How to not burn employees out during a recession

Team eating together

Hi, there! We’re so glad you’ve found this article. It’s about how to help your team avoid burnout during a recession. It’s a great resource for anyone who manages direct reports (regardless of your title). The strategies below are the same ones we use to help our clients manage stress and avoid burnout even when there’s not a recession. So, it’s as evergreen as a pine tree. 

Do less with less

“We all need to do more with less.” That was the cry heard around the globe in 2008/9 as executives and managers rallied the employees they didn’t lay off. I was fresh out of graduate school when The Great Recession hit. I started my first job, lucky to have it, and desperate to keep it. So, when leadership told me that I had to do more with less, I didn’t question it. I accepted my health and boundaries as the price of employment.

Fast-forward six years. I was an under-fulfilled young executive who was burned out, struggling with a mental disorder, and severely under-fulfilled. 

So, here’s the advice I wish someone had given me back in 2009.

Don’t do more with less. 

Do less with less.

Recessions can’t defy physics; neither can your boss

Learn to set and hold boundaries. To help us do that, we need to borrow a fun, simple lesson from thermodynamics. It’s called The Law of Conservation of Energy and has a lot to teach us about avoiding burnout. Not to mention how to lead during a recession. The law is:

Energy input = Energy output

That means that whether you’re a machine or a human being, the work that you do can’t exceed the resources available to do the work.

 In other words, you can’t do more (energy output) with less (energy input). It defies physics. 

That’s why boundaries are so important. They’re the energetic limits that guide our actions and decisions. Boundaries don’t just help us get work done without burning out. They help us get work done, period.

If there are fewer people to do the work because of mass layoffs, it’s not reasonable to expect the remaining employees to pick up the slack. You must redraw the roles and responsibilities. Build a new strategy, Adjust the goals.

Don’t try to do more with less. It’s impossible and irrational. That’s not an opinion. It’s math.

Just say “no”

Unfortunately, many people aren’t good at setting boundaries. Chances are high that you’ll be asked to do things that will require you to attempt to defy thermodynamics, e.g., long work weeks, more meetings, etc. When that happens, practice ownership. 

Ownership is the art of holding your boundaries, even when it requires uncomfortable conversations. Which is almost always.

How to have courageous conversations is a big topic. It’s so big that Bask + Being does two-day workshops on it. We don’t have two days, so here’s a quick, effective script you can use.

Someone at your company: “Hey, (your name). I need you to do more with less.”

You: “No, thank you. I’m doing the right amount with what I’ve got. If you need me to reprioritize my work, we can talk about that. But we’ll need to adjust deadlines and expectations accordingly.”

Sounds simple, right? That’s because it is. But it’s hard. It might even be scary at first. 

Remember: you don’t owe anyone your health and peace just because you still have a job. 

That was so 2009.

Want to connect?

Bask + Being helps individuals, teams, and businesses set and own boundaries that honor human health and business priorities. Interested in learning more about how we coach teams and leaders? Check out our services page. If you like what you see, contact us.

Jumping Jills,
KD Hurlbutt (she/her)
Founder / Head Mom @ Bask + Being


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