We all get stressed out from time to time. Problems arise and work days feel long. Usually, with a break and a good night’s rest, we can take on the next day feeling refreshed. But when you catch yourself losing sleep, motivation, and focus, you may be facing more than a few tough days. You may be burning out.
Burnout happens when workplace stresses outpace our ability to manage them effectively. Like burning a candle at both ends, eventually you’ll run out of wick and wax, and one day, the flame will go out. Though it’s always been a concern, today the World Health Organization recognizes burnout as a legitimate health issue with the potential for long-term consequences. When felt across multiple team members, employee burnout can lead to decreased productivity, lower engagement levels, and higher turnover rates.
Watching for signs of employee burnout
Though stress manifests differently in everyone, there are common burnout signs to watch for in both yourself and your team. From general examples of oncoming burnout to more specific symptoms such as exhaustion and a lapse in efficacy, here are a few examples of what to watch for and how to help.
This can manifest as:
- Behavioral changes such as distraction, disinterest, nervousness, or displaying a lack of emotion, especially alongside an increase in sarcasm or cynicism.
- Withdrawing socially, even when activities require little physical investment.
- Exhibiting absenteeism, or a sense that the work they’re doing doesn’t matter.
- Falling prey to “presenteeism,” or showing up to work despite illnesses or other ailments that decrease productivity and effectiveness.
How to help
Sometimes, helping is a matter of adjusting your approach before the problem starts. Even before seeing signs of employee burnout, make sure you’re being realistic. Unrealistic demands can leave employees feeling overworked and overwhelmed which may lead to chronic stress and illness. Also, when assigning tasks and setting goals, make sure to be specific. Vague expectations can lead to a loss of motivation and a decline in productivity. All of these can have an negative impact on employee mental health.
When your team members begin to say things like, “I’m too tired,” “I’m physically drained,” or “I just don’t have the energy,” listen to them. Especially these days when stresses are high and the line between work and home has blurred thanks to so much telecommuting, when someone tells you they’re tired, they may be on the verge of burnout.
How to help
Helping your team regain their energy and avoiding burnout may be a matter of asking the right questions and encouraging action based on their answers. The next time you notice someone falling behind, try making these inquiries:
- How are you taking breaks?
- Have you been able to step away for lunch?
- What are you doing to recharge?
Signs of failing self-efficacy
Employee burnout can lead to feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt. So if you or your team members start to mention things like, “I can’t do it,” “I’m not qualified for this,” or “I’m not good at my job,” it’s time for some intervention.
How to help
Confidence and motivation both take a big hit when we’re nearing burnout. Encourage your team to rediscover their energy and conviction by asking these questions:
- What makes you feel successful in your job?
- How might your past successes help you feel better now?
- What’s preventing you from feeling successful?
Stopping burnout before it starts
Like with many issues, proactive prevention is key, and burnout is no different. With a 2019 Gallup poll reporting that nearly 30 percent of full-time employees feel burnt out “very often” or “always,” these actions are more important than ever.
Communicate effectively. Start by checking in more frequently, and use this time to clarify goals while building rapport so that your employees will feel more comfortable sharing when they’re becoming overwhelmed.
Emphasize teamwork. Burnout has a tricky tendency of making people feel isolated and alone. Especially these days as so many of us work remotely, strengthening social connections is essential.
Increase autonomy. Different than encouraging employees to work alone, this step means acknowledging your team’s strengths and streamlining goals for increased engagement.
Foster motivation. Employees are less likely to feel the effects of burnout when they feel as though their work matters. Help motivate your team by reaffirming your and their commitment to your company’s core values and showing them how their goals align with it.
Start with yourself
As a leader, it’s essential to watch for and manage burnout in yourself first. After all, you can’t be expected to fill other people's glasses if your pitcher isn’t full. You won’t be able to increase energy, offer encouragement, or inspire motivation if you’re struggling to find those things for yourself. So make sure to refill your own well first by:
Making the most of your day. Create pockets of time for intense, head-down work when you’re at your best. You know yourself. If you’re a night owl, set aside time then. If you’re a morning person, focus your most important work into the early hours of your day. Concentrating during these times will help you be more productive while taking the pressure off the rest of your day.
Striving for balance. All work and no play makes Jack burn out. No one can work nonstop without consequences. Make sure to schedule breaks into your day alongside your focused work hours. Go for a walk at lunch, do a bit of exercise, or meditate for ten minutes. Prioritize the activities that keep you centered and refreshed.
Especially these days, with increased stresses and reduced outlets for relief, recognizing and taking preventative measures against employee burnout is essential. Make sure to normalize discussing the issue, watching for it in your team, and taking the steps you need to mitigate its effects in yourself. We all get stressed from time to time, but with a little attention and some care, there’s no need to let your flame burn out.