The notion of feeling burned out is one we hear a lot about, but do we really know what the signs are, either in ourselves or in our colleagues?
Burnout is more than simply needing to take a break from work. It’s a state of chronic stress from your work that can lead to exhaustion and frustration and has a negative impact on both one’s personal and work life.
Businesses have a duty of care to protect their employees, and that includes their mental health as much as it does their physical. With many companies adopting a hybrid system of working, how can employers spot the signs of burnout in staff and help them avoid this issue?
First, Understand the Issue
To identify the signs of burnout, you first need to know what it is and the problems it can cause. Burnout is a chronic response to a stressful work environment, and while it’s not defined as a mental illness, it can be considered a mental health issue.
The pandemic exacerbated the issue, with 79% of U.S. adult workers experiencing work-related stress in 2021, and in 2020/21, stress and anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases in the UK.
It can arise when an employee has unrealistic expectations of what they are capable of accomplishing in a day or a week; when they believe that what they are doing is never good enough; when they feel underappreciated for their efforts; and when unreasonable demands are placed on them on a regular basis.
Over time, excess stress can have a detrimental impact on a person’s health, and because burnout is chronic in nature, it can affect the physical health, emotional state, and performance of employees. So, it’s certainly something that employers need to be mindful of.
Spot the Signs
Most employees who experience burnout will continue to work, but changes in their attitude and energy are the most telling signs that something is wrong. Many people are unaware they are suffering from burnout and may believe they are simply struggling to keep up during stressful times, but the signs can be more obvious to others.
Burnout can lead to reduced efficiency and can significantly impact an employee’s performance – employers might notice that the individual is making more errors and mistakes than normal, or that they’re not able to hit deadlines in the same way that they used to.
Another common sign of burnout is lower levels of motivation since apathy is a common symptom. They may be less willing to go above and beyond or take on additional tasks where they once would have stepped in willingly, simply because they don’t have the energy to do more.
Employers should also be on the lookout for fatigue and signs of low energy, complaints of headaches, irritability, and increased frustration. They may spend longer working on projects yet achieve less than before or have debilitating self-doubt about their abilities to complete tasks.
If left without treatment, severe burnout can increase the risk of anxiety and depression, poor physical health, increased absenteeism, an increased risk of accidents, and low job satisfaction.
It’s important to note that staff may not notice they are experiencing burnout, and often they’ll find excuses for their behavior. But it’s still essential that conversations around this topic are had, as it can have negative consequences if left untreated.
How Can Employers Prevent Burnout?
Prevention is the best strategy when it comes to burnout. Employers need to be primed to spot and respond to the threat of burnout in staff, to help their staff overcome challenges and stay healthy.
Employers can do this by making sure they’re always providing clear expectations; that staff understand what’s required of them and that they have the necessary resources and skills to carry out those tasks. Communication is essential here. Employers can’t adequately support staff if they’re not checking in regularly with the team and understanding their pain points.
Ongoing training can also help to keep employees engaged, make them feel valued, and increase job satisfaction, as well as ensure that employees have the skills they need to complete tasks effectively and with minimal stress. This is especially important now that people are working remotely more frequently – employees must be trained to work independently.
One of the issues that can contribute to burnout is a high workload and long workdays, so employers need to enforce reasonable work hours. Ensure staff are setting healthy boundaries when it comes to their working days and breaks, particularly when working home alone. Help staff to assess their workload and make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations, so no one feels pressured to reach unattainable goals.
Lastly, foster a culture of support, mutual respect and communication. With hybrid and flexible working on the rise, it may be the case that teams aren’t always working in the same location. But in making sure that communication stays at the heart of everything you do, it’s easier for people to speak up when they need help or support.
Burnout is a real issue and with constant pressures to do more and do better, it’s no wonder that so many of us are feeling overwhelmed.
Businesses need to be prepared for these issues by staying alert to the signs of burnout in employees and knowing how to prevent issues of stress and feeling overwhelmed from developing in teams.
This article was written by mental health specialist Chris Harley.
When working remotely or in-house, the Zenkit Suite can help promote effective team communication and improve connectivity.