matches burning out and some intact

What is employee burnout and how Agile can help prevent it

"More than three-quarters (79%) of UK workers have experienced burnout, with 35% reporting high or extreme levels, according to new research (2022)"

The current state of the world and how we do business has definitely changed in a very short period of time. While organisations are trying to catch up, adapt and survive in these unstable times, we are seeing more and more businesses struggle with staff burning out. 

Being aware of the signs of burnout is important, but what can you do to reduce the chance of your team suffering burnout in the first place?


Recognising burnout

According to the WHO, burnout results from ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. Burnout is not caused by wider stress, anxiety or depression, it is directly linked to someone’s working environment. Needless to say – it can be disastrous for both employees and businesses. 

According to Mental Health UK, around 50% of workers in 2020 felt more prone to extreme levels of stress than they had the previous year, and a concerning 20% of people felt unable to cope with workplace pressures. However,  for many, those pressures are only going to increase. Remote working means a lack of face-to-face contact, more communication challenges, and the blending of home and work. Many organisations are also desperate to catch up after the pandemic and place even more demands on their people.


The WHO lists the signs of burnout as:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.



How Agile can help with burnout

The workplace changes that come with Agile transformation can help teams to reduce burnout. Agile places emphasis on controlled workflows, autonomy and team-working. Here are, in our experience, four key areas in which Agile can support teams at risk of burnout.

1. Realistic goal setting

There is an important concept in Agile called the Agile triangle. On one side of the triangle is Scope, on the next is Quality and on the final side is Time. Quality and Time never change, the only variable is Scope. So of course, if you want to change the length of the Scope, then the Quality and Time sides will be forced to change too. This imagined triangle empowers teams to negotiate scope to an appropriate level. This means that workloads are set by what can be realistically achieved, not by external factors. 


2. Autonomy

Agile methodologies encourage team members to choose their own workload and select their own tasks. Done properly, this should prevent one team member being overloaded with work as they themselves estimate how much work they feel they can achieve in a given timeframe. Autonomy is one of the biggest drivers of work satisfaction and a happy and motivated workforce is at less risk of burnout. 


engineer working at his computer in the office looking stressed


3. Transparency

Agile project management methods require total transparency. Using tools such as kanban boards not only allow teams to track their own work they can also get a good overview of everyone else’s workload too. This can stop stakeholders or managers from adding to a team’s work unnecessarily. As the tasks are usually chosen during sprint planning, it is harder for last-minute ad-hoc tasks to be thrown at teams. This can help to prevent teams from feeling overwhelmed.


4. Helps teams to maintain a sustainable achievable pace

In Scrum, commitment levels are tracked against delivery, which makes it easier to spot the warning signs of peaks and troughs. This helps to keep workflows at a pace that is easier to maintain. Agile places emphasis on continuous delivery but this should never mean continuous pressure. Teams should always be working at a pace that is sustainable long-term. 

If you are struggling to cope, please contact your GP or visit the NHS burnout resources for more information.

Need some support? Get in touch today to find out how Agile practices could change the way you work.

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