How to Lead When Your Team Is Exhausted: 8 Tips to Get you on Track

How to lead when your team is exhausted is a topic of choice for many managers. According to a study by Judith Ricci in the National Library of Medicine, nearly 40% of U.S. workers are exhausted. This is a problem that costs employers an enormous sum of money in lost productivity – $136 billion dollars to the American economy.

Being fatigued has health implications on workers, too. It’s a challenging subject, so we’ve written a guide to help you lead when your team is exhausted and to try to control this often-overwhelming beast.

The truth is, that as a leader, you need to ensure work gets done, productivity is high and even when your workers are fatigued, take care of them.

In order to do this, you need to keep things simple and get to the root causes of these symptoms fast. Here are 8 tips to show you how to lead when your team is exhausted and overcome some of the reasons for fatigue.

How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted? First Find Non Value Added Activities

Employees obviously get tired for a reason. The simple answer but often harder to fix thing would be to find why they are tired.

Of course, it could be the pressure of tight targets, lots to do and never ending interruptions and distractions.  

When you drill down, things can often seem a little different. A considerable amount of time, frustrations and fatigue can emanate from poor processes that employees are forever having to work within.

If you stand there and observe how things get done, you’ll more than likely find the following issues:

  • Work often waits too long for the next process to complete it. This causes time pressure further down the process;
  • There are too many questions and errors, which slow things down;
  • Customer complaints have to be dealt with and this puts other work back further;
  • Rework happens often, meaning delays are inevitable;
  • Ambiguous information slows people down as people look for answers to questions;
  • Duplicate information being reprocessed which reduces capacity and increases lead times;
  • Lack of communication across teams – not everyone is on the same page and errors happen and even more unanswered questions are asked.

These are examples of what we describe as non value added activities. They are the wasteful steps in our processes, which slow us down and which causes frustration to those running the process. We’ve written a detailed guide on what NVA is and how to improve productivity, but one of the most impactful things you can do is to target those wasteful tasks and get to work to eliminate as much of them as possible.

This can make a huge impact in reducing wasted time, whilst increasing capacity. With each improvement in capacity, your team gets some time back.

Doing this allows you to both free up time and also show that you care about their welfare.

A simple way to start this is to ask your team what frustrates them.

Brainstorm as many issues as they can recall, record immediate and longer term actions and get to work to eliminate as many as you can.

Get Rid of Extra Work and Be Patient

In a similar vein as above, the next thing to look for is the nature of the task itself. Are your team members spending time on the right things?

In Steven Covey’s 7 Habits, he states that the golden rule to managing your time is to ensure the urgent and important tasks are not superseded by the unimportant and not urgent.

This is an obvious thing to say, but it often gets forgotten when people are busy and stressed.

Other people’s or department’s priorities are not often you and your team’s urgent or important tasks.

How do you define which tasks are important or urgent?

This answer lies in whether the tasks you have in front of you, contribute to your team’s goals or not. If they do, plan them in and make sure they are done. If not, get rid, put them off or delegate them to another team or resource.

Constantly saying yes to everyone can cause a huge strain on you and your team’s time.

This sounds harsh, but if your team is fatigued and up against it, you just have to prioritise. This works well when using a time management system like the Pomodoro technique or Covey’s time management system.

Coaching your team to be efficient is a skill that must be learned. Couple this with actively looking for and reducing NVA activities in their work, and you should swiftly free up some vital time to take a breather and recharge.

Be an Advocate

One of the tips on how to lead when your team is exhausted is to be an advocate.

In fact this term is often referred to as the servant leader approach. It involves ensuring your team is taken care of and is supported before you think about your own needs and agenda.

There’s nothing worse for a team than feeling that they are working hard but are undervalued by their leader.

The way you serve your team members can take a different dimension depending on the individual.

Here are a few examples:

  • Publicly protect their time: If someone reaches out to you to see if your team can take on a project and somehow it’s slipped the prioritization net (in step 2), then make it crystal clear and politely say no;
  • Provide a more flexible work schedule: Give your team a bit of autonomy in their roles and allow them to choose flexible work schedules. It’s a great way of keeping them motivated and resting them when they need it. We’ve written an article on autonomy and how it can help improve engagement and motivation. You can check it out;
  • Agree downtime and social activities: Ensure your team has a meal after work, or a few drinks. Perhaps they could go for lunch together or undertake a few team games. The more you intwine socialisation into the mix, the more they will deepen their relationships and work together during tough times.

Provide Access to Relevant Resources

Irrespective of the major cause of tiredness, work burnout as a result of exhaustion can pose a serious mental health effect on an individual.

As a leader, when your team is exhausted, connect them with meaningful resources like information about wellness, exercise, meditation and mindfulness to help enhance their wellbeing.

Encourage them to see the benefits of this and show them that in order to be fully effective, they need to work on all areas of their lives. This is habit 7 in Covey’s 7 habits and is important for all successful people to practice.

Relevant resources can also come in the form of mentoring. Studies show that mentoring has a number of benefits, including a higher salary, improved commitment and engagement and more confidence, too. For more information, you can check out our guide on mentoring in  the workplace.

Can you leverage other people in the business who have specific experience and skills, that can help your team perform to even higher levels and to make better decisions during this stressful time? Creating a mentoring scheme may just give you that extra 10% that you need, and it’s another great tool to help keep your team engaged.

