How to recognise and manage employee burnout

Published: 24th August 2021

How to recognise and manage employee burnout

With workers across the country returning to offices and businesses working on getting back to normal and pushing on for success amidst the ‘build back better’ rhetoric, employees are at risk of becoming overworked, overwhelmed and burning out. 

Leaders failing to recognise the early signs of burnout and take action to help prevent them in both themselves, and their employees, is extremely detrimental to any organisation. Burnout can mean team members are demotivated, unengaged, and unproductive as they struggle with their mental health and wellbeing. 

What is burnout?

“Burnout can often develop if a person has been under stress for a prolonged period and is in a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. It is a sense of powerlessness and people may feel there is nothing they can do about their situation or that there is maybe no point. Some people describe burnout as being an upstream depression.” [source]

Spotting signs of burnout 

In the vast majority of cases, individuals won’t go to their manager and say they feel like they’re burning out, so leaders need to be able to recognise signs of burnout early and take action to address them. 

The following are some very common signs of burnout, however, everyone responds differently to situations and therefore symptoms can manifest themselves differently: 

Negativity – if a person is displaying a negative attitude (unless this is their natural character) about tasks, work, the people around them and life in general this can often be a symptom of burnout 

A drop in performance – if an employee suddenly starts underperforming with no clear reason why, this can be because burnout is affecting them. Recognising this is easier if regular performance reviews are carried out, along with catch up sessions 

Not meeting deadlines – if a team member who is usually conscientious with their work and meeting deadlines starts not completing things on time, this can be caused by a sense of apathy which is a symptom of burnout 

Increased sickness – burnout can mean a team member takes frequent sick days as they feel too drained and fatigued to be able to work 

How to help employees who are burned out 

When leaders spot any of the above signs, or anything else they think could be a symptom of burnout in their employees, taking action is key. What should leaders do when they think they spot burnout in others? 

Communicate – the first thing to do is to communicate and be as approachable as possible. Encourage positive and healthy chats about wellbeing and mental health and ask a team member who appears to be struggling if they need help. Often employees can be reluctant to admit they’re not okay, so being accessible and empathetic if someone does open up is crucial 

Offer support – all organisations should have mental health resources that everyone can access. Ensuring everyone knows what help is there for them if they need it can make a huge difference 

Ensure workloads aren’t too demanding – if one or more employees show signs of stress or burnout, taking a look at workloads and expectations on their shoulders is a must. Only set realistic deadlines that employees will be able to meet without having to put in overtime or work through their lunch break. Don’t put pressure on team members to respond to calls or emails outside of normal working hours. 

Supporting the health and wellbeing of team members is something every organisation and leader should be committed to. Leaders who are able to spot the tell-tale signs of burnout early and take action to help those who need it will be best placed to support their employees and help ensure positive mental health and a healthy work environment for all.