“You have to take time off.”

It wasn’t a request, it was a very firm directive. My supervisor had witnessed my bad habits: overwork, long hours, and a propensity for regular burnout. As I began to near exhaustion, she took a strong stand against it all: it was time for me to go. I went, reluctantly. I was loth to relinquish my addiction to overwork and the hero complex that fueled it. But in the end, it was the right call. As this pattern played out over and over, I eventually began to learn my limits, and the value of having a supervisor who could combat burnout.

The fact is that the suervisor has the most influence on whether burnout happens. The single most effective thing to combat burnout is time away, and that can often fall squarely into the management arena. I was fortunate to be at a small, flexible organization. My supervisor had the ability to easily give people time off and care for their wellbeing. I benefited from a caring supervisor when I was going through a particularly stressful move from one house to another. A lot of flexibility was afforded to me to help make the transition easier. It was a critical element to my work/life balance, especially since I hadn’t yet learned how to advocate for my own needs on the job.

Of course, every situation is different. But in my view, supervisors can be the key to avoiding overwork and burnout. I am careful to avoid a culture of overwork in my team, and I do my best to take an interest in their wellbeing. We can’t encourage team members to work extra and not to take their earned time off.

Much of the internet advice to avoid burnout laces the emphasis on the individual experiencing it: eat right, get sleep, and ask for help at work. But none of this is as beneficial as flexibility in scheduling and strategic time away from work. Knowing that your supervisor is dialed into your wellbeing is also a powerful message. For me simply knowing that was helpful and it engendered loyalty on the job as well.

To the best of my abilities, I strive to be the same sort of supervisor as the ones who have helped me the most and I model the behavior I would like to see in the team. Now I’ve learned some lessons about fighting burnout in myself. I’m at a higher risk of burnout because of my disability. It takes discipline not to answer emails in the evening, or respond to messages over the weekend. I arranged a telework day to reduce my commute time each week. And I rely on a predicatble schedule as well. I have a good relationshi with my supervisors, but I have learned to advocate for my own needs instead of giving everything to the job. Marshalling my personal resources keeps me at the to of my game. And now, nobody needs to tell me to do so.

Have your supervisors helped you combat burnout? Is there anything in your workplace culture that helps discourage overwork and supports a healthy work/life balance? Leave a comment with your thoughts below!