Employee burnout is a serious productivity issue that has only recently been getting the attention it deserves. For years, employees have been pushed to their limits, going above and beyond, only to eventually crash. Our employees are only human, no matter how engaged, dedicated and hard-working they are. They can only do so much, for so long, before burning out. And burnout comes at a high cost for both the employer and employee.
For employees, burnout can result in health issues including gastrointestinal issues and heart disease. For businesses, employee burnout can result in lost productivity and increased employee turnover. It’s important to note that an employee with burnout isn’t a bad employee or a weak one. With the right support and help, they can once again be a valuable resource for years to come. But it’s imperative that you know the signs of employee burnout so you can nip the problem in the bud before it escalates.
1. Their Quality of Work Decreases
When an employee is consistently amazing, it’s easy to assume they’ll keep up that standard forever. But imagine that a once-reliable employee — one that has always gone above and beyond — is now missing deadlines. They’re making mistakes. They might even seem a little lazy, at least compared to how they once were. They aren’t volunteering for projects, and they don’t seem to be enjoying their work as they once did.
This is a clear sign of burnout. Burnout can cause a feeling of alienation from work and colleagues, a lack of sleep and an inability to concentrate — to name just a few symptoms. Understandably, these symptoms can result in increased mistakes and a general decline in their usual standard of work.
Before quality continues to decline, step in and have an honest conversation with your employee. Let them know you have noticed a change in their behaviour and work. Ask them if they are feeling any pressure at work, if they are feeling disengaged and whether they are taking regular breaks. It might be time for a holiday. Everyone needs a break from work now and then, and they might come back feeling refreshed with a newfound enthusiasm for their job.
2. Your Employees Are Visibly Exhausted
We all get tired at work from time to time — it’s nothing to write home about. But if you notice certain employees with permanent bags under their eyes, subsisting on coffee, constantly yawning, looking frazzled and prone to snapping or irritability, they’re probably approaching burn out.
Employees with burnout find it hard to relax and unwind at the end of the day. They’re in a constant state of fatigue, and a weekend isn’t enough for them to mentally and emotionally recharge. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle. They can’t cope at work, so their sleep suffers, and because they are suffering from poor sleep, everything at work feels so much worse, which leads to lower performance.
An exhausted, grumpy employee isn’t valuable to your organisation — no matter how many hours they work. Check-in with them and let them know you’ve noticed. It might be that they need to take some holiday time and get some distance from work. Remember though, it can’t end there. If they are taking a break only to return to work as usual, that’s a problem. Work as usual is what caused the issue in the first place, so before they take their break, figure out where the burn out began and what you, as a manager, can do to alleviate it.
3. They’re Increasingly Absent from Work
If an employee is feeling the effects of burnout, it’s likely they’ll be increasingly absent from work for one of two reasons:
- They genuinely feel ill — fatigue can leave us more vulnerable to colds and viruses.
- They are beginning to dislike work — this will result in avoidance, regardless of whether they are genuinely ill.
Absences should be noted, as should employees that are regularly turning up late and leaving early.
4. They Exhibit Mood Swings and Extreme Emotions
We know that burnout can result in a lack of sleep. This, in turn, can have an impact on our attitude and behaviour. Is a previously good-natured employee suddenly snapping at their colleagues and getting visibly upset or angry?
If you can feel tension in the air whenever a certain employee is around, take note and check-in. Explore the options — are they taking on too much? Are they being given too much work? Are their goals unrealistic? Picking up on signs of burnout early could seriously improve working conditions not only for them but also for those around them.
5. They Become Withdrawn and Depressed
An employee that is sleep-deprived and feels unappreciated, overburdened and overworked will likely begin to withdraw and show signs of depression. If a confident, sociable employee is now keeping to themselves and appearing apathetic at best, this is a sure sign of burnout. They don’t feel passion for their work anymore — and for so many of us, our work is a critical element of who we are.
During your frequent performance management catch-ups, bring up the fact that you’ve noticed a change in their demeanour and you’re worried about them. Make it clear they can openly discuss their issues with you and that you are there to help them. They might feel like they are unable to be transparent with their boss, but secrecy in this area never helped anyone.
6. They Become Cynical
Employees approaching burnout often become cynical. Where once they would have tried to turn things around and make your business bigger and better — for employees as well as customers or clients — they are now apathetic. They have stopped believing that the company cares about them, their mental wellbeing or their future. It’s also possible that they’ve lost faith in the company, its future, its values and its potential.
If you notice this happening more often, it’s something you need to stamp out early, as cynicism can be contagious in a workplace.
Burnout is horrible to experience as an employee, and it can be difficult for a manager to address. But the good news is, an employee approaching burnout can be turned around. It all begins with open, honest communication, a fair approach to work and an understanding that our employees are only human. They can give 110%, but only for so long. It’s best to encourage a healthy respect for work-life balance and a culture that prioritises realistic standards and expectations.