Burnout is a big deal. Stress and strain caused by work can lead to the physical and emotional exhaustion of employees. And even though everyone is responsible for taking care of their health, managers and HR professionals certainly have a role in creating a positive work environment for employees by supporting their wellbeing. After all, work accounts for a considerable amount of most employee’s week. They can eat well, exercise, and have a great support network outside of their job, but spending most of their week in an overwhelming situation will negatively impact them.
So what causes burnout, and what can you do to prevent it? According to the World Health Organisation, “burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” They categorise it into three areas relating to energy, feelings and efficacy. What does this mean in the real-life context of your workplace and employee experience?
How to Spot Employee Burnout
The first place to look is their energy levels. Are people full of energy and able for the entire working day, or are they already waning by lunchtime? Changes in a person’s behaviour might be more subtle over time, and no one can work at full speed all week, but if you know your employees, you’ll know if there is a change and not one for the better.
Another area to look out for is their emotional response. How do your employees feel about their work? Are they disengaging? How about their motivation? Maybe they have started to push out projects or not get involved. Perhaps someone has started to become quite negative when they speak about their work or in how they approach it. Again, no one will love every aspect of their working day but if you hear or see repeated feelings of discontent, pay attention as it might be a sign of occupational burnout.
You can also see it in simple actions like efficiency. Maybe there are a few more errors or mishaps than usual with one or more of your employees. It can be anything from punctuality to meeting a deadline, turnaround time on a project or attention span at a meeting. Keep an eye out for what wouldn’t be usual for this person, so you can intervene and support them and, most importantly, avoid burnout.
As well as these observations, it might be helpful to consider these reflective questions to assist in identifying the signs of burnout in your team and work towards preventing it.
- Do they have a manageable workload?
- Are they being supported in the way they need to complete their tasks?
- Are there effective communication channels in place if they need to discuss an issue?
- When they do speak, are they being heard?
- Do they see positive actions taken after speaking up?
- Are employees leaving work on time, taking their breaks and holidays, as well as properly switching off when they do?
- Does your company culture promote wellbeing?
The last two go hand in hand. In theory, everyone might work nine to five and have 20 plus days holidays to take, but how many of them do? And how many feel they need to stay late or answer emails when out of the office? Over time, this builds up and can impact employees’ health so company culture can play a big role here.
How to Avoid Employee Burnout
As someone in an authoritative position, you have the power to make it one that promotes wellbeing, prevents burnout and a more positive experience for all. To get started, here are our top four tips to avoid employee burnout and support your employees’ health.
Prioritise Wellbeing – It’s crucial that wellbeing is more than a buzzword in your workplace. Ensure it becomes part of your employee’s experience. Their wellness should be a priority. It might work best in the form of breaks, more regular check-ins, introducing optional practices such as exercise or mindfulness into their working day or better food options in the canteen as examples.
Most importantly, it’s about creating a workplace where employees workload is not insurmountable. It’s about promoting balance across the board. If you feel you already have much of this in your company, but people are still showing signs of burnout, it may be external matters or it could be a company politics issue. That can weigh heavily on employees too.
Provide Support – This can come in many forms. For example, your employees might benefit from some professional support through mentorship to help them achieve their work goals. It might be the case that they are going through some personal difficulties and wish to avail of some leave or have access to a therapist or doctor. The same applies to mental wellbeing, which should be treated with the same level of compassion and confidentiality as a physical ailment.
Also, review the layout of the space. Is the office environment supporting people’s wellbeing? From the temperature throughout the day to the lighting in various areas to the chairs people are using. Are they offering sufficient spinal support? All of these make a difference to someone’s working day, and any improvements for comfortability are encouraged.
Promote Inclusion – No one should feel like they are on their own at work. That’s a very lonely place to be. Including people in processes and projects as well as promoting teamwork is a contributor to avoiding burnout. There will always be work for people to do, but make sure they aren’t doing it all alone so no one feels overwhelmed.
Encourage Communication – Every company and culture is different. But you can make yours one where there are working communication channels. Employees need to have a voice in their workplace, a safe space to use it and be heard when they do. So it is vital to have communication systems in place that people use, where they are actively listened to and feel like they have been. You want people to tell you if they are not ok, so make sure they have the right environment to do this.
The time we are living in isn’t helping matters either. It’s crucial to acknowledge the impact of the ongoing pandemic on all of us. People have to be more alert than usual, in ways we’ve never had to before, and for an extended period with no set end date. Keeping all sides going and adapting to huge changes in the way we live is stressful and a nesting ground for burnout, and especially when it comes to the workplace. It makes sense if people are exhausted, even if they aren’t sure why.
The very nature of the pandemic is a prolonged stressful situation, so it’s vital now, more than ever, to watch out for the signs of burnout and to catch it before it takes hold. There might be lots we cannot control at the moment, but you can take action now to prevent burnout in the future. But with all of this said, the same applies to you. Burnout doesn’t discriminate and looking after your employees starts with you looking after yourself. You can start this process today if it’s not already underway.
Try out our quiz below and see how you are doing.
Quiz – Are You Suffering From Burnout?
Take your time to read the following statements.
Then simply answer Yes or No to each of them.
- I feel physically tired after work.
- I lack the motivation to do my job.
- I am making more errors than usual at work.
- I am emotionally exhausted after work.
- I find it hard to relax after my working day.
- Thinking about work keeps me awake at night.
- I feel like I never have enough time to complete my work tasks.
- I have negative feelings about my job.
- I feel misunderstood by my work colleagues.
- Office politics gets in the way of me doing my work.
- I struggle to achieve my work goals.
- I am getting frustrated easily with others at work.
Low Risk of Burnout – (Yes to 0-4 Statements)
It looks like you are doing well when it comes to your wellbeing. Keep up the great work, as it’s not easy to balance all the stresses work and life offers. Continue doing what you are doing and check back in from time to time to monitor how you are. Be sure to ask for help if you ever need it.
Medium Risk of Burnout – (Yes to 5-8 Statements)
The good news is you have time to take action before your situation risks going in the wrong direction. It’s important to read the signs of this pre-burnout stage and act now. Speak to your doctor or HR at work to see what might lighten the load. Where you can, try to eat well, limit alcohol, get restful sleep and take some time off work to rejuvenate.
High Risk of Burnout – (Yes to 9-12 Statements)
We’d recommend you speak with your doctor as soon as you can. The more you try and push through, the worse this will get. When things get to this stage, taking a break may not even seem like an option. But it has to happen for you to avoid burnout, which will also require time to recover from. So take the steps now, speak with your doctor, HR manager or relevant professional to support you in taking a break, getting the rest and help you need.
This tool is intended as informational only, and the results of this quiz are not a medical diagnosis. There can be many reasons why someone might feel stressed, tired, anxious, overwhelmed, or apathetic. If you are experiencing stress, you must take it seriously as it risks negatively impacting your physical and mental health. We suggest you always consult your doctor if you feel stressed, unwell, or concerned about your health and well-being.