How to Recognize Employee Burnout + What to do About it
By Taylor Varco
As a professional, the importance of maintaining the wellbeing of your employees should always be a top priority. When you have a cynical or disengaged employee on your team, production will suffer. If those behaviors are coming from a typically high-performing employee, there may be signs of burnout.
With busy schedules, work piling up, and pressures coming from other departments it can be difficult to spot burnout among the chaos. Signs of burnout are not necessarily in plain sight. To reduce the mental and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, you need to be able to identify the signs.
Here Are 3 Signs of Burnout and What to Do About Them
Sign #1: Decreased Productivity and Quality of Work
When you notice a decrease in productivity or an increase in client complaints, it’s easy to assume the responsible employee is just getting lazy. However, the issue might run deeper. If your typically dependable employee suddenly turns unreliable, there’s a good chance they are being overworked or simply not enjoying the work anymore.
Sign #2: Uncharacteristic Disengagement
A team that is eagerly making improvement suggestions, offering feedback, and collaboratively talking through challenges, is a team that is engaged and excited about the work at hand. When an employee is feeling burnout, he or she will mentally disconnect from the team. This means you may see them glued to their desk, avoiding communication with co-workers, and reduce their engagement in team meetings. They may even stop coming to you altogether with questions about the work.
Sign #3 Increased Cynicism and Complaining
Everyone has bad days – in fact, the occasional complaint should be expected. However, it’s usually a bad sign when you suddenly catch your usually optimistic employee consistently mumbling things like “This job isn’t going anywhere” or “I can’t wait to call my client and get yelled at again.” When you’re hearing constant negativity from someone who was once a source of encouragement, he or she is probably feeling the effects of burnout.
So, What Can You Do?
Understanding the motivation behind the atypical behavior is the first step. If you’re seeing a recent shift in attitude or performance, the root issue could be any number of things. Have a conversation. If they don’t want to readily offer up an explanation, ask questions that allow them to bring up possibilities of burnout. Such as, “What do you have on your plate right now? If you had the choice, how would you change it?” or “I noticed you’re not quite producing at the same level as last month. What’s keeping you from getting there?”
You will most likely hear responses such as “I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again” or “I just can’t stay on top of everything.” – all signs pointing to burnout. That’s a good thing, because it means you can step in to help turn it around.
Talk About Balance
When an employee has too much on their plate, its likely they’ll do anything to get the job done – even if that means working overtime. While this may seem like it sends the message they are a hard worker, it can quickly lead to exhaustion and unhappiness.
When you notice employees struggling with burnout, work together to develop tactical ways to head off the behavior. For example, set “cut off” times at night when they should shut down their computer. Or, let them know you expect them to take a full lunch hour.
You may not be able to instantly change your employee’s behavior, but openly acknowledging the expectation that you do not want them to overwork will relieve some of the pressure.
Switch Things Up
One of the most successful strategies you can implement to keep interests piqued is to vary team members workload. For instance, say you have a burnt-out Sr. Design Engineer who is always assigned the largest, and most demanding, projects. Even though they may be the most technically sound person for each job, try a workforce training program and assign junior engineers to work and train with the Sr Engineer. The junior employees will be challenged and your senior employee will have more time to breathe while also advancing their management abilities.
Try adding some variation in the types of projects you assign. For example, if you have one employee spending most of their time analyzing numbers, you could give them a creative assignment such as outlining a new internal program they are passionate about. Be sure you talk to your employees about these initiatives so you can be sure you are adding projects that will get them more excited and not add extra pressure.
These kind of changes in employee’s day-to-day will often leave them with renewed energy and excitement for their work. However, it’s important to know that burnout isn’t necessarily something that will pass on its own. As a manager, it’s your job to be aware, communicate, and recognize the telltale signs. Even more importantly, taking action to step in to help them get back on track.