Some common symptoms of burnout are a lack of motivation, focus, productivity, engagement… essentially, everything you want an employee to have.
Many managers and supervisors, however, find reasons that employee burnout just isn’t their problem. That they have no role in helping fix it.
I once heard about someone who tried to run a business like this. Behind the scenes, employees were clearly disinterested in what they were doing. They barely glanced up as I walked by, lethargically typing away at their desks. Quite a few workstations were vacant.
When questioned about the clear lack of engagement, the boss would wave it off. What was he supposed to do to stop burnout, if he didn’t even know if their stress was from the workplace, or was brought in from outside? It wasn’t as though the boss could control what happened outside the office.
Besides, there could be a bunch of different reasons causing the problem. Sure, the stress could be work-related, but the job itself is stressful. Maybe they aren’t getting enough sleep, or a loved one is sick, or any one of a million other little reasons for an employee to be agitated that the boss just has no control over.
When I heard this story, like so many others just like it, I just shook my head.
Well, while the boss can’t be expected to make life easier, they are more than able to make office life easier.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout can develop based on many things. The stress and agita of everyday life does contribute to the development of burnout, many triggers can also be found in the workplace. These triggers are also the kinds of things that are environmental, and so exist in every corner of the office. Let’s review some of them now.
An Environment Built on Stress
Unfortunately, a business is inherently stressful, especially if it is in a high-pressure industry. To say otherwise would be fantasy. However, this stress is usually dispersed over time, fluctuating during busy and not-busy periods. There are probably days when the pressure is on, and it’s all-hands-on-deck to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. Likewise, there will be days between these times that employees can collect themselves before the next peak.
You need to make sure that your team gets a few of these recovery days in-between so they can catch their breath between projects.
No Clarity in Responsibilities
Imagine trying to follow a recipe, but you aren’t given any measurements for the ingredients.
This is effectively the same situation as giving your employees a vague or undefined task. Your employee doesn’t want to fail, but if their actual objective isn’t clear to them, the likelihood of failure jumps up. The same happens when an assigned task is actually impossible for them to complete.
As you might imagine, this kind of stimulus is exhausting and stressful for the employee… which means that the more impossible tasks they are assigned, the more frustrated the employee becomes. Before long, they are apt to burn out.
Failure Presents Huge Risks...
Depending on the industry, some workplaces inherently have greater consequences for failure, and as a result, the pressure is on the employee to perform. Consider child services: their employees regularly have to act with professionalism in some truly awful situations. Now consider the average grocery store clerk. Is their job important? Of course, but the stakes are rarely - if ever - as high for them as they may be for, say, a cop.
The more stress that is associated with a given position, the higher the likelihood that an employee will eventually burn out.
...While Success Offers Little Reward
Consider how you would feel if every effort you made, each and every day, was never recognized in the slightest. If you worked to do your best in every endeavor, only to have not one word was said to you in appreciation or support?
If you’re like most people, you’d start to question why you were working so hard when it clearly isn’t appreciated. You’d gradually lose the drive to perform and likely, any positive feelings you may have had for your employer up to that point. Needless to say, your morale would likely be pretty low - or in other words, you’d be well on your way to burnout.
Communications are Lacking
If your business’ communications are not effective, there’s a good chance that any other problems you have will only exacerbate with time. What if an employee had an issue and only provided vague sentence fragments describing it? The situation would only become more complex, taking more valuable time to resolve. This situation can then lead to increased occurrences of demoralization, which we’ve established is a direct factor in someone experiencing burnout.
Leadership is Lacking
In order for a business to have the proper guidance on its way to success, there needs to be a supportive presence in its leadership, firmly directing the workforce while remaining fair. Without this kind of leadership to guide it, any business will struggle to keep their employees engaged.
These employees may experience feelings of unfulfillment in their work, whether they feel unrecognized, unsupported, or that their job isn’t as secure as they want it to be. These feelings can quickly sap any employee’s motivation to perform.
Obviously, there are plenty of ways for an employee to reach the point of burnout - and identifying the cause is very important. However, before you can do that, you need to be able to identify that an employee is experiencing burnout.
Indications of Employee Burnout
An employee can exhibit many warning signs of imminent burnout - however, many of these signs can also be present if someone is simply having a bad day. These signs include things like:
- A feeling of distance and disconnection from their tasks
- Cynicism about their tasks and their coworkers
- Physical symptoms, like headaches, stomachaches, and gastrointestinal distress
- Work responsibilities start to slip, with no indication of the same happening at home
- Co-workers are kept at arm’s length and they don’t open up about anything
- Creativity seems to have dried up
- A demonstrated issue concentrating
- Frequent times that they feel overwhelmed
- A lack of energy or enthusiasm
- Visible stress and frustration
Again, most (if not all) of these warning signs can easily be caused by some other stimulus, or could be a very temporary thing.
