A Manager’s Guide To Spotting Burnout And What To Do Next
Mental health at work is becoming a highly talked about issue, and for good reason. The stress and uncertainty we have felt over the last couple of years are not going to disappear by magic. The sheer length of the pandemic, and the rollercoaster effect of good news followed by bad news, have gradually worn people down. This, in combination with any other workplace stressors, can push people to burnout.
Burnout happens when the stress or pressure from our working and personal lives reaches a tipping point—it either becomes too much or goes on for too long.
So what is burnout, how do we spot it, and what are the next best steps?
An intro to burnout
The term ‘Burnout’ is used to describe those who have been through tough periods of stress, leaving them feeling emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. Recent research shows that people move through a five-stage process on their way to developing burnout, which should help you to identify those in your team that are experiencing stress-related symptoms.
1. Learning to cope with the pressure
An employee may work efficiently and blast through their workload in this first stage but may start to notice the effects of working flat out for long periods of time.
Working this way is even more stressful if they aren’t taking time for breaks, or if they are working longer hours than usual. Employees like this often look for ways to maintain this high level of work rate, such as increasing their caffeine intake or responding to emails over the weekend, for example. However, this level of productivity cannot be sustained without a positive work/life balance.
2. Stress awareness
In this stage, an employee may start noticing that their day-to-day is getting harder as time goes on. Their productivity, positivity and creativity may drop, as symptoms associated with stress increase.
3. Stress becomes chronic
The third stage of burnout is chronic stress. An employee will experience stress-related symptoms on a regular basis, such as headaches, irritability and tiredness – which reduces their motivation and ability to work.
Burnout is where stress-related symptoms intensify, often making employees incapable of doing their job. They will most likely need time off to fully recover, and may even consider leaving their job to escape their current situation.
For managers to be able to spot any early signs of burnout, it’s important to think about the different signs that could be on display – we’ve listed some of the most common categories below:
Our body language tells a story. In this case, it can say a lot about our wellbeing and how we’re feeling. Feelings of stress affect our eating habits, how we sleep, and our exercise regime, all of which contribute to how we physically carry ourselves at work.
Some physical signs to look out for:
• Looks tired and/or mentions lack of sleep
• Increase in negative body language
• Poorer posture
• Brings up new aches and pains in conversation
• Change of eating habits
• Increased fidgeting, seems less settled at work
Just as stress affects us physically, it also takes a toll on our mental health. Burnout makes it near impossible for employees to maintain their work ethic.
Some signs of cognitive fatigue/decline to look out for:
• Reduced performance and productivity
• Missed deadlines
• Signs of detachment from their work
• Lack of creativity
• Higher rates of absenteeism
Displays of emotions often occur as a result of prolonged or excessive stress. Managers that are keeping an eye out for burnout should note any uncharacteristic emotional changes in their employees, such as the below signs:
• Lower moods
• Lack of sociability
• Negative comments
• Easily frustrated
• Unable to express themselves fully
The cause of burnout
According to a Gallup survey, there are five main causes of burnout at work:
• Unfair treatment at work
• Unmanageable workload
• Lack of role clarity
• Lack of communication and support from their manager
• Unreasonable time pressure
It’s simple to see that when employees are overworked, and with a lack of support, they burn out. However, the good news is that managers that are quick to respond to any signs of burnout can prevent and reverse many causes of workplace stress.
What to do next?
Spotting the signs of burnout in your employees is one thing, but you also need to be able to know what workplace changes can help to prevent burnout from occurring in the first place, or how to react to those who are experiencing it. Here is a list of both reactive and proactive measures you can take to help in this regard:
1. Check on workloads and offer recovery time
Great managers adjust workloads and are aware when one of their employees has been going full throttle in overdrive for too long. However, as we know, burnout can go unnoticed, so it’s important to check in on how everyone is feeling with their workloads on a regular basis.
Offering employees time to recover from a busy period by changing their workload is important, but may not address the root cause for any stress. This is why managers should frequently check in on their employees with a range of questions related to their levels of wellness at work. Take a read of our eBook for some ideas on the best questions to ask.
2. Use personalisation when managing your employees
How employees react to stress within the workplace is different from person to person, some people thrive with a little pressure, whereas others don’t react to any stress positively.
When you know how each employee reacts to stress, you can help them cope with it better and prevent burnout from occurring. It could be useful to give employees the ability to set their emotional boundaries with their work by identifying their working limits – or to encourage a speak-up culture so that you know when your employees are struggling.
3. Set realistic goals
Having unrealistic goals or targets will lead to stress and burnout. You should set meetings with your employees in regular intervals to give them clarity about their roles, while also providing an opportunity to create realistic goals that your employees are confident they can achieve. A lot of organisations create “stretch goals” that encourage employees to push beyond their comfort zones, without risk of feeling down for missing any targets.
4. Create a tight-knit social group
The more that your employees support each other, the better off your organisation will be. Research shows that social support from colleagues positively relates to important factors that impact stress, health, wellbeing and engagement.
If you create opportunities for communication and collaboration, formal or informal, this will foster a community among your employees – boosting team morale and developing working relationships. If members of your team have support around them to help them through any stressful periods, this will reduce the chances of burnout.
5. Appreciate and recognise your employees
Recognising your employees has many benefits, it raises morale, improves productivity and creates higher levels of job satisfaction. This boost to their wellbeing can be a big contributor to preventing burnout. Yet according to research, only 54% of employees are satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive at work.
Encourage your employees to appreciate each other too, as a culture of recognition creates happier teams that collaborate and communicate more effectively.
6. Understand what support your employees need with pulse surveys
Simply put, a pulse survey is a method for organisations to measure feedback. They are different from most traditional employee surveys – which are usually lengthy in the number of questions and used sparingly (usually once/twice a year).
Pulse surveys are short and sweet, allowing organisations the ﬂexibility to measure whatever they believe is important to track. Having this flexibility is crucial to addressing burnout, as if managers notice signs of burnout in their employees, they can send a pulse question to gather more quantitative information – better understanding and being able to support how they feel. Then they can make the necessary changes at work to prevent burnout in their teams, including adjusting workloads and extending deadlines, for instance.
Using pulse surveys while asking the right questions is great for identifying potential causes of employee burnout—and also give you potential solutions to work from.
If you’d like to read more about pulse surveys, read our eBook ‘The A-Z of Pulse Surveys’ here.
In our busy work life teams change and grow and workloads heave and flow. How do you make sure everyone is OK? We help teams to be heard, taking their small insights day by day leading to real change that matters.
Stribe gives your employees a simple platform that’s full of clever tricks. They can use Stribe to voice their thoughts, worries and ideas at any time, and any place. Because when people are heard, teams are happy.
Engagement starts by really understanding your team – and Stribe’s flexible pulse surveys help you to do just that. With our bank of science backed-questions for inspiration and guidance from our team, you can be sure you’re asking the right people the right questions, and at the right time.