How Managers Can Spot Employee Burnout

A variety of factors can lead to employee burnout, including stress caused by managers. Here’s what you can do to prevent burning out employees.


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Get tips on how to prevent employee burnout and how to spot it when it occurs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms of burnout can begin to appear when someone experiences chronic stress at work without feeling like there is ever any resolve. Burnout can be characterized by feelings of exhaustion or depletion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativity related to a job, and reduced professional efficacy.

One Gallup study indicated that the main causes of burnout are not the nature of the work itself, rather, how a person is treated and managed while they are working. This study stated that there are 5 different components around leadership that can lead to burnout.

Let’s discuss these further as well as how to spot burnout and help your employees.

Factors from leadership that influence employee burnout

1. Unfair treatment at work

Behaviors like bias, favoritism, mistreatment by a coworker, unfair compensation, or corporate policies that cause employee stress are all factors that contribute to people feeling like they are being treated unfairly at work.

If you’re noticing an increase in burnout in your small business, assess the environment and see what is not working. What are the major hurdles preventing your employees from feeling safe, secure, and able to thrive?

2. Unmanageable workloads

When employees feel their work is unmanageable, they will look to their managers for support. Without this support, high-performing employees quickly feel hopeless.

Beyond making sure that employees feel safe, managers need to focus on building rapport and trust within their teams. They can do this through open dialogue around what people need and how they are feeling.

Managers can help by keeping a pulse check on the work coming in through their teams. When assigned a large project, employees might simply say “It’s fine” or “I can handle that.”

Do your due diligence as a manager to see if this task is manageable and within your employee’s scope. Some employees will be able to handle the stretch, while others might not be as capable.

Duncan So, founder of The Burnout Clinic, said it’s important to spot when your company culture is heading towards that of a “burnout culture.”

He said that answering emails at all hours of the day, the expectations of instant communication, decisions needing to be made just in time, and always being forced to multitask can contribute to this. To prevent burnout, he noted that managers need to design a culture early on that encourages things like meditation before meetings, taking vacations, and shutting off after work.

3. Poorly-defined roles

When employees feel unsure of what is expected of them and feel unstable in their role, it can exhaust them. However, this is something that is common, especially in a small business where people wear many hats.

It’s important that workers feel like they can make a meaningful contribution to the organization; managers can help them feel that way by giving them autonomy in their work. However, employees need to have a clear understanding of what the expectations are around the intended outcomes and results.

4. Lack of communication and support from managers

Negligent managers who don’t foster psychological safety can cause emotional turmoil for their employees.

Beyond making sure that employees feel safe, managers need to focus on building rapport and trust within their teams. They can do this through open dialogue around what people need and how they are feeling.

So said that “check-ins” are always needed. Before you do status updates, ask for mental and emotional updates like “how are you feeling today”? This way, you can spot the signal warnings before they hit.

5. Unreasonable time pressures

Feeling like you have enough time to complete your work can serve as a buffer against burnout. Unreasonable deadlines can have a snowballing effect on the health of your employees.

Be sure to manage priorities for your team so that workflow and deadlines are reasonable. If someone expresses the need for a day off after a big project, encourage them to take it.

How to spot burnout: Early signs and symptoms

As a manager, there are some signs to look out for which may indicate your employee is feeling burnt out. Early signs can include a lack of motivation and creativity from employees who were once engaged and excited about their work. You may notice a dip in their performance, a break in their regular communication patterns, as well as an increase in irritability and frustrations around everyday events.

So said that high reactivity and being easily triggered can be a warning sign. In the later stages of burnout, people will experience insomnia, depression, and feeling like they are in a personal crisis.

If you want to help tackle burnout at work, begin with changing the way you lead and manage performance amongst yourself and your teams.


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