By Amanda Winstead

We’re in a unique place these days where there seem to be fewer available employees but more of an emphasis on delivering results right now. As a project manager, you know all too well what it’s like to work with a lean team of only a few employees who must work together to complete amazing things. The problem is that a small group can only be pushed so far before they start to experience extreme stress and burnout. As a project manager, you need to ensure their happiness and sanity each day they come to work.

Prevent Occupational Burnout

There are many perks to running a lean team, including having fewer costs and increased flexibility and adaptability. However, it’s easy for project managers to get wrapped up in the perks and forget that their staff is made up of human beings who can only be pushed so far before they break down. If employees are burned out, they’ll show it in their work by being tardy, making mistakes, and being less enthusiastic about their work. If you don’t make a change, they’ll eventually quit, and your lean team will be made even leaner.

This phenomenon is often referred to as occupational burnout because the root of their stress is at their job. It often begins as soon as they walk into the office or log in for the day. Luckily, there are ways that you can help your employees avoid occupational burnout, and you can start by having an open-door policy where employees feel safe coming to you to express their worries and frustrations and know that you’ll listen to them and provide a solution. If the workload is causing the problem, then try to redistribute some of their work and check in on them again to see if the situation has improved.

Often, your employees on a lean team will be burned out because they feel like they have to keep going and think they don’t have a chance to stop and catch their breath. As their manager, remind them that’s not the case and that they have paid time off for a reason, so they should use it to their advantage. Time away from the office will allow them to recharge and return to work feeling mentally refreshed. You may prefer a lean team, but a change must be made if it’s so lean that you can’t afford to allow vacation time.

Make Work Easier

While you should have certain standards for what your employees should accomplish and how they complete their work, if you’re running a lean team that’s running on fumes, you must find ways to make work a bit easier on them. One way to efficiently run a lean team is to take some unnecessary tasks off their plate.

Review your team’s processes and look for the more repetitive and monotonous tasks that can often take up too much of the associate’s time, then automate these tasks.

Managers can automate the assignments to distribute them automatically, and your employees don’t have to check in repeatedly. Since project management requires a lot of emails, you can also automate those. The tasks you automate will depend on your specific company and project, but with some research, you can cut out a lot of the minutiae, and your employees will be happier because they’ll have less work on their plate.

Ultimately, you’re looking to create a system that increases productivity by helping employees prioritize the most important tasks. Minimize or eliminate multitasking and streamline their workflow through automation so they can concentrate on higher-level thinking. Then, heartily encourage your employees to take breaks so their minds stay fresh.

Sometimes, the employees on a lean team may become frustrated because they’re tasked with taking on new roles without the necessary training. Remedy that by providing your teams with professional development opportunities like online videos, staff workshops, and the chance to take classes outside of work. If your employees are able to grow, they’ll be more willing to offer additional help, and they may have a chance for a promotion down the line.

Make Work as Tolerable as Possible

You’re trying to make a stressful work environment more tolerable by making it enjoyable to come to work each day. Talk to your employees and ask what they’d like to see in the workplace and try to work it in.

For instance, if an employee comes to you and says that it’s the long hours that’s causing them stress, consider offering them the chance to have a flexible schedule. The beauty of a flexibly scheduled team is that many tasks can be completed at any hour of the day. So if an employee can start later in the morning or break up their day, they may have the schedule they need to do their best work without feeling overwhelmed.

You can also make your team feel more satisfied by recognizing associates who go above and beyond in their roles. You’ll be amazed at how morale will soar when you acknowledge a worker’s accomplishments in a public setting or reward good work with an hour off at the end of the day. Studies show that many employees are more excited about recognition than they are about pay or training. Recognized employees will want to continue to do their best work, and people who see that recognition will be driven to succeed so they can try to get recognized as well.

Keep in mind that some employees may be incredibly burned out. It may take more than a vacation day or gift card to put them back in a better place. In that case, managers can offer counseling support programs to help build them up again.


It’s not always easy to run a lean team because although it’s often beneficial, it can be stressful to keep everyone busy without damaging their mental health. Be an ally for them when they need you most and provide a supportive environment, and they’ll thank you by doing their best work.

Author Bio

Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.

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