Employee well-being isn’t a new concept. However, with workplace burnout on the rise, which was particularly pronounced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, well-being in the workplace remains a central topic of discussion – and rightfully so. In their most recent State of the Global Workplace report, Gallup found that 44% of employees experienced “a lot of stress” the previous day. Consistently high or growing burnout and stress rates can also fuel loneliness, depression, and trends like “quiet quitting” while undercutting workplace performance, productivity and innovation. These indicators are so troubling that the U.S. Surgeon General has advised workplaces to make addressing employee isolation a strategic priority.

Burnout can present itself in many ways, and stem from myriad causes. For this reason, to truly address the problem, we must better understand the specific barriers and challenges employees and leaders face in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

Typically, organizations are concerned about employee burnout because of its immediate effects — employees who are burned out and struggling with their well-being are often less productive and more likely to turn over. However, our recent research report, “3 Tensions Leaders Should Resolve in 2023,” found that feeling burned out may also have implications for the future capabilities of a company’s workforce. In joint research, the Center for Creative Leadership and ExecOnline surveyed and analyzed global responses from more than 43,000 leaders, who ranged in level from line managers to C-level executives. We discovered a widespread tension these leaders at every level face: Leaders want more development opportunities — but they’re burned out. Specifically, 41% of leaders said more learning and development (L&D) opportunities would help them be more effective (second only to larger budgets and more staff), yet over 70% of respondents also said they were “at least somewhat” burned out. To the extent that development represents “one more thing” for leaders to do in their already stressful lives, there’s a risk that they’ll consistently forgo these critical learning opportunities for more pressing tasks.

How to Help Leaders Feel Their Best

One way to begin reconciling this tension is to help leaders feel less burned out and increase their well-being which you, as a learning leader, can help with. Fortunately, there are tried-and-true ways of achieving these goals. Some particularly helpful, yet easy-to-implement, approaches include the following:

  1. Find out what matters. Ask leaders what energizes them, what parts of their work most matter to them, and discuss how their work connects to a larger purpose or mission. Help them see their impact.
  2. Connect and disconnect. While at work, be curious about non-work lives, share stories and express gratitude. During non-working hours, make it easier for leaders and employees alike to disconnect. Refrain from non-emergency communications and encourage movement, time in nature, sleep and personal hobbies.
  3. Enhance agency. A sense of control and autonomy is often related to higher well-being. Agency may come in the form of flexible work arrangements, allowing employees to make decisions about how they accomplish their work, or encouraging leaders to develop in the areas that are most important to them.
  4. Treat the cause. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have been focused on addressing high levels of burnout. To truly address this problem, learning leaders must first understand the specific barriers and challenges leaders face in this rapidly changing environment to identify development needs.

How to Make Leadership Development More Accessible

While it may seem counterintuitive to add leadership development to the plates of already maxed out leaders, creating easily accessible opportunities to develop critical skills will, in the long term, help them prioritize high-impact initiatives over low-impact work.

Our research found that leaders prefer the following formats for training and development: virtual programs (36%), shorter modules (36%) and on-demand instruction (34%). This suggests that some leaders may struggle to squeeze in longer, face-to-face training and would find benefit from virtual on-demand courses that allow them to incrementally enhance their skills in smaller pockets of time when it’s most convenient for them. Furthermore, when development is aligned with current business challenges, leaders will see development as less of a discretionary activity and more as a way to tackle their to-do lists.

At the same time, changing the perspective of “squeezing in development” to “investing in and making space for development” is key. For many, dedicated time away from day-to-day activities is integral for both leaders’ development and well-being. Ultimately, by redesigning learning opportunities so that they are available on demand and geared toward what matters most to them, can increase the likelihood that leaders (even those who are feeling burned out) will pursue them.

Keep Sight of the Big Picture

Unfortunately, it’s far too common for leaders and their organizations to put well-being on the backburner for other, seemingly more pressing, priorities. However, losing sight of well-being raises the prospect of not only having people quit their jobs but also limits the prospect of developing the next generation of leaders.

By helping employees and leaders decrease burnout and enhance their well-being, while offering development opportunities that fit into their hectic lives, you can help leaders at every level of your organization realize their full leadership potential.