7 Signs Of Employee Burnout And How To Mitigate Them
Recently, an employee burnout survey conducted by Gallup on 7500 employees revealed some shocking figures. 23% of employees experienced burnout often, and 44% felt it sometimes. Although regarded as a part-of-the job by many workers, the costs incurred due to employee burnout are hard-hitting. Decreased quality of work, employee performance and productivity, frequent absence, and increased turnover are some of the adverse employee burnout signs.
From an employer’s perspective, burnout strikes quickly. For them, it seems like their star performer is not putting their best feet forward today. The next week, they are using up all their paid leaves. Soon before you realize it, they are already walking out through the door looking for greener pastures.
On the contrary, it takes months (if not years) for this burnout to build up from an employee’s point. Unrealistic deadlines, an overload of work, or lack of recognition are common pain points that paved this burnout path. Often, the telltale signs of an ascending burnout fail to catch the senior management’s attention.
Before delving deep, let’s get the basics right.
What is Employee Burnout?
As quoted by the World Health Organization, “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
It is a state of mental, emotional, and physical fatigue caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The concerned person feels emotionally drained, overwhelmed, and highly incapable of meeting work demands.
What are Employee Burnout Signs?
Let us go through some common employee burnout signs and how employers can address them proactively.
1. Decreased productivity and quality of work
Given our human nature, even the most meticulous and diligent worker makes mistakes. But when errors are frequently occurring in a pattern, that too on repetitive tasks, chances of burnout are amplified.
So, if your high performer’s quality of work has taken a noticeable downturn, there is more to it than meets the eye. When employees reach their breaking point, they lack interest in doing routine work and stop focusing on details. They do the bare minimum to get the job done, which explains why their quality of work and productivity took a toll.
2. Withdrawn and disengaged
WHO emphasizes that distancing oneself mentally from work is indicative of burnout. Procrastination resulting in lower output stems from disengagement from day-to-day work. Signs of a withdrawn employee who was sociable and outgoing before facing burnout are:
- Refrains from attending social events and gatherings.
- Rarely contributes ideas or feedback in meetings.
- Someone who readily volunteered for side projects stops raising their hand.
- Isolates himself/herself from the team and prefers that way.
3. Doubtful and complaining
We all have our share of bad days. But when a typically optimistic employee rants about having several bad days in a row, it’s a red flag.
An occasional grievance can be reasonable and permissible. However, constant complaints from someone who was once a source of motivation probably indicate burnout. Besides, cynicism stemming from burnout is responsible to some extent for aversion towards organizational change.
4. Hostility and inflexibility
Adaptive-to-change employees who got along effortlessly with team members can become irritable and rigid after a burnout. They might quickly lose patience for anything that poses additional stressors to their work lives. Due to this, they can be more hostile during cross-departmental meetings and likely to question a new strategy or process changes.
Signs of burnout hostility can also be evident in performance reviews, where the slightest bit of constructive criticism, pricks them. Employees who aren’t flexible or willing to grow and adapt can be a telltale sign of burnout.
5. Exhaustion and drained out
Studies have shown that burnout employees have significantly higher sleep disorders than those who didn’t. Insomnia, and non-restorative sleep caused by burnout leave them feeling drained out at work. Besides, research shows that lack of sleep causes stress, which skews our cognitive abilities at the workplace and lowers employee performance.
6. Frequent absenteeism and sick leaves
Apart from mental stress, burnout can also manifest itself in physical symptoms. Hours of sitting at a stretch can create back problems and other posture-related issues like Repetitive Strain Injury or RSI. Continuous screen watching can cause eyesight problems and headaches.
Obesity, diabetes and heart problems also contribute to employee burnout stress. Prolonged hours at work with little or no movement often weakens a person’s immunity due to which they frequently call in sick to work. In the same Gallup study, 63% of burnout employees were more likely to take sick leaves.
7. Elevated stress and fuzzy memory
Stress is one of the significant contributors to employee burnout. It could stem from both professional or personal problems. As a defense mechanism, the stressed person’s body produces cortisol hormone that helps combat the stress.
A Neurology study states that people with higher cortisol levels in their bloodstream are susceptible to cognitive disabilities and fuzzy memory (lack of clarity). So, it explains why an otherwise diligent employee starts making silly mistakes or forgets about a meeting.