Know Your Team

There are different facets to humans.

  • People vary in their abilities;
  • In their potential;
  • Their levels of experience;
  • What motivates them.

If you haven’t done so already, identify how your team members tick:

  • Are there specific tasks that they prefer doing more than others?
  • Can you move tasks around to accommodate this?
  • Are certain tasks more demanding and tiring than others?
  • If so, can you create a rota and allow people to rest in between assignments?
  • Can you get people to work together, so tasks get completed faster and the workload is shared. This approach also allows for collaboration and on job learning, which is an effective way of helping develop both skills and rapport amongst team members.

During these pressurised times, you should never stop communicating. If you are not already, make time to have team discussions, possibly daily, to plan and prioritise; to identify issues and to help take actions to improve problems that the team faces.

Also, ensure you have monthly one-on-one sessions with each employee. Understand what is working and what is not, as well as how you can help support them.

Use Technology

Whilst it may sound like something of a fiction movie, there are in fact devices now that can measure an employee’s fatigue.

From glasses that can detect drowsiness, to technology that can monitor a long haul driver’s microsleeps and fatigue, to software that can learn each employee’s patterns as they sit at their computer, and identify when fatigue is kicking in. These are all possible and could be implemented in your business, to help support your employees and to ultimately prevent fatigue related accidents.

Safestart gives a good overview of these devices in their article.

Using exercise monitors to track distance walked is another common tool that warehouse and manufacturing businesses use to see how well their facility is laid out – the more steps travelled, the more waste in walking that could be eliminated if things were moved closer.

Other tools could be the following:

  • Use anti fatigue mats for employees who have to stand up for long periods of the day;
  • Provide ergonomic chairs to prevent aches through poor posture;
  • Tools that reduce the need to stretch and twist repetitively;
  • Use conveyor belts or suction lifting equipment to move heavy items;
  • Blue light filters on screens to prevent eye fatigue.

Firstly, start by brainstorming things that your team say are physically causing fatigue In their workplace.

Once you’ve listed them, put some actions together to go and find out how many you can eliminate or reduce by the use of tools, technology and equipment.

How to Lead When your Team is Exhausted? Enforce Regular Breaks has written a good summary on the importance of work and breaks. They highlight the scientifically backed advice that workers should regularly take intervals of work, followed by a break.

The results vary:

Strammer.com52 minutes17 minutes
Pomodoro technique25 minutes5 minutes
Nathan Kleitman90 minutes20 minutes

Various studies support the idea of regular birsts of work followed by breaks away.

  • one research study identify that office workers should work for 52 minutes before then resting for 17 minutes at a time;
  • Research around the Pomodoro technique suggests that we should have a 5 minute break for every 25 minute block of work, followed by a longer break every 2 hours;
  • Nathan Kleitman, a sleep expert, reasons that our brain goes through 90 minute brain activities, followed by 20 minute rests, so we should follow this during the day.

Whichever method you choose, the conclusive advice is for your team members to take regular breaks from what they are doing.

In fact, these studies above, and many more, highlight that regular stints of work then rest is the optimum way for our brains to stay fresh and productive.

Start by discussing the importance of regular work-rest time blocks through the day and encourage your team to do this. Make it fun. The big tech firms have breakout rooms and games facilities to allow employees to get up and focus on something not work related, like table tennis, Xbox, I’ve even seen someone playing the piano!

Try to make a physical area relax in order to rest.

How to Lead When your Team is Exhausted? Make it Fun

Gamification of tasks involves bringing an element of play into real work. This means using game-style dynamics into team tasks and work. Typical game-elements can be points, rewards, competitive platforms, to name a few.

Gamification is structured in a way that anyone with the most effective result will be rewarded.

If you can get some time back for your team from the activities above, you may well be able to turn the team setting into more of a game. It’s also an effective way for reviving them. Afterall, more fun and less formal work seems make a difference.

In a 2019 gamification at work study by Talent LMS, they found that of the employees who experience gamification at work, 89% felt they were more productive and 88% admitted that they were happier.

Talent LMS’ summary was that gamification has an important role to play in the modern workplace, to help improve happiness, engagement and motivation.

It makes sense then, that if you’ve come this far, why not make things more entertaining for them and get some of these benefits for you and your team?

Gamification Examples

Communicate the goal and process of the game.

For example, you want to revive your sales team to close some deals when they are exhausted.

First, you have to communicate the following factors; goals, criteria, rewards (for winning), benefit (to both the organization and employee), and rules.

  • Create a leaderboard;
  • Track daily results and reward points when each employee achieves a goal;
  • Encourage regular reviews around the leaderboard to track points earned and rankings;
  • Reward individuals when they achieve their goal(s), and do it during team reviews, celebrating the leaderboard and everyone’s contribution.


How to lead when your team is exhausted? The bottom line is to spend more time with them to see where the fatigue is coming from.

Think of the following:

  • Poor process;
  • Doing the wrong things;
  • Ergonomics and physical fatigue.

In each case, look for some of the reasons and then work on eliminating them. Sure, they may be under huge demand, but how much work are they actively doing which is adding value? Of this work, are they doing it effectively and safely? Can you make the work environment that little bit more comfier?

Ensure your team is taking regular breaks every hour or so.

Finally, inject gamification into your team goals. Research proves that this method is a big contributor of engagement and happiness and may just help your team to keep going.