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Executive coaching insights. How to help your team when they are at their breaking point

Burnout is not something you can simply ignore. Unfortunately, many companies often do not notice that their employees are under high pressure.
In uncertain times, leadership is most in demand! | Cristian Hofmann

We are used to analysing problems and finding a solution. But when it comes to complex problems – and yes, living together and cooperation is one of them – this strategy often leads more to burnout than to success. Here are some insights from executive coaching.

Burnout is not something that can simply be ignored. Unfortunately, many companies often don’t notice that their employees are under pressure, or it doesn’t seem to be a priority for them. Managers experience practically every day how much stress their team is under and need help – both for themselves and for the team.

"Only those who maintain the balance between performance and idleness can achieve top performance on a sustained basis."

(Lothar Seiwert)

A regional HR leader was very successful for five years, but then everything changed. The Covid 19 pandemic, constant pressure from the management team and the uncertain economy meant that her team had to work around the clock without a break.

At first, she acted as if it wasn’t a big problem and thought it would only be a short period of hard work. But it turns out there is no relief. No land in sight!

Now the problem is bigger than ever. What started as a stone causing a small crack in the windscreen has now grown into many long cracks moving in all possible directions. Hopeless!

For the first time in her career, she had to contend with double-digit “voluntary” turnover, job vacancies and stress levels that led her to take a short medical leave.

In a recent executive coaching session she asked a simple question and my answer was just as simple. She wanted to know how she could make things easier and I said that it is easier to first accept that it is hard.

The perception that there is nothing easy about leadership creates that most leaders also experience it the same way. It is in uncertain and difficult times that your leadership is needed most.

Instead of making it easy for yourself, you should first accept and acknowledge that it is hard.

Burnout is a real problem

What is actually the understanding of burnout? It is defined as a State of physical or emotional exhaustion, which is also associated with a feeling of reduced performance and loss of personal identity.

In a survey of more than 1000 respondents by Deloitte, 77% said they have experienced burnout in their current job. 91% say uncontrollable stress or frustration affects the quality of their work, and 83% say burnout can negatively impact personal relationships.

A tireless work ethic and the willingness to keep pushing oneself is necessary to achieve anything significant. However, burnout is more than just effort. Burnout is the beginning of the decline of your life, not a badge of honour.

When stress is at the beginning, it can quickly lead to health problems, broken personal relationships and the experience of a meaningless life.

Admitting that you or your team are exhausted is therefore not a weakness, but a strength.

Especially for goal-oriented and committed people, the initial efforts to cope with high moments of stress are socially recognised. Because it is worthy of recognition to work hard and do even more – often of the same – to simply let breaks be and to try even harder … until nothing works properly any more.

Burnout ist ein echtes Problem

The symptoms of burnout can manifest themselves in many ways. For example, more and more energy is expended – needed for one’s own motivation.

Feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness spread instead of joy in doing. One becomes cynical towards others and new space is created through withdrawal. Mental, emotional and social strategies reach their limits.

The body also reacts with various physical symptoms, from chronic headaches to tension or ringing in the ears as well as attacks of dizziness; furthermore, constant fatigue, metabolic problems or continual susceptibility to illness are signs of a system at the end of its tether. A kind of bell of depressive emotionally charged feeling finally covers the person completely.


And that is supposed to be competence?

Yes. When you are in an acute state of burnout, you can’t go on – even if you want to as much as you can. In this case, life pulls the emergency brake and everything comes to a standstill. But maybe that’s exactly the point: so that we can finally stop, reorient ourselves and regain our strength.

If someone no longer experiences their own creative possibilities, but experiences the demands as high and relevant, this can lead to burnout.

Clearly, anyone who gets into such a problematic situation should turn to doctors and psychotherapists. However, one has the possibility to activate helpful resources and competences oneself before it gets so far.

What can we learn from “exhaustion as a competence”?

but be careful – don’t rush into anything!

The main causes of burnout

Toxic behaviour in the workplace is the most important predictor of negative effects on employees, including burnout symptoms.

Here are some examples from practice:

Leadership is the common denominator in all the main causes of burnout.

Why solving burnout is so important

Niemand möchte Stress und Angstzustände | Cristian Hofmann

No one wants to experience stress, anxiety, depression or the like. However, cancelling work or withdrawing is not the solution to burnout.

The famous psychiatrist Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said:

"People can find meaning in one of three places: in work, in love and in courage."

Work is not the enemy. It not only provides financial resources, but can also create meaning, purpose and community. These are important prerequisites of basic human needs.

Simple ways to trigger change

Burnout is a serious problem in many teams and organisations. To combat it, there is no universal guide, but here are some of my favourites:

1. focus on a deeper goal

When people know that their efforts serve a meaningful cause, they work harder and overcome challenges much more easily. The best leaders know that even a tiny dose of meaning makes a significant difference in reducing burnout.

It doesn’t matter what you do. There is a deeper meaning behind the work you or your team do and it is your job to shape and connect it together.

2. enable personal growth

Personal growth, development programmes and learning opportunities are fundamentally motivating. Empower your employees to achieve their goals and promote their personal growth. Empowering!

3. take responsibility

Most paths to burnout lead through the #leaders and managers in the company. However, many companies judge their employees in the leadership position only by the successes and performance they achieve.

Another, better approach would be to consider both the results and the culture of the company. The impact of effective leadership can be seen in different ways.


The task of leaders is to make offers that focus on the desired experience and pay as much attention as possible to the solution to the problem. In most cases, the solution is already present in an experience network.

It is time to move burnout out of the shadows and into the light and to appreciate it as a competence. Focusing on a deeper purpose, enabling personal growth and leaders taking responsibility will not solve the problem, but they will reduce it.

Every employee counts and it is the task of all of us to help them to create meaningful cooperation within the team. For the benefit of your inner balance.

My goal as an executive coach is to help leaders – in leadership – succeed in enabling work and economic success with a togetherness that preserves or even improves health. We should learn from burnout and create space for recovery in time. This is not only important for the individual, but also for the whole company as a culture.

Cristian Hofmann | Leadership Executive Coaching

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