Spotting the Signs of Employee Burnout

Chances are that if you hold a leadership position, you’ve seen your team members weather incredible highs and disappointing lows throughout your time together. However, when those emotional valleys seem to last longer than usual, you may be witnessing employee burnout.

What is employee burnout? Burnout was first coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, and refers to a physical and mental state of cumulative stress caused by severe exhaustion. Employee burnout happens when an employee assumes too many responsibilities, which can lead to impaired concentration and emotional breakdowns.

What does burnout look like in the day-to-day operations of a company? An employee may be suffering from burnout if you notice they’re particularly lethargic, irritable, or unable to focus. They might call out sick with greater frequency, express a sense of hopelessness or cynicism towards their career, or isolate themselves from friends and colleagues. Often, the tendency is to frame burnout as a personal problem, like poor time management. In today’s fast paced work environment, burnout may even be seen as a necessary part of being productive, and as something that should just be worked through. But employee burnout can in fact be prevented from a management perspective.

How can you prevent burnout? For starters, conduct regular check-ins with your employees to assess how they’re managing their workload. Though it’s tempting to throw several projects at our best talent, multitasking can exhaust employees and in fact take away from their overall productivity. Managers should focus on fewer, more critical activities, and stress the value of project prioritization to their team members.

In that same vein, express to your employees a sense of flexibility around deadlines. Rigid timeframes—though a great structure to work within—usually exert more negative pressure on employees than positive. This isn’t to say you should get rid of deadlines completely, but you should work collaboratively with your team to establish mutually accepted deadlines that allow them to perform at their highest level.

As a caring leader, you also have the power of setting norms that others look up to. Leverage that responsibility to normalize self-care. Discuss with your team how you relaxed over the weekend or what personal hobbies you partake in. If your employees can see that their manager values personal time, they’ll feel comfortable taking time to replenish their own energy levels.

Why is addressing burnout critical? Beyond the general wellbeing of your employees, burnout poses serious business threats, as well. A recent study determined that workplace stress causes additional expenditures of anywhere from $125 to $190 billion dollars a year in various healthcare costs and paid leave. Moreover, burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be seeking a different job. In this sense, addressing burnout effectively safeguards your company’s future talent and future success.

If you neglect to address the root causes of employee burnout in your organization, you won’t have a workplace that empowers employees to perform at their best. As a caring leader, it’s your job to support your employees so they can best support you in return. That includes reading in between the lines for signs they feel overwhelmed, and stepping in when they don’t realize they need help. If we look out for one another and acknowledge that duty as an essential step in the collaborative process, there’s no telling where our collective potential will take us.

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