However, once these symptoms are chronic and never really seem to go away, you need to be concerned. Employees experiencing burnout appear very similar to someone with depression, and are actually at a higher risk of becoming clinically depressed later on.
Why Burnout Matters to You
So, what does this really matter to your business?
There is, of course, the concept of taking care of your employees, and generally just being a decent human being.
However, even if we were to disregard “being a decent human being” as a reason to be concerned, there are still plenty of reasons that employee burnout should be mitigated as much as possible to protect your business’ interests.
Burned-out employees are more apt to take time off sick, and they (unsurprisingly) are much more likely to seek a job elsewhere. If they are successful in doing so, you will likely need to put up a significant investment to find a replacement for them - especially considering how challenging it may be to find such a replacement if the optics of your company aren’t good. Would you want to work somewhere notorious for draining employee morale?
Furthermore, what impact is your business going to feel in the meantime? If these burned-out employees are typically your top performers, what is that going to do to your operations as a whole? How much of a downswing can you shrug off?
There is also the issue of burnout being contagious… especially if a burned-out employee is in a position of authority. If a manager happens to be the one getting burned out, they can easily spread their feelings amongst the team… leading to much bigger problems with morale and productivity.
Finally, bringing the question of being a decent human being back into the equation, burnout can have serious impacts on a human being. Sure, it can affect their personal and professional life, but it actually raises their chances of an emergency room visit ever so slightly.
How You Can Help an Employee Deal with Burnout
Spotting these various symptoms and warning signs is great to be able to do, because you won’t be able to help your employee otherwise. However, it is important to address the issue in addition to just spotting it.
Even as the boss, you have a responsibility to support your employees in what will be a frustrating and difficult time for them.
One of the best ways to start this process is to simply sit down with them and hash out the root cause.
Outside of formal channels, sit down with your employee and have them level with you. Be sympathetic and supportive to them as they share what has been on their mind. As the boss, it is important to not be offended or frustrated by what they have to say, even (and especially) if it questions your judgement. Even the act of getting it off their chest could be a big step toward getting the employee back on their game - and if it is a personal issue, giving the employee some personal time to deal with it may be all it takes.
It isn’t unheard of for an employee to be overwhelmed by their workload. Maybe a bunch of projects all came in at once, or tasks piled up as the employee was waiting for a response, or they’ve fallen behind as they help to put out other fires. Whatever the reason, their schedule is now less of an organizational tool and more of a looming threat.
Don’t be afraid to sit down and help this employee reorganize their schedule so that it is manageable for them to accomplish. Are all of their tasks a priority? If not, put them on pause for the time being or push them out. This gives the employee the time to focus on their priorities. It may also help to reassign some of these tasks to other employees with less on their plate.
Leveraging collaboration solutions can be to your benefit in these cases. As you redistribute work and responsibilities, keep your team apprised of the project’s progress through your chosen platform. If the massive amount of emails your employees receive already is overwhelming them and impacting their productivity, the tools included in an email solution could help them out: automatically organizing messages with filters and rules, and silencing interruptions via snoozing.
While it makes sense to keep employees working on the tasks that they are most well-versed in, this can also lead to employees getting bored and ultimately frustrated. Rotating them out into different responsibilities as much as possible will help them to keep their spirits up, not to mention develop their skills more comprehensively. Try incorporating your employees’ goals into your distribution of work to keep them especially engaged.
Avoiding Burnout at All
Of course, we simply don’t have the time to address all of the signs that an employee is approaching burnout - and it isn’t as though you want it to be a risk in the first place. Therefore, it only makes sense to do everything possible to avoid potential burnout.
There is no limit to the methods you can use to do so. Endorsing self-care in your company culture is an effective start, bringing in external resources if necessary. This could include anything from a company yoga session to complimentary accounting services for your employees. You need to remain cognizant that your employees have lives apart from your office, and that these lives should be enjoyed to the fullest extent.
Another way you can help to promote this is to be more flexible in where your employees do their work. While many managers are wary of remote working solutions as a way to enable employees to slack off and cheat the system, giving them the freedom to better see to their personal responsibilities and their work responsibilities can pay off through greatly improved productivity.
Your employees all have feelings that ultimately need to be managed. Handling them properly can help improve their feelings regarding their work and workplace. Whether through improvements to the company culture or the technology they use, you should do everything you can to make work a positive experience.
We can help you accomplish the technology aspect of it.
Symmetric Engineering Group offers solutions to improve your business communications and productivity, ultimately making your operations more successful. To find out what we can do for you, reach out to us at (813) 749-0895.