avoiding burnout

Surviving and Thriving as a Supervisor: Tips for Managing Expectations and Avoiding Burnout

Some of my most popular posts are about how exhausted and tired middle management is. As a supervisor, managing a team of individuals can be challenging. Balancing the demands of your job, your team, and your personal life can lead to stress and burnout. However, with the right mindset and tools, it is possible to survive and thrive as a supervisor. In this blog, we will discuss some tips for managing expectations and avoiding burnout.

Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that their team performs their job duties efficiently and effectively. It can be difficult to manage the demands of the job and the expectations of team members. Burnout is a common issue for supervisors, but it can be avoided with the right mindset and tools. 

Understanding Your Role is Vital in Avoiding Burnout 

To manage expectations effectively, zoo leadership must understand their role and responsibilities. Supervisors are responsible for managing the team, delegating tasks, providing feedback, and ensuring the team meets its goals. Many zoo leaders are promoted into leadership after being excellent keepers, but what got you here, won’t get you there. 

Decision Making

One of the most difficult transitions is from keeper to supervisor. I received an email from a zoo leader recently, and she shared her struggles and attempts for avoiding burnout. 

“I have discussed my struggles with being in leadership with you before. Back then, I was new to it and had trouble defining my lines between boss and friend. After these years, I am a tired supervisor, who still tries to learn and grow, but feels like she has been beaten down by the people she leads. What I do is never enough, they don’t trust my knowledge, and feel like I don’t take their feelings into account, even when I have made decisions based on their feelings over what I thought was best for the animals, which made me feel icky and I have vowed to never do again.”

– Tired Zoo Supervisor

While the best leaders learn how to get feedback from their team and incorporate that into their decision-making, it’s often impossible to make everyone happy when making decisions. 

It is important to be clear about the decision-making process and how feedback will be incorporated so that team members understand what is expected of them. This will help prevent misunderstandings and reduce stress.

Prioritize Time Management

Time management is crucial for supervisors. Especially in the zoo field when you never know what a day will bring. Even though animals are unpredictable, supervisors still have many tasks and deadlines to meet. Setting priorities, delegating tasks, and managing time effectively is essential for success. 

  • Prioritizing tasks involves deciding which tasks are most important and must be completed first. Leaders in my coaching program meet with me quarterly to help prioritize goals for the next 90 days. We use various tools like the Eisenhower Matrix or the MoSCoW method to determine what our priorities should be. 
  • Delegating tasks involves assigning tasks to team members who are best equipped to complete them. Following up on these tasks and the associated measurables can be done in consistent meetings where team members quickly report if they are on track or off track. This is often one of the hardest challenges for zoo leadership because many things in the zoo are life and death.  
  • Managing time effectively involves using time management techniques such as scheduling, time blocking, and setting reminders. Avoiding burnout requires leadership to learn how to do more with less. Zoo leadership is often responsible for daily cleaning AND leadership duties. Using the above techniques can increase productivity and reduce burnout. 

Practice Self-Care

Supervisors are prone to burnout because they often work long hours and have high job demands. Practicing self-care is crucial to prevent burnout. Self-care involves caring for one’s physical, emotional, and mental health. 

One technique I encourage all the leaders I coach to work on is “delights.” Make a list of all the small little things that light you up, and make sure you do or stop to recognize them every day. For example, most of us are in this field because we LOVE animals, yet we often forget to stop and enjoy the animals we’re surrounded by. 

Many facilities are also offering Employee Assistance Programs. Working with a licensed therapist to learn strategies for avoiding burnout is a great self-care strategy for zookeepers. 


For more on Animals Amplified’s Self Care Tips visit this page. 

Managing Expectations of your Team and Yourself

One of the most common destroyers of team unity and culture is unmet expectations. The sad part is that it is unavoidable. When two people interact with each other, or in our case as an employee and a company, both have expectations.

Some will be made clear at hiring, like expected pay, title, vacation, and time off allotment. Others, however, often go unspoken and are difficult to define. We all have expectations about how we like to be communicated with, whether our feedback is considered before decision-making, and how we will impact our role. 

Companies have expectations about our skills, knowledge, and how we will provide value to the organization Usually, after about six months, it’s obvious that some of our expectations on both sides might not be met. This is when disillusionment occurs. The honeymoon is over. Our representatives have left the building. 

“Some of it is that the mistrust in management goes from a long history above me, and no matter how much I try to bridge the gap, especially in communication, it usually still comes down to management feeling like they think that they know best and keepers thinking that they know best and they don’t always align. Management doesn’t always take into account how well the keepers know the animals, and keepers only see a small portion of the big picture. They don’t take into account budget, real staffing, regulations, taking guests into account, etc. I have even had a person, who was a seasonal, and only had one other position and internships experience, act fine to my face, but then constantly texted and caused drama with my keepers behind my back, telling them that I had no idea what I was doing (I have 17 years experience).”

– Tired Zoo Supervisor

You can read more about the stages here, but we’ve got to have a plan for when this happens. 

Too often, when keepers hit the disillusionment stage, they just end up quitting within the next year and hoping the grass is greener on the other side. So how can zoo leadership help? Open communication is important for supervisors to build trust with team members and other stakeholders. 

Open communication involves being transparent and honest, listening actively, and giving feedback constructively. Leaders can learn how to run effective meetings and hold regular one-on-ones so that missed expectations from both parties can be brought to the surface and addressed. When team members feel heard and respected, they are more likely to trust their supervisor and work collaboratively. Building trust takes time, but it is essential for creating a positive work environment and avoiding burnout.

Develop Your Zoo Leadership Skills

Supervisors are leaders and must develop leadership skills to succeed. Leadership skills include communication, problem-solving, delegation, and decision-making. Seeking feedback from team members and peers can help identify areas for improvement. Attending training sessions and learning from other leaders can also help build leadership skills. 

Developing leadership skills is an ongoing process that requires time and effort. Animals Amplified provides zoo leadership coaching for individuals and at a facility level. We set a vision for the future and work backward to develop priorities, set goals, and measure success. Leaders who use our system are better equipped for avoiding burnout and managing the expectations of their teams. 

Managing expectations and avoiding burnout as a supervisor can be challenging, but it is possible with the right mindset and tools. Understanding the role of a supervisor, prioritizing time management, fostering open communication, practicing self-care, and developing leadership skills are key to success. By implementing these tips, supervisors can create a positive work environment and lead their teams to success. Remember, managing expectations and avoiding burnout is an ongoing process, so it’s important to keep learning and growing as a supervisor.

Learn more about leadership training for zoo managers and check out our coaching program.

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