Facing Employee Burnout? Group Coaching for Managers Can Help

/ Christine Andrukonis

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: managers are struggling during the pandemic. The demands are coming from all directions, and often managers are right in the middle of a firestorm. Like all employees, managers are feeling the stress of remote working, additional family responsibilities, and health and economic uncertainty. To add to this, their direct reports need guidance to remain productive in an uncertain time, and their leadership team is piling on the pressure to perform.

Managing others in a newly virtual world is adding additional layers of complexity to an already complex situation, and learning to thrive in an environment of uncertainty is a critical skill that all of us need right now. It’s no wonder that those who are in this pivotal “magic middle” of the organization are speeding toward employee burnout—and fast.

But how can companies invest in helping their managers navigate these challenges, within an environment of shrinking budgets and shifting business strategies?

The answer: coaching for middle managers that provides group experiences—and steers them away from employee burnout.

Consider providing an expedited, three-month learning and coaching program that focuses on soft skills development as well as building a small cohort of like-minded peers. This accomplishes several goals: it saves the company money on individual coaching, allows peers to support each other, and helps leaders learn from each others’ experiences.

Teams can come together in groups of 8 to 12 people, to work on being more effective, confident, and engaged managers and leaders in their organizations. If you focus on group learning opportunities, you can save money on facilitators, and enhance the experience by giving your people opportunities to build stronger connections.

Plus, congregating like-minded professionals at the same career level is beneficial from a mental health perspective. We spoke with a psychiatrist about why organizations should consider making these investments to improve their managers’ attitude, skillsets, coping mechanisms, and productivity.

Here’s what a group coaching approach can provide:

1. A safe space to be heard and move forward.

While the pandemic has created many hurdles to overcome for a multitude of different businesses across every industry, there is one commonality they share, according to New York City-based psychiatrist Dr. Zlatin Ivanov, MD: All of their middle managers are being crushed. Whether it’s working overtime (without being compensated for it) or attempting to keep all projects running efficiently and effectively with little support, the demands only continue to grow.

While it is true that they are not directly responsible for running the companies they work for, they have to prove themselves each day by dealing with the adverse circumstances of managing the workforce and the day-to-day needs of their business areas, Dr. Ivanov shares.

In short, their jobs have gotten more complicated, and a peer coaching group allows them a safe place to be vulnerable, and perhaps more importantly: to be heard. By discussing their professional woes, releasing pent-up frustration and anxiety, and feeling that they are understood by others, they can then focus on solutions, and return to their job renewed and ready to keep pushing.

2. A sense of inclusion and belonging.

It’s easy to feel disconnected in today’s largely virtual environment. What’s more, the unrelenting uncertainty created by the pandemic, and frankly, the communal grief, has many employees examining how they can find meaning in their work. In the new normal, employers must create opportunities for people to connect with each other to bond in deeper ways that extend beyond the day-to-day duties of their jobs. Group coaching offers a chance for managers to do exactly this. As they rally around individual goals for a common company, they create a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.

3. A forum for learning best practices. 

Even if managers have worked for the same company for many years, the impact of COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted their responsibilities. Or more so, it’s piled on additional tasks that they previously never had to consider. Some professionals may start to feel employee burnout if they feel buried and exhausted by the work. By discussing how other managers have gone through the experience and how they’ve set boundaries between professional and personal roles, they may develop better strategies for themselves, and their teams.

Take for instance, a manager who is notorious for being a ‘yes’ person and continuously signing-up for everything. This joiner personality may be appreciated in the workplace, but it can become too much too soon in a trying time. When this person speaks with another professional who has figured out their limits, they can offer advice on how to say’ no’ and relieve stress.

4. An opportunity to develop critical soft skills.

Excellent managers must have the ability to exhibit soft skills—like empathy, listening, remote coaching, agility and resilience. Through peer coaching sessions, employees can learn from others who are in the same boat. Dr. Ivanov says peer coaching groups can improve skills to cope with challenges, provide practical feedback about possible solutions and outcomes, learn about economic, educational and social resources, and provide a sense of empowerment, control and hope.

Creating a community of managers, Dr. Ivanov says, is invaluable since it provides an opportunity to demonstrate these skills within the safety of a small group setting. And it creates a cohort of empathetic people to turn to when a manager needs it the most.

5. Perspective that spurs innovation.

For many managers, it’s been nearly impossible to focus on the big picture with all the tactical work that has been amplified by the pandemic. Staying “heads down” and task-focused can make every day feel like Groundhog Day, where every 24-hour stretch feels like a repeat of the one before. Not only is this kind of relentless push exhausting, it doesn’t promote creativity or innovation.

Dr. Ivanov says that’s when a peer coaching group can make a huge difference: “Through group discussion and problem solving, middle management employees can come up with new strategies derived from the collective experience that they could not have established individually.”

While it’s a smart investment for our situation right now, peer coaching can also lead to long-term relationships among these managers as they journey through their careers together. Long after the program ends, these managers will be able to lean on each other when they need to noodle a situation or find that sought-after moment of clarity when facing a problem.

6. Self-awareness.

Group coaching offers an opportunity for middle managers to have the time and space for self-reflection, both within the virtual classroom setting, and with independent work between sessions. Setting aside time to think about their personal contributions to the company, as well as their role as a manager, gives managers permission to think about what they want out of their career, as well as what they need, what triggers stress for them, and their personal strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Ivanov says peer coaching groups prevent employee burnout by putting the manager in the driver’s seat. Part of every good coaching program is creating an action plan, and this tool can highlight steps that each manager needs to take to move forward.

When they can be honest about their needs, and identify gaps in their knowledge and skills, they can move forward positively—and effectively. This allows them to promote their growth, the growth of their team, and the company’s growth as a whole.

This knowledge makes them more compassionate and understanding, not to mention more open to feedback. By the end of the three months, they will walk away feeling inspired by strategic conversations, supported by a team of like-minded cohorts, and better prepared for whatever else 2020 might throw their way.