We all get stressed out from time to time, especially as we continue to navigate through a pandemic. Problems arise, and work days feel long, especially when working from home can make it harder to unplug. Usually, with a break and rest, we can take on the day feeling refreshed. But when you catch yourself losing sleep, motivation, and focus, 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 run out of wick and wax, and one day, the flame goes out. Though it has always been a concern, the World Health Organization now recognizes burnout as a health issue with the potential for long-term consequences. When felt across the team, 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 look for with 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 overarching form can manifest as:
- Behavioral changes such as distraction, disinterest, nervousness, or displaying a lack of emotion, especially alongside an increase in sarcasm or cynicism
- Socially withdrawing, even when activities require little physical effort
- Absenteeism, or a sense that their work does not matter
- Presenteeism, or showing up to work despite illnesses or other ailments that decrease productivity and effectiveness
How to help
Sometimes, helping is just adjusting your approach before the problem starts. Even before seeing signs of employee burnout, make sure you are being realistic. Unrealistic demands can leave employees overworked and overwhelmed, leading to chronic stress and illness. Also, be specific when assigning tasks and setting goals. Vague expectations can lead to a loss of motivation and a decline in productivity. All of these can negatively impact 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, when someone tells you they are tired, they may be on the verge of burnout.
How to help
Helping your team regain their energy and avoid burnout may mean asking the right questions and encouraging action based on their answers. The next time you notice someone falling behind, try making these inquiries:
- Are you taking breaks?
- Have you been able to step away for lunch?
- What are you doing to recharge?
- Are you utilizing your PTO?
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 is time for some intervention.
How to help
Confidence and motivation both take a big hit when we are 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 is preventing you from feeling successful?
Employees expressing these sentiments may also need a mentor to provide additional support as they navigate these feelings and create a plan to move forward. Having someone to talk to separately from their direct manager can help employees feel less fearful of retaliation.
Stopping burnout before it starts
Like with many issues, proactive prevention is key, and burnout is no different. Gallup reports that employees who frequently feel burnout at work are 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer and half as likely to share performance goals with their manager. Understanding these statistics and the current job market being in favor of interviewees, here are some ways to prevent employee burnout and retain your talent:
Communicate effectively. Start by checking in more frequently, and use this time to clarify goals while building rapport so your employees will feel more comfortable sharing when they are becoming overwhelmed. Effective communication fosters psychological safety and a sense of community within the team during disruptive times.
Emphasize teamwork. Burnout has a tricky tendency of making people feel isolated and alone. Especially with remote work, 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 burnout when they know their work matters. Help motivate your team by reaffirming their commitment to your company’s core values and showing them how their goals align with them.
Start with yourself
As a leader, you must watch for and manage your burnout first. Remember the part of every airplane safety message that says- "put your oxygen mask on before helping others?" You cannot pour into others' glasses if your pitcher is empty. You will not increase energy, offer encouragement, or inspire motivation if you struggle to find those things yourself. So make sure to refill your needs first by:
Make the most of your day. Create pockets of time for intense, head-down work when you are at your best. You know yourself. If you are a night owl, set aside time then. If you are a morning person, focus on your most important work first. 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 + no play = burnout. 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 10 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. Normalize discussing the issue, watching for it in your team, and taking the steps you need to mitigate its effects on yourself. We all get stressed from time to time, but with care and understanding, your flame does not have to burn out.