Employee burnout is debilitating. Burnout steals our joy, energy, passion, and productivity.
However, there are many ways you can do as an employer (and an employee) to prevent and treat burnout.
Here are some signs and symptoms of employee burnout—and what to do about them.
What is employee burnout?
Employee burnout affects our entire being. It negatively impacts our mental, emotional, physical, and social wellness.
Burnout is exhaustion due to overworking or prolonged stress. Things that can exasperate employee burnout include micromanagement, work that doesn’t align with an employees’ values or goals, long commutes, lack of support or recognition, unrealistic expectations, imposter syndrome, and issues with coworkers.
As a result, employees can experience physical pain, poor sleep, irritability, cynicism, anxiety, and depression. 77% of employees have experienced burnout due to their current job.
Burnout leads to low employee engagement, which ultimately means poor performance.
It’s not that burnt-out employees don’t care – it’s that they’ve cared too much for too long without refilling the energy reservoir, and they’re left with little to give.
Burnout negatively impacts our mental health, and poor mental health can make us more prone to burnout.
What are the signs of burnout for employees?
You may be experiencing burnout if:
- Every day seems like a bad day
- Caring about work or even loved ones seems like a waste of time
- You are exhausted 24/7
- Tasks you spend your day on seem either dull or overwhelming
- It seems nothing you do is valued
Remote workers may be especially prone to employee burnout since little separates their work and home life. The expectation of being “on” constantly leaves little time to wind down and turn work off.
The Difference Between Stress and Burnout
Stress is inevitable. Deadlines, big projects, and more can all bring on anxiety.
Stress isn’t necessarily bad. A little stress can be a good motivator. However, when stress happens consistently over time, it can start to wear down your staff.
This is when burnout may set in. Burnout reveals itself as a lack of motivation, apathy, and disengagement.
Causes of Burnout
Both work and lifestyle-related issues can cause burnout.
Work-related causes of burnout:
- Not having control over your work. This can happen when employees feel they have no say over things that impact their work, such as work schedule, assignments, deadlines, and workload.
- Lack of the resources to get the job done. If employees don’t have the support or tools to accomplish their work, this adds additional work stress.
- Expectations aren’t clear. Not knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished can have a draining effect on employees.
- Workplace social issues. Feeling uncomfortable at work because of unpleasant work dynamics can take a huge toll on employees’ stress levels.
- Work is too demanding. Constantly high stress levels trying to meet aggressive deadlines and complete big projects can lead to burnout over time.
- Long hours. Working too many hours means that the work-life balance tips too far towards work! This can leave staff drained and unhappy.
Lifestyle-related causes of burnout:
- Not having a support network. Having friends and family to talk to as an emotional support system is extremely important. If staff doesn’t have that social network, they’re bound to start feeling burnout.
- All work and no play. When work takes up all most waking hours, employees don’t take time to socialize, recharge, and shake off the workday. Poor work-life balance is a massive culprit for mental health struggles.
- Not getting enough sleep. Sleep is vital to every function of the body and brain! Without enough sleep, your team will likely start feeling the effects of burnout, and stress will be harder to manage.
- Taking on too much work or too many responsibilities. Employees may be working full time plus committing to coaching their kids’ teams, cooking dinners, hosting the next book club, and more. Taking on too many responsibilities (even fun ones!) can lead to burnout.
What are the signs and symptoms of employee burnout?
Burnout can be a gradual process that creeps up on your team slowly. They might seem just a little run down now, but burnout is cumulative and continues to pile up if left unaddressed. Finding ways to reduce your team’s stress now will avert any major breakdowns down the road.
Here are 5 signs of employee burnout, plus tips on how to help your team manage burnout.
Sign #1: Your Employees Aren’t Engaged
Low employee engagement may reveal itself as:
- High absenteeism and presenteeism rates
- Missing meetings or not having video on during Zoom calls
- A drop in performance
- Not speaking up during meetings
Workers who are unenthusiastic about their jobs produce low-quality work.
There are many reasons an employee might be disengaged from the work and job tasks, and some of these reasons can be prevented.
For instance, when employees aren’t solicited for ideas on company policies or hiring decisions, it will seriously impair their engagement.
How To Address It
Never underestimate the importance of employee buy-in.
Whether it’s a policy change, a strategic pivot, or hiring a new team member, your employees want at least a little say in the matter. For instance, it’s always a good idea to get employee input during some stage of a hiring process to assess how everyone feels about a potential candidate. While the ultimate hiring decision may lie in the hands of the CEO or HR Director, your current employees want to know that you value their opinion on who would make an excellent addition to their team.
The key to becoming engaged at work is caring about the outcome. Employees who have more autonomy in their day-to-day work will produce the best results.
Sign #2: Your Employees Are Dropping the Ball
When tasks are left unfinished or minor mistakes start showing up regularly, it’s likely your employees are overworked. When workers are treading water every day to keep on top of the most critical tasks, corners get cut.
The cause for this could be a bottleneck in the way a project moves forward, constant interruptions, or the number of tasks and responsibilities an employee has.
