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How to Identify Burnout and Support Employee Wellbeing

Friday April 19, 2024

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Burnout has become a universal workplace concern spanning sectors, industries, and career levels. As a result of its prominence in the workplace, addressing burnout has become a prime driver of employee wellness programs.

Despite this, burnout remains a key challenge for leaders to overcome. Many employees struggle to identify it—particularly in remote work environments—and consequently aren’t effective at addressing it.

Here’s an overview of why burnout is detrimental to organizational success, as well as four steps leaders can take to combat it.

Why Is Addressing Burnout Important?

In its most brief definition, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. It’s most often caused by prolonged exposure to stressful situations, which manifest in the workplace as:

  • High workloads
  • Long hours
  • Unrealistic expectations

According to research from Gallup, employees who experience burnout at work are:

  • 63% more likely to take sick days
  • 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  • 2.6x more likely to actively seek a different job

Additional research from McKinsey reveals that burnout increases absenteeism, decreases engagement, and lowers productivity. This results in several costs to the organization, both hidden and visible.

Despite the importance of addressing burnout, approximately 65% of employees reported feeling burnt out in 2023.

 

How can companies address these challenges and combat employee burnout? The first step is learning how to identify it.

What Drives Employee Burnout?

McKinsey reports that there’s a 22% gap between employee and employer perceptions of mental health at work. Leaders need to understand the causes of burnout so they’re able to combat it more effectively.

According to Gartner, the most common causes of employee burnout are:

  • Loss of job autonomy
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of psychological safety
  • Unattainable time pressures
  • Little social support
  • Isolation
  • Unclear job expectations

As organizations work to understand these drivers, they’ll be well served to focus on two key areas.

Start by Examining Individual Teams.

Teams that experience high turnover, low engagement scores, or low productivity deserve a closer look.

Consider the leadership of these teams:

  • Are they setting appropriate expectations?
  • Do they foster collaborative or competitive environments?
  • Are they communicating effectively with their teams?

Team dynamics and team leadership are considerable drivers of burnout, and analyzing whether the team environment is productive is a good place to start.

Consider the Remote Employee Base

Remote employees are often the most isolated, especially if supporting remote teams is new to an organization.

When working remotely—especially when others are working in the office—it’s easy to feel lonely.

If proper communication channels aren’t in place, information may get to remote employees slowly—if at all. This means remote employees must work much harder to stay “in the know.”

Focus on understanding the concerns of remote employees when considering burnout to gain a well-rounded perspective on the issues employees are facing.

How To Identify Burnout

As leaders, it’s critically important to understand the signs of burnout to address the issues proactively.

Identifying burnout can be challenging, as it can manifest in multiple ways, so consider the signs below for a head start.

Decreased Productivity

One of the easier-to-spot signs in a burned-out employee is a decrease in their typical level of productivity.

Has the employee been missing deadlines that were otherwise always met? Have they had errors in their work? Perhaps their work just hasn’t met their usual standard of excellence.

This could be a sign of several different things, but rather than assume it’s not work-related, dig into this, and offer support.

Sensitivity to Feedback

If you’ve noticed an employee has become particularly sensitive to feedback, often responding emotionally when it’s given, consider whether this could be a sign of burnout.

The employee could be overwhelmed with work, and any criticism in this frame of mind can feel particularly exhausting. Notice these trends and use them as an opportunity to check-in.

Disengagement

Disengagement, which typically presents as a change in behavior, can feel particularly vague and hard to recognize for leaders.

An employee who used to participate in meetings actively but is suddenly no longer speaking up may be showing early signs of disengagement.

Similarly, a team member who used to seize opportunities to contribute to the team but suddenly stops being available to help may be another sign.

Keep in mind that in some cases, these could be temporary issues, but repeated behaviors could signify disengagement.

Isolation

Isolation can take many forms. It may present itself in remote employees as a lack of participation in team meetings, or a lack of connection with colleagues.

For others, it could present itself as an increased number of days off, often without notice. Once again, take notice of these patterns and behaviors and use this as an opportunity to check in.

4 Strategies for Preventing Burnout

If you suspect that one of your employees is experiencing burnout, it’s important to take action to support their well-being.

Here are four steps you can take to create a supportive work environment that promotes mental health and well-being:

1. Foster a Culture of Trust and Respect

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), a lack of trust among team members can easily lead to burnout.

HBR advises the following steps to increase trust in the workplace:

  • Don’t leave collaboration to chance: According to the article, when teams begin a project by proactively discussing how they’ll work together, they have fewer misunderstandings and confusion.
  • Promote transparency: When employees of an organization—at any level—hoard information, trust and team performance are hindered. Encourage employees to openly share information with colleagues.
  • Encourage employees to share credit: When employees acknowledge the contributions of other team members, they contribute to a culture of trust and respect.
  • Approach disagreements as learning opportunities: Don’t avoid conflict or perceive it as inherently negative, but cultivate a psychologically safe environment in which team members are encouraged to voice their opinions.
  • Proactively address tension: When conflict arises, it can easily result in tension between the disagreeing parties. Encourage employees to take initiative in resolving conflict and prioritizing positive relationships with colleagues.

By taking these steps to promote trust, you’ll be able to create a culture where team members feel valued and trusted, combatting some of the burnout they may be experiencing.

2. Allow Time for Breaks

Research published in HBR shows that taking intentional breaks throughout the workday doesn’t just address burnout but also increases productivity.

Encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day to rest and recharge.

This could include going for a walk, meditating, stretching, or taking a few deep breaths. It’s a good idea to model this behavior as a leader so it feels safe and commonplace for employees.

According to HBR, it’s sometimes necessary for managers to schedule breaks for employees. While you don’t want to eliminate employee choice or take away autonomy, being intentional about encouraging breaks can help reduce the stigma associated with stepping away from work.

3. Provide Work-Life Support

According to HBR, providing work-life support to employees is important for productivity and employee morale.

Despite many companies highlighting work-life balance as a benefit, however, there’s often pressure for employees to pour themselves into their work—even at the expense of personal responsibilities.

Work-life balance should be implemented with intentionality and modeled from the top down.

Understand your employees, their families, and their passions. Allow employees to prioritize as needed, creating a supportive environment for balancing work and life responsibilities.

4. Prioritize Communication

Seizing opportunities to communicate with employees should become regular practice for all leaders. This will ensure that information is adequately disseminated, reinforcing purpose and engagement within an organization.

Effective communication also allows leaders to connect with employees and get ahead of potential issues. If leaders aren’t meeting with employees regularly, they won’t have the opportunity to notice changes in behavior.

In meetings, create opportunities to both give and receive feedback. Let employees know when something went well. Showing you noticed is encouraging and reinforces positive behaviors.

Similarly, when something has gone wrong, address it, offer support, and share how it could be done differently next time.

Combat Burnout With Teamraderie

Preventing burnout is an important factor in promoting a healthy, productive workplace.

By taking steps to identify and support employees who are experiencing burnout, you can help create a workplace culture that values and prioritizes employee wellbeing.

Many of Teamraderie’s live, virtual experiences are wellness-focused. These are an excellent starting point for facilitating important conversations around mental health and burnout at work.

Click here to check out Teamraderie’s experience finder and find the perfect experience for your team.

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