Management & Leadership

Spotting Early Signs of Employee Burnout and Tips to Take Action

About 40% of employees say they are burned out, according to Slack’s Future Forum Pulse. That’s almost half of the workers surveyed – a pretty alarming number. Employee burnout negatively affects your business and can be detrimental to a person’s mental and physical health. When an employee reaches a stage of burnout, they may be unable to cope with pressure and stuck in a state of negativity that can be hard to overcome. 

What is Burnout? 

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 

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

Stress vs Burnout 

It’s common for people to think of stress and burnout as the same thing. However, burnout is a stage that you reach when you cannot push through the stress, you have undeniable fatigue and are emotionally distraught to the point it’s difficult to manage. With stress, you can learn to cope, find healthy ways to reduce your stress and take care of your mental health before reaching the point of burnout. The key here is to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Burnout can happen when you don’t use these healthy coping strategies to manage stress, resulting in putting yourself last and not taking care of yourself during periods of stress. 

According to LinkedIn, “The main difference between stress and burnout is that stress is a response to a perceived threat. In contrast, burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged or excessive stress. While some stress can be beneficial, chronic stress can lead to burnout. Burnout is more than just being stressed out. It’s a state of complete exhaustion.” 

Spotting Early Signs of Burnout 

The good news is that you can spot signs of burnout before your employee reaches that stage. Here are some red flags to look out for.

1. Isolation

Professionals who are experiencing burnout will often start to become disengaged and alienated from their peers and managers. This is their way to cope with their stress and often leads to isolating behaviors. Keep an eye out for your team members especially when you notice such behavior as it is one of the first signs of burnout.  

2. Low performance 

When employees are reaching burnout, they are so stressed that they will have problems focusing and concentrating. This results in a drop in performance because of the reduced creativity and focus, and lack of motivation that happens. A sudden drop or change in performance is something to watch out for. 

3. Change in emotions

An increase in anxious behavior such as irritability is a cause for concern. Additionally, if your team member has seemed moody, practices avoidance, or just doesn’t seem themselves over time, they might be over-stressed and heading towards burnout. 

4. Poor health

Has your employee been taking more sick leave than usual? If he or she has been consistently unwell, missing meetings and doesn’t seem to be in good health, this is an extremely worrying sign as burnout can cause fatigue and affects your physical wellbeing. 

5. Lack of boundaries

How is your employee’s work-life balance? Do they tend to overwork and are available at all times of the day? If you have noticed any signs of a lack of boundaries, this is when it’s important to step in and encourage your team to unplug after the workday and focus on their personal health and loved ones to decompress.

How Managers Can Take Action 

Managers can step in and support their team members to prevent burnout. Here are some helpful tips.

1. Focus on well-being 

When talking with your team, you want to encourage focusing on well-being and the importance of taking care of yourself. Let your employees know that self-care is important and that both mental and physical health should be a priority. You can lead by example and, if comfortable, can share your ways of identifying and coping with stress during challenging times. Creating an open environment where conversations can happen around mental health.

2. Recognition is important 

Feedback is critical not only to improve performance but also to improve morale within the team. It’s important to show your employees that you recognize their hard work and congratulate them on their successes and projects done well. This will go a long way in helping your employees reduce their stress and feel motivated knowing they are doing a good job. Whether big or small, recognition helps to create a positive work environment and culture overall. 

3. Communication and clarification

Confusion or lack of clarity is a major cause of stress. Therefore, make sure to always have open communication and clarify important priorities and tasks with the team. Depending on your office schedules, your employees should know what is expected of them in terms of deadlines, flexibility of schedules and anything else that will help reduce the stress of not knowing what their priorities are. Additionally, build trust among your team and allow your employees to show you that they are able to take on their responsibilities without having to micromanage them. 

4. Encourage breaks

Regular breaks, including taking time for a proper lunch, are important to refresh the mind and stay healthy during the workday. Sitting for hours at a time in front of a screen has proven to be harmful to one’s health. Therefore, encourage breaks such as short walks for a breath of fresh air during the day. Also, encourage eating healthy meals and taking the time to enjoy those meals when it is lunchtime. Let your team know you’re not expecting them to work during lunch, especially if they are in a remote setting. 

5. Check in about tools and resources

Sometimes, team members may lack some tools or resources they need during a project, which can be stressful. Make sure to check in to ensure that they have everything they need to accomplish the tasks and that all their equipment is functioning and working well. This gesture will go a long way in giving your team relief during challenging times when they need extra help during a busy season. 

6. Provide support

Employees need to feel that they can go to their peers and managers without judgment and will get the help they need when they are going through a tough time. Being a good manager involves leading with empathy and truly helping your employees when you notice they are in need of extra help. Encourage open and honest communication so that your employees feel comfortable asking you or other team members for help before it’s too late.

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