5 leadership tips to burnout recovery

11 min read  |   22 November, 2022   By Aimee Brougham-Chandler

A man sits in front of his laptop, hands either side of his temples, looking stressed. Either side of him, people are presenting him with documents and tablets, displaying an overwhelming image.

It’s been a few years of constant change, uncertainty and fresh challenges. And that’s just in business.  

The pressure on leaders to steer organisations through turbulent times hasn’t lessened. But what if their responsibilities and workloads become too much, leading to burnout? 

In this blog, we asked Rob Elliott, Senior HR Consultant, Solicitor & HR Operations Manager at AHR Consultants for his thoughts on burnout amongst those in leadership positions - and how it can be averted & recovered from.   

Leadership challenges

What mistakes do leaders make (that often lead to burnout)?

How can leaders avoid burnout?

4 proactive tips for leaders on avoiding burnout?

5 steps for leaders to burnout recovery

How can SME leaders move forward & recover from burnout?

Leadership challenges 

We asked Rob to delve into the pressures he sees those in leadership roles struggle most with.  

“Recruitment and retention are two of the biggest challenges for leadership. Quite often leaders don’t always have the power, influence or control required to change the culture and priorities of an organisation. This can include the ability to give their team members the remuneration they are requesting.” 

Rob also discusses the unique type of pressures leaders can face, from both their teams and those in the very highest level of organisations.  

“Those in leadership roles are now needing to mediate the needs and goals of their teams and the top echelons of the organisation. This is a nigh-on impossible position to navigate and adds to stress.  

This is often being juggled along with running day-to-day operations. When you look at these issues, it’s quite easy to see how they can cause burnout.” 

Rob Elliott, Senior HR Consultant, Solicitor & HR Operations Manager at AHR Consultants

So, what next? It’s time for some self-reflection, in what you may or may not be doing that is impacting you.  


What mistakes do leaders make (that often lead to burnout)? 

We wanted to know what mistakes leaders commonly make, in Rob’s experience, that ultimately can lead to burnout.  

He shares the following:

  • Not recognising the signs early enough 
  • Ignoring the signs 
  • Waiting for the environment to change  
  • Reacting the wrong way & 
  • Repeating old habits 


Being aware of such mistakes and the need to sometimes just pause, can hopefully avoid leaders following the same path in future. Find out more about recognising the signs and symptoms of burnout in our blog. 


How can leaders avoid burnout? 

It can be challenging to address the issues that are actually causing burnout – and sometimes it can be hard to even know  where to start.  

Addressing and changing the underlying causes (schedules, work life balance, stress and toxic cultures) are of course the biggest hurdles,” Rob says.  

“This may require a change in mindset, culture and understanding from those with the ultimate power in the organisation. The world has evolved and accepting this evolution has led to change is important in addressing the underlying matters.” 

A lot has changed in the world of work over the last couple of years, where individuals have had to learn to adapt and change. Some people started to understand their own needs too, whilst some were driven to over-working.

Let’s look at some guidance to shift the burnout mode. 


4 proactive tips for leaders on avoiding burnout:  

Take a look at Rob’s tips below on how leaders can manage workloads more effectively and keep burnout at bay:

1. Plan efficiently

Consider and assess what absolutely needs doing and when. Most importantly, make sure you prioritise effectively. 


2. Delegate

Is it something that you can retain accountability for but give delivery responsibility to someone else? If so, do this.


3. Say no

Manage expectations and ensure you don’t take on too much. It’s okay to say no sometimes. 


4. Let go of perfection

Perfection is the enemy of the good. Managing standards and expectations – even from your own perspective – is an important lesson.  



What if you’ve tried to avoid burnout, but unfortunately things have still become too much, and you haven’t managed to evade it?

We detail 5 tips to help you on the road to recovering from burnout. 


5 steps for leaders to burnout recovery

 Understanding the pitfalls and roads that can lead to burnout is one thing, but we also wanted to know how those in leadership positions can recover from work burnout.  

1. Go back to basics

Those in leadership positions suffering from burnout might find they’re not sleeping well due to long working hours and are struggling to switch off when they do eventually step away from the job. This also applies to regular, healthy eating patterns and exercise.


Burnout is likely to leave people with less time, energy and inclination to exercise or to eat balanced, nutritious meals, rather than something they can grab on the go. If these vital aspects have been neglected, focussing on the basics of sleep, proper nutrition and exercise is step one on the road to burnout recovery.  


2. Take some time off

Chances are that those struggling with burnout could do with some time off. Even if this isn’t in the immediate future, planning ahead and booking some annual leave to look forward to is important. In severe cases, if burnout is allowed to develop and worsen, it could even lead to GP-mandated time off due to depression or anxiety-related disorders.


Ensuring time off is regularly taken and annual leave entitlements are used go a long way towards recalibration and having valuable rest time away from work.  


3. Work out what you need

It might be time off, delegating some responsibilities, or it might be that you need to re-assess your goals entirely. As a leader, it can be difficult to carve out the time you need to focus on where you’re headed on your career path when a lot of time is spent helping team members achieve their goals.


Is burnout a sign that something’s gone off-piste? Does your work still align with your personal aims and values? Create the time think about what you want and need from your work – this could even end up revealing the root cause of burnout.  


4. Confide in those you trust

Communicate how you’re feeling to those around you. Whether to a friend or family member, or a colleague you can speak to, it’s important to let people know of the pressures you’re under so they can offer support.


You never know – colleagues may be feeling the same, and it may be time for a wider conversation at work. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all.  


5. Set boundaries – and stick to them

If you find yourself taking on too much work (due to imposter syndrome, being a people-pleaser, or because you feel the need to prove yourself) you’re likely to end up burned out. Work out what you can realistically do and still feel that your work and life are in some sort of balance. Get used to saying no – if you don’t have capacity, you can’t fulfil the task. Don’t overburden yourself and risk burnout again.


Our blog on the art of delegation could come in useful here, too.  



How can SME leaders move forward & recover from burnout?  

We asked Rob how people can move forward from the repercussions of burnout and avoid any cultural damage to the organisation from burned-out leaders.  

“Given the causes of burnout – and some of those stemming from a lack of control on the part of the leader, most leaders are just trying their best, given the hand they’re dealt,” Rob advises. 

“The best thing SMEs can do is to equip their leaders with the resources and tools [listed above] to improve culture, monitor any impact of burnout, continuously assess and always look for how things could be better.” 

Keeping culture at the centre of your business is a great place to start when it comes to keeping burnout at bay and putting people first.  

AHR Consultants are a HR Partner of Breathe. Find out more about Breathe’s Partner Directory

Discover practical tips to improve your employees’ wellbeing in our People First Culture Series, Edition 1: Wellbeing. Why not download for free today? 

The state of wellbeing amongst SMEs


Author: Aimee Brougham-Chandler

Aimee is a Content Assistant here at Breathe. She enjoys writing about topical HR issues & helping readers find solutions. In her spare time, she is commonly found amongst books.

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