How to Identify and Prevent Employee Burnout?

Editorial Team

Employee burnout is work-related exhaustion brought on by prolonged periods of stress experienced in the workplace. The World Health Organisation defines employee burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from work, which results in a lack of motivation, low efficiency, and feelings of helplessness. 

A survey suggests that 52% of respondents reported feeling burnt out at work. This digit is higher than pre-COVID numbers, which was around 45%. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has come to recognize burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” and has also included it in the eleventh revision of their International Classification of Diseases. 

With offices and workplaces regaining semblances of life pre-pandemic, it becomes more and more important to pay attention to employee burnout. Burnout is not immediate. It happens over a period of time and it is good to understand the signs and symptoms in advance.

What are the signs & symptoms of employee burnout?

Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion

Employees who are feeling burnt out might report tiredness when they wake up in the morning and their sleep struggles. They can seem like they are dragging themselves to work every day and are finding it hard to focus on their tasks.  

Sensitivity to feedback

Feedback can often blow out of proportion with employees feeling exhaustion. They might take criticism more personally, reacting with excessive anger and defensiveness. This shows a sign of stress. 

Isolation

An employee might be experiencing burnout if someone with a social or extroverted disposition begins isolating themselves and becoming distant from the people around them. They may show anger when someone tries to talk to them and even lash out in confrontational situations.

Absenteeism

A burnt-out employee is likely an absent employee. Someone tired is more likely to take days off to try and regain some of their energy. They may even try to avoid work and interactions that may be contributing to bad moods and stress. 

Physical symptoms

An employee may experience physical, more severe symptoms of burnout that should not be ignored. There may be increased risks of diseases such as those of the heart, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, as well as more internal symptoms such as constant anger, sadness, and irritability.

A survey reports that burnout increases an employee’s chances of needing to visit the emergency room by 23%.

What are the causes of employee burnout?

Lack of control

An inability to make decisions and control things that affect an employee’s work, such as their schedules, workload, tasks given, and a lack of general resources to do good work, can lead to burnout.

Unclear communication from managers

When managers don’t give clear direction, one may experience confusion, stress, and frustration at not knowing what is expected of them at the workplace.  In the long term, this can lead to a lack of motivation to work and disinterested behaviour in the workplace 

Improper work-life balance

When work takes up too much time, one may not find the space to make time for other things outside of work that allow one to relax and recuperate. Without the suitable systems outside of work to find peace, there is no doubt it will lead to imbalanced levels of stress and frustration within the workplace.

Lack of manager support

A report suggests that employees are about 70% less likely to feel burnout when they feel their managers have their back. A manager’s support plays a pivotal role in preventing employee burnout, even when a challenge arises or something goes wrong.

How to Prevent Employee Burnout?

Solutions for Individuals

  1. Seek out a support system to lean on when the going gets tough.
  2. Talk to leadership about working out achievable goals and setting appropriate work-life boundaries at your workplace.
  3. Schedule free time in your calendar along with other obligations — work and personal — to recuperate and have time to yourself.

On an individual level, a person can ensure that they have a support system in place to lean on when the things get tough. Employees must also talk to their managers about working out achievable goals and setting appropriate work-life boundaries at the workplace.

Solutions for Managers

  1. Discuss the factors that are most relevant to your employees.
  2. Check-in with your employees from time to time and ask about an employee’s work-related problems. This will prove helpful in gauging how an employee is doing mentally in the workplace.
  3. Promote work-life balance. Ensure that employees get the space to go back to their personal lives without carrying the stresses of the workplace.
  4. Monitor an employee’s workload to ensure that they are not being burdened with more than they can handle. 

Organisational Solutions

  1. Place performance metrics under the control of the employees. Employees are less likely to experience burnout when their performance metrics are within their control, and when they can track their success and improvement over time.
  2. Make well-being an important part of your organisation’s culture. This will include providing resources for employees to live healthier lives and take care of themselves.
  3. Give your staff adequate workday breaks. When employees get the chance to step away from their desk and re-centre from time to time, it will help them come back to work refreshed and with increased productivity.
  4. Promote transparency within the organisation, and give your employees the chance to understand how their work affects corporate objectives.

Final Thoughts…

Burnout can make one lose their focus and take away motivation. An employee being burnt out not only affects an individual’s work ethic but also their performance and productivity within their organisation as a whole. It is also important to note that an organisation’s top-performing, most engaged employees are at a higher risk for burnout than any other employees. 

So, when a company’s performance takes a hit due to burnout, it will be a big hit. Thus, while an employee must look after their own well-being, it is just as important for managers, leaders, and organisations to look for solutions to employee burnout for the good of their company. It is imperative that an employee’s efforts get recognized regularly and that they can seek the redressal they deserve if and when they experience burnout. 

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