How To Address It
Managers should prioritize how to make the work easier for the employees so they can produce the quality work you hired them for.
Ask employees to make a list of the tasks they do that take up more of their time than they’d like. Have them list what they actually do, not just what’s in their job description. Ask them how they are tracking their tasks, and start a dialogue about productivity tips.
Encourage employees to have a realistic idea of what they can achieve in a day and clarify the expectations.
Management needs to listen to employee ideas about improving the work process. Does one department constantly hold up other departments, creating crunch time for everyone else? If so, how can it be prevented?
At Nivati, we tackle this issue by having No Meeting Wednesdays. Employees are also free to mute their Slack notifications if they need to do deep work.
Reducing interruptions and roadblocks will help decrease stress and burnout.
Sign #3: Your Employees Are Out Sick A Lot
We all know that stress makes people sick. In addition to lowering your immunity, there are the inevitable body aches and sore muscles that come along with too many hours on the clock.
Employees that are burnt out are 63% more likely to take a sick day.
Combine that with poor diet, inconsistent sleep schedules, and not enough exercise—which commonly coincides with overworking—and burnout is inevitable.
Stress management is critical for your health and for preventing work-related burnout.
Other physical symptoms of burnout include:
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sleep
How To Address It
Though employers can’t expect to turn a worker’s health around on their own, making wellness a priority at work can significantly impact workforce health for the better.
An office wellness program can include healthy snacks, water instead of soda in the break room, gym passes, an in-office massage program, and ergonomic desks and workstations.
You can also provide employees a mental health program or EAP that will provide access to fitness classes, meditation sessions, sleep meditations, and more to help employees manage their health.
Giving an adequate number of days off will go a long way in keeping your workers in tip-top shape.
Sign #4: Your Employees Are Moody
Have you noticed that employees have been a little more pessimistic than usual? That’s a massive sign of employee burnout. If morale is low, they’ve got a lot on their plate, or they’re feeling undervalued, they may bring a bad attitude to work.
Other emotional symptoms of employee burnout include:
- Fear of failure or self-doubt
- Loss of motivation
- Decreased sense of accomplishment
- Cynical attitude and outlook
How To Address It
Focus on positivity. It is essential to solve problems during your meetings, but be sure to talk about your employees’ accomplishments and how they’ve been coping. If you balance out problem-solving with celebrating what’s already working, it’ll be easier for everyone to stay positive.
Start a conversation about mental health by talking about what has helped you cope with stressors.
Sign #5: Your Employees Are Quiet (Or Chatty)
If you’re noticing a change in your employees’ social habits, they may be experiencing burnout. Chatty employees may be avoiding their long list of things to do, while quiet employees may be overwhelmed.
Other emotional symptoms of burnout include:
- Overeating, over-drinking, or taking drugs
- Taking out frustration on other employees
- Coming into work late or early
How To Address It
Make sure your employees aren’t overloaded. Check-in with your team, ask them what they’re spending their time on, and find a way to help them balance their responsibilities. A healthy work-life balance is essential to avoiding burnout.
At Nivati, we survey our team once per quarter to check their work-life balance and workload and adjust accordingly.
Strategies to Prevent Burnout
Here are some strategies I teach individuals when they are suffering from burnout. These 4 strategies will help you recognize how burnout shows up for you, and how to prevent it from resurfacing down the road.
Learn how burnout shows up for you. The goal is to start to recognize your signs of burnout earlier and earlier so you can avoid burning out.
More common burnout signs include:
- Poor sleep
Work-life boundaries are crucial to preventing burnout. Try to have a consistent routine and transition rituals.
For instance, if you plan to work from 9 to 5 each day, try taking a walk at 8:30 and 5 to help you transition between the two.
Your routine will help reduce the number of decisions you make each day, helping to reduce burnout risk.
Shut your office door when you’re done with work. Turn off notifications. Remember that stepping away (and taking time off!) will help you be more productive and connected when you are working.
Take time to focus on yourself so you can stay healthy. Self-care isn’t selfish—it is essential!
Here are some self-care ideas you can try:
- Taking a hike
- Eating well
- Reading a book
- Creating something
- Listening to music
- Catching up with a friend
4. Reach Out
Talking about your struggles can help you do all of the above.
We are meant to live in community. Don’t go at it alone! Find coworkers, friends, or family members that love and care about you and that you can confide in. Find an accountability partner to help you stick to your work-life routines.
Talking it out is vulnerable, but it promotes healing and deeper connections with others.
For more on these strategies, check out 24:30 and on below.
Resources to Share With Your Team
Here are some articles you can share with your team to help them cope with stress and burnout.
- A Guided 10-Minute Meditation for Calm and Relaxation
- Virtual Yoga for Stress and Anxiety Relief
- Connect with Nature to Improve Your Mental Health
- 5 Tips to Reduce Team Stress This National Stress Awareness Week
We hope these tips help your team prevent and address burnout! Remember that burnout is reversible and normal. Employees will start to bounce back as mental health, providing feedback, and maintaining work-life balance become a priority.
HR.com Report: The Future of Employee Engagement
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