How Can Managers Respond Proactively to Employee Burnout?
1. Engage early to prevent further employee burnout
As a manager, when you spot subtle signs of employee struggle, dive in and try to nip it in the bud before it blows into a full-fledged burnout. They could be dealing with a rough patch in their personal lives or anything else that is adversely affecting their work life.
Provide an environment where employees are comfortable sharing their challenges and make sure you are actively listening. Connect with your associates via regular one-on-one sessions and ask questions that enable them to bring up burnout possibilities. Once they open up, it will be easier for you to step in and resolve.
2. Avoid overallocation using appropriate resourcing treatments to prevent employee burnout
Overloading work is one of the root causes of employee burnout. In a shocking revelation, 41% of employees clocking 50 plus hours of work, claim their organizations don’t address burnout. Overallocation is a common resourcing challenge within matrix organizations’ projects. Lack of resource visibility leads to multiple bookings on various active assignments running simultaneously.
Workforce scheduling and planning solutions can help reduce the overallocation of work. Resource leveling technique that adjusts project timelines ensures your employees do not suffer burnout due to overwork. Measures like reskilling employees on the bench and hiring an on-demand contingent workforce to share the workload can be applied to avoid overutilization.
3. Tactical approaches can help balance work and personal life
When your employee has a lot on their plate, he/she will do anything to finish them. That could mean working through lunch breaks, weekends, or even late evenings well past the log-out time. When you see an employee scrambling with burnout, you can use tactical ways to mitigate the adversities.
For starters, you can tell them to take their lunch break seriously and set a goal time to switch off all work-related devices at night. If their work involves deadlines, proactively scheduling breaks will keep up their energy levels. These small gestures may not be an instant remedy but will relieve them about making time for non-work-related things.
4. Recognize and appreciate contributions
Recognizing employees for their efforts and quality of work makes them feel valued. Subsequently, the likelihood of employee burnout minimizes, and employees feel more engaged in the workplace.
Make an effort to recognize your team’s efforts and output in the presence of other team members or departments. A simple ‘thank you” helps, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Rewards like extra time off, an employee of the month rewards, flexibility to work remotely whenever possible, can help employees feel appreciated and improve employee performance and their engagement significantly.
5. Conduct employee engagement surveys to recognize employee burnout early
While some employees may be vocal about their struggles in one-on-one sessions, others may prefer a discrete form of expressing grievances.
Employee engagement pulse surveys are an excellent platform for the latter group to voice their suggestions and opinions. Senior management can use immediate insights from these pulse surveys to increase employee morale and satisfaction.
6. Provide flexible arrangements and EAPs
Many companies are providing flexible work arrangements like remote work but it has not eliminated burnout completely. Remote workers also experience burnout while trying to juggle work-life balance. Home confinement, coupled with additional domestic responsibilities, caused higher stress and exhaustion.
Providing remote workers with clear demarcations of working hours can help them relieve themselves from the pressure of being always available. Employee Assistance programs (EAP’s) provide free counseling sessions to resolve problems that affect employee performance.
7. Celebrate employees and not just their success
Job performance is not the only defining factor of an employee. There are more unexplored facets of an employee. You can try to know them better by scheduling fun activities.
Employees need not wait for that annual holiday gathering at the lakeside retreat to feel appreciated and motivated. Simple gestures like monthly birthday celebrations, sports tournaments, yoga sessions, or an unexpected pizza treat, can do wonders. With remote employees, informal virtual meetings can help relieve some stress.
No workplace is stress-free but, recognizing burnout signs and taking a proactive approach to preventing it helps. Follow the aforementioned steps to create a positive workplace where employees feel appreciated and comfortable. Burnouts can indeed crop outside the workplace, but the effects are noticeable at work. So, lend an ear, take them into confidence, be flexible at times, try not to overburden them, and engage them in various ways. That can significantly contribute to decreased burnout, increased loyalty and quality of work, and consistent employee performance resulting in increased productivity.
Mahendra Gupta is PMP certified with 20+ years of expertise in resource management & Planning. Presently working as Project Consultant at Saviom Software where his experience has enabled multinational businesses around the globe to diversify their project portfolio.