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Employee Burnout Signs No Manager Should Miss

May 04, 2020

side profile stressed young businessman sitting outside corporate office holding head with hands looking down. Negative human emotion facial expression feelings.

Befriend these employee burnout signs and they become your allies. Ignore them and they undermine the health and productivity of your entire team.

Here's how to spot employee burnout and do something constructive about it.

What IS Employee Burnout? 

"What we bury, grows." — Fr. John Howard, Ph.D.

Burnout happens when workplace stress is (a) chronic and (b) not managed successfully. When you create the conditions that prevent burnout -- and help your team manage their stress -- you get a team that works well together and sings your praises as a manager.  

The 3 biggest employee burnout signs 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout has three dimensions: 

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • reduced professional efficacy

Which of these employee burnout signs, if any, have you noticed in your staff? Or yourself?

The key is to not let employee burnout go unchecked, unacknowledged, or otherwise become "normal."

While productivity counts, it is not the most important company culture value. What you need are high-performing employees who are ...

  • rested
  • respected
  • resilient
  • trusted
  • appreciated
  • challenged, yet also given the tools and time to succeed

As WHO points out, employee burnout is not a medical condition. Yet if it's left unchecked, it can turn into the most serious medical conditions. 

What causes employee burnout?

Though it may vary by industry, here are some of the most common causes of burnout: 

  • Lack of autonomy, especially when accompanied by high levels of responsibility
  • Insufficient boundaries between work and non-work
  • Long hours without time for sufficient rest
  • Mandatory "busy work" that cuts into productivity
  • Pervasive uncertainty about the future
  • Miscommunication or non-communication
  • A company culture of drama, distrust, dishonesty or unfairness
  • Lack of leadership; unclear expectations
  • Feeling undervalued or disconnected from the greater purpose

I once conducted a series of focus groups to help a company promote its shared values. The idea was for me to talk to individuals at every level within the company, and come up with a shared-values training program that would meet their needs.

One of the company's values was respect. But on one particular afternoon, the members of my focus group were having none of it. One person summed it up by saying, "The company says they value respect. Respect our time with this training!" 

How well do your company values get played out in everyday life? Or in a crisis?

Employee burnout: 6 tips for managers

During a pandemic, you have more reason than ever to be concerned about employee burnout -- and to do your part to keep it at bay.

Here are six practical ways you can reduce burnout in your company or department. 

  1. Take care of yourself. Give your team an example worth living up to. Expect this to take more effort than anticipated. Yet the return on investment is all but guaranteed.
  2. Practice having good boundaries. Example: not sending or expecting email far outside normal work hours. Taking into account others' family needs (and time zones) when scheduling meetings. 
  3. Do regular check-ins with each of your direct reports. Don't just ask about their work -- ask about them: their lives and how you can help. 
  4. Protect your team's time and energy. For example, have we mentioned that Zoom is exhausting? If you're not sharing screens or documents, ask yourself if it's needed. Often you can get by with audio only.  
  5. Show your appreciation. Most teams don't get enough. Letting yours know they are valued and visible is one of the best antidotes to employee burnout.
  6. Be transparent. Nobody appreciates being kept in the dark. Transparency, delivered with respect and compassion, will prevent burnout and promote engagement. Without transparency, the gossip mill takes over -- and gossip is draining.

Finally, no matter what your track record as a leader has been in the past, now is your opportunity to initiate a reset. It won't be easy to break old habits and form new ones. It will probably take multiple attempts. But every ounce of the effort will be worth it. 



Thoughts? Questions? 
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