Last year, we saw an almost universal demand for more open, honest conversations about mental health – especially in the workplace. One of the issues that’s since come into the spotlight is job burnout, as cases are on the rise as a result of, well, a global pandemic, for starters.
By no means is burnout a new phenomenon, quite the contrary, actually. Burnout existed long before 2020 and it will, unfortunately, exist long after. But the more we know about it, the better we can do at preventing it and supporting those people in our lives who may be struggling.
In a nutshell, stress levels are at an all-time high and burnout is more prevalent than ever.
But there’s a silver lining! Burnout is totally preventable.
Through a combination of prevention strategies and wellness initiatives, and a healthy dose of empathy, employers can reduce the risk of their staff burning out and increase awareness and education about workplace mental health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially defines burnout like this:
Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by 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; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Okay, but what is it really?
To put it simply, burnout isn’t just having one bad day at the office or fretting over a looming deadline. It’s a whole bunch of bad days in a row, plus an ongoing sense of dread, frustration, emptiness and general exhaustion that’s directly related to your job or workplace.
It’s as if you’re just going through the motions when you’re at work – burnout has even been compared to feeling like you’re “sleepwalking through the day”.
Oh, and get this, according to the Washington Post, burnout is everywhere, and 95% of human resource leaders say burnout is sabotaging workplace retention. That means more sick days, increased employee turnover and reduced job satisfaction, just to name a few.
What does burnout look like?
Burnout doesn’t just come on overnight, it’s an issue that builds and develops over time – and when you know what to look for, you have a better chance of catching it in its early stages.
Some of the most common warning signs to keep an eye out for (in both yourself and your employees) are:
- Complete and total exhaustion. Burnout is more than being physically tired, it includes feeling drained mentally and emotionally as well
- An increase in sick days, repeatedly showing up late for meetings (or missing them altogether)
- Disinterest in aspects of the role that had previously been enjoyed
- Less engaged, unmotivated
- Uninterested in learning opportunities or advancing within the company
- Missing deadlines, decreased productivity
- Increased irritability and impatience
- Becoming less social, isolating, withdrawing from colleagues
Yikes. So, why does burnout happen?
There’s no one specific cause, of course, but there are some factors that make a person more likely to experience burnout at some point in their career:
- Feeling overwhelmed by your workload
- Conflict with your team or management
- Lack of communication and support
- Putting in extremely long hours
- Absence of work-life balance
- Being stretched too thin (often a result of trying to do too much, inability to say no)
- Boredom, monotony, genuine unhappiness in your current role
Uh oh, you’re pretty sure one of your employees is showing signs of burnout. What now?
Before you do anything else, meet with your employee to talk about how they’re doing. It’s pretty easy to jump to conclusions when you start noticing someone exhibiting some of the warning signs, but burnout isn’t the only possible explanation.
Make sure to create a safe space for open conversation, encourage them to share how they’re feeling, you can also dig a little deeper by asking specific questions. If you aren’t sure where to begin, try inquiring about how they like working remotely, if they’re feeling connected with their team, their current workload or if they’re happy with the projects they’re currently working on. Basically, you want to try and gauge if there’s a problem, and if so, where it’s stemming from.
From there, you’ll want to come up with a plan for helping alleviate some of the stress your employee is feeling. This plan will be unique to the individual and their role within your organization, of course, so it could be anything from working with them to develop a more flexible schedule during the week, supporting them in enrolling in a part-time course to develop a particular skill, or anything in between.
There’s no quick fix for employee burnout. Addressing the issue and showing your support is a great first step, and successfully dealing with it will take some time and patience from both you and your employee. Continue to have regular check-ins over the coming weeks and months, and ensure they’re aware that you value the work that they do and you’ll support them however you can.
Ideally, though, you don’t want to get to this point. And that brings us to… prevention strategies!
Preventing burnout in your team: your role as a manager
Before we get into what you can do to help your team stay healthy, we feel obliged remind you that, as a leader, it’s essential that you take care of yourself, too. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so they say, and, in sticking with that theme, you can’t prevent burnout in your team if you’re suffering from it yourself.
Alright, lecture over, here we go. Some important strategies for preventing burnout:
Open communication. Clear, consistent communication in the workplace is more crucial (and more challenging) than it’s ever been. Encouraging open and honest conversations is one of the best ways to ensure an employee will come to you before their stress escalates into burnout territory.
Regular check-in meetings. Check in with your team regularly, as a group and one on one. Along with open communication, this will help you to get a good read on where your employees are at on a daily basis and will be essential in identifying the warning signs of burnout.
Support goal setting and skill development. When someone genuinely enjoys what they do, they’re happier and more engaged. That’s not surprising – so, when possible, create opportunities for your employees to do more of what they love. Support them in developing new skills and encourage them to set goals in both the short and long term.
Training programs and leadership development. Opportunities to grow within an organization are an important part of employee engagement and general wellness. It’s exciting to see avenues for you to advance your career through development and training or mentorship programs. Bonus points if you promote from within when possible!
Increased flexibility and autonomy. Especially important right now, employees need to know that you trust them and that they have the freedom to work how and from where is most manageable for them – within reason, of course.
Recognition for work well done. You appreciate your employees, right? They do a great job, and you’re happy to have them on the team? Then tell them! Tell everyone, for that matter. A shout out at a company meeting or a quick email to say thanks for your hard work goes a long way in helping employees feel appreciated.
Foster a sense of community. Your company culture doesn’t have to fall by the wayside just because you’re working remotely. Check out our blog on remote company culture for tips on how to build a great virtual community – no ping pong tables or beer kegs required.
Set a good example. Nah, you can’t tell your team to take regular breaks or stay hydrated when you aren’t doing those things yourself. Model the behaviour you want to see in your employees by letting them know about that 20-minute yoga class you did at lunch, or how excited your dog was to go out for a run around the block this morning.
Found this post helpful? You may want to check out a Beginner’s Guide to Managing a Remote Team, where we go into more detail on how to successfully work with your distributed team.