How to Recognise the Signs of Burnout in Your Staff (and What You Can Do about It)

Woman feeling burnout

Burnout is now recognised by the World Health Organisation as a medical condition but how can leaders recognise the signs of burnout in their staff? What can they do to support those in their teams who are suffering from burnout? And how can managers minimise the risks in the workplace?

What Is Burnout?

Burnout happens as a result of chronic workplace stress that has been left to fester until you reach a point where you can no longer function in a productive way at work. Having staff who cannot function at their jobs is problematic. So dealing with both the causes and symptoms is crucial to having a healthy workforce.

Almost a quarter of employees report experiencing burnout at some point. In fact, managers are slightly more like to experience burnout than their team members so it’s important to tackle wellbeing across the whole company.

Signs of Burnout

It is important to recognise the signs of burnout in your staff. It can manifest itself in a number of ways but often employees report that:

  • They find it difficult to concentrate
  • Tempers are high
  • Time off sick is needed
  • Sleeping becomes difficult and exacerbates the issue
  • There is a sense of hopelessness or feelings of alienation at work
  • And a lack of enthusiasm for the job

People experiencing burnout may also struggle to do seemingly simple tasks and feel overwhelmed.

Causes of Burnout

It is understandable that the pandemic has increased feelings of burnout in employees. Working from home, juggling childcare and repeated lockdowns have had a negative impact on mental health overall. Having to manage multiple pulls on their attention, staff are feeling the strain even as we begin to exit the crisis.

Yet burnout existed before the pandemic. Pressures at work and technological advances break down the barrier between the office and home long before any lockdown. Although, it is interesting to note that the average working day has not increased since the 1980s in the UK.

Having unclear or unrealistic expectations on staff can also impact stress levels. As can the culture within the team. This can all combine with a dread of coming into work which in turn can lead to burnout.

It is also important to recognise that home pressure can influence feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion. While the WHO definition focuses on the impact of work on the condition, events at home may also trigger burnout and should not be ignored. As an employer, you have no control over events outside of work, you can take them into account and offer support for your employees while at work to bolster their wellbeing.

What You Can Do about Signs of Burnout in Your Staff

Firstly, it’s important to understand and recognise the signs of burnout in your staff. Realising that a change in behaviour and performance may be a result of burnout can help you better manage your staff member’s workload.

Secondly, it is worth signposting your staff to support. Some organisations offer mental health and wellbeing services. If yours does, make sure your staff know that these are available. If you are not able to offer these, look at other ways you can introduce positive wellbeing at work.

Look out for staff who are working long hours or do not seem to take a proper break. It may be that your employee is replying to emails at odd hours or during annual leave. Encourage staff to set and out of office and maintain boundaries around working hours.

It can be harder to see what is happening for staff who are working remotely. In this instance, make sure you spend time checking in with them and finding out how they are managing their workloads.

Managing Sickness

Many people who experience burnout need to take time off sick. As an employer, you want to minimise sickness and absences as much as possible. This is why it’s important to set in place behaviours around work and stress that minimise the chance of experiencing burnout.

For any employees that do need to take time off, make sure you are communicating your policies around sickness. And that you are tracking their time off. This can help you better support them when they return to work.

Preventing Burnout

The best solution to burnout is to put in place actions that will help prevent it. Making sure staff take proper breaks, holidays, and time off from work is a good place to start. If workload increases, ensure sure you have the right resources in place to meet the needs. Overall, checking in with your staff to understand what work looks like for them is one of the best barometers to stress in the workplace.

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