How to help your high performers avoid burnout

One of the key responsibilities of a leader is to cultivate, encourage and grow high performers. This investment in a high performer is usually a reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship as the high performers in our teams often become our go-to people. They end up being the ones we rely on to get through the most important work.

It’s not an understatement to say that for many businesses, their high performing people are the greatest asset their organisation has.

An unfortunate side effect and all too common occurrence is high performer burnout. Which, ironically, negatively impacts on their high performance.

Today we’re going to explore how you as a leader can help your high performers avoid burning out while still allowing them opportunities for growth and challenge.


What causes burnout in high performers?

The obvious and easy answer to this question is too much work and too much stress. And while it’s not necessarily wrong, I would argue it’s just as much about the rhythm of work and stress.

What do I mean by this?

On a biological level, human beings thrive off of bursts of acute stress and resistance. Want to get stronger? Go lift some heavy weights. Want to run faster? Go do some high intensity sprints. Want to improve your cardiovascular capacity? Spike your heart rate over and over with appropriate rests.

So, on a fundamental level, stress is one of the key components in driving high performance.

However, what you shouldn’t do if you want to be stronger, faster or fitter is continuously work hard with no end-goal or time for recovery. This approach is a one-way ticket to burnout city.

The same principles apply in the world of work; both for reaching the peaks of performance and avoiding the sharp cliff of burnout.


How to help your high performers avoid burnout.

As a leader, your approach to preventing burnout in your teams should be to structure their work into sprints. This allows them to stretch their skills and capacity, and then allow enough recovery time to prepare them for the next sprint.


How do we create a rhythm of work that allow high performers to thrive?

For many organisations, the first step to fostering a true high-performance culture is to reframe the idea of high performance itself. High performance is a level of intensity which overtime, becomes a hard slog. While high performers can be impressive, constantly pushing for better results leads to plateaued performance over time.

One of the most potent things you can do as a leader to help your people perform is to structure workload into ‘sprints’ with defined endpoints and recovery periods. This allows your people to exert maximum effort, safe in the knowledge that once the sprint is complete, they will have the opportunity to recoup their resources before the next high intensity period.


Something to remember in the pursuit of peak performance.

Over time this will result in a work rhythm that will see your people give their best when necessary, because they know they aren’t going to be expected to sustain this indefinitely. The key here as a leader is to not to fall into the trap of expecting this new level of output to become a constant. The truth is, we have to keep reminding ourselves that peak performance is just that, a peak. We can only sustain it for so long.


Opportunities for building a high-performance rhythm in your workplace.

The good news when it comes to all of this is that in most workplaces there are already built-in opportunities for sprints.

Consider how you could plan for sprints using the following BAU business patterns;

  • Projects and project phases
  • Quarters
  • EOFY
  • Peak season

How could you allow for recovery after each of these key sprints?

There you have it, some practical business-ready strategies for maximising the potential of your highest performers. As counterintuitive as it may seem, an investment in downtime is often an investment in peak performance.

If you’d like to explore the topic of recovery and help your teams avoid burnout with practical, science-based tools, take a look at our Science of Recovery program