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This is going to be awkward

“This is going to be awkward.” These are the words that rolled around in my head.

I had played this conversation over and over again in my mind.

Still, my heart raced.

My stomach churned.

When the time came, a jumble of words tumbled from my lips.

I tried to explain my abrupt and unexplained absences.

I tried to justify my unusual mistakes and missed deadlines.

These kinds of conversations were all new to me.

Years of being a top performer did not prepare me for this moment.

I was burning out on a job that I loved and hated.

I don’t remember what I said.

BUT I do remember the silence that came after the jumble of words poured out of my mouth.

She (my leader) didn’t know what to say either.

This conversation WAS awkward and uncomfortable.

My leader didn’t know what to do.

Truth be told, I don’t know that many leaders know what to do when their once-thriving employees are no longer thriving, and they don’t understand why.

In the end, I walked away from that job.

The crazy thing is, I think these kinds of conversations happen all the time.

Employees who need to say something about what’s burning them out at work AND leaders who know something is wrong but lack the words or skills to talk about it.

Good News

The good news is these kinds of conversations don’t have to end with an employee leaving or a leader feeling ill-prepared.

Beyond referring employees to Employee assistants, there are things that the leader can do to help employees with the things at work that might be causing burnout.

One of the first things is to have a conversations with your employee. Here are some tips on how to do this well.

Prepare them for the meeting

  • Schedule some time to talk. Call the meeting something like, “Checking in with you." This seems simple, but this sets the tone for the meeting and does not leave them wondering and perhaps fearing the worst.

During the meeting

  • Start the meeting by asking, "Is this still a good time to talk." This shows the employee that their opinion matter.

  • Acknowledge that the absences, mistakes, and missed deadlines were out of character by saying something like, “I noticed that you have missed a few of the deadlines recently, and I know that that is out of character for you, so I wanted to check in to see how you are doing.”

  • Silence. Give the employee space to tell you what is happening. Don’t jump in with more words.

  • Listen – Really Listened. When they tell you what is contributing to what you are noticing, give your full attention and listen.

  • Acknowledge what they have told you by empathizing with what they might be feeling. Consider saying something like, “Wow, that sounds like it has been really challenging.”

  • Ask what the person needs for things to be different.

  • Assure them that we will work together to figure this out. This helps them know that they are not alone in their struggle.

  • Brainstorm with them about ideas to help.

  • Thank them for the willingness to share.

After the meeting

  • Follow up with them to see how things are going.

  • Ask them what else they need and how you (as the leader) can help.

  • Follow up with them once things have shifted to see how things are going and ask about what they have learned.


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