How managers can empower employees to do the best work of their lives

Do you feel exhausted as a manager? Try These Counterintuitive Tools

In all the talk of turmoil in the workplace — silent resignations, mental health crises, and endless reorganizations — it’s understandable that managers can feel pushed around just to do their day job.

Managing others is a challenge. Manager stress and burnout are on the rise: A November 2021 Gallup survey found that 35% of managers said they felt burnt out “very often or always.”

If you feel exhausted, you may want to change direction. As a manager, you can easily get bogged down in the role of evaluating and controlling your staff. But the other part of your job – uplifting and inspiring others – is much more rewarding.

To combat burnout, change course. Here are 3 ideas to help your employees grow and integrate the most inspiring aspects of your job.

Ask challenging questions

A simple way to help inspire employees is to ask them challenging questions.

When has someone ever asked you “what can I do to help you do the best job of your life?” If you’re like most people, you’d probably never answer. If you are a manager, put yourself in the shoes of your employees. How would you feel if someone had ever asked you that?

That’s not the only challenging question you can ask. Others include:

  • What would make this project a big win for you?
  • What would you like to accomplish or learn in the next year, and how can I help you?
  • Who would you like to meet at this company or in my network and who you think you can learn the most from?

These kinds of questions take your employees’ work experience from monotonous to engaging. It also connects the things they do day to day to the bigger picture. It is a motivating experience for an employee. It helps them see their work with you as a manager as a place of support where they can create.

Have regular conversations about your career

One of your best strategies for motivating your employees is to have regular career conversations. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Plan an hour. Let your employee know that you want to discuss her career and ask her to think about her current job and the direction she wants to go.

When you meet, share with her the specific impacts she has on the team and the company and what you consider to be her superpowers. Listen to her interests and what she likes, dislikes and what she would like to know more about. Explore options with her that might work for her in the short and long term, and discuss some strategies for doing so. End with specific commitments you can both make.

You get two benefits from this. First, by having a career conversation, you get your employees thinking about their careers. It gets them thinking about their future and the impact they want to have. This act alone guides them towards creating their own agency in their current roles and improves their work experience.

Equally important, your employees simply feel your attention. When you send “I care about you” messages to your employees, they have a better work experience for you. They feel more empowered and satisfied.

You gain loyal employees who are interested in learning and who will give you discretionary effort. They feel cared for and taken care of. You get the experience of making a difference for your employees as a manager. These results are well worth the hour you spend.

Debriefing projects

A debriefing is a process where everyone involved in a given project reviews it together. The key is to create ground rules to create a safe environment and commit to being honest without blaming.

Divide the project into basic elements. For example: launch, planning, implementation and end result. Discuss them one by one. Examine what worked and what didn’t work in every aspect of what individuals and the team did. When things have worked, be sure to call them and dissect what worked and how to capitalize on that learning as a team. As you identify what went wrong, untangle the issues and the lessons learned.

This process serves several purposes. Obviously, it helps your employees learn. People want the experience of learning and growing at work. It also helps the team improve their own abilities. Employees want to work with a high performing team, so it’s energizing. It also helps the team get into the habit of creating psychological safety and speaking freely, which makes employees feel safe and included. Because of these things together, this process repeated over and over helps bond the team and improves feelings of belonging and well-being.

When you see your job as a manager as helping your employees do the best work of their lives, you elevate your experience in that role. And as a result, you’ll probably end up doing the best job of your life.

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