t be entirely on your shoulders, either. It’s totally in your manager’s capacity to help you reduce your workload, enlist the team’s support, even give you an extended break! Working through the brain fog and lack of focus isn’t something we’d recommend, and we’re sure your manager will understand that.

But before all that, put yourself first

If you’re recovering from burnout, prioritise your mental health and well-being unapologetically. Have meaningful conversations with a trusted friend or family member and plan the boundaries you’d like to set when returning to work.

Communicating your struggles to your manager is an act of courage and a significant first step to get back on track!

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