Can you detect employee burnout when you see it?

Can you detect employee burnout when you see it?

According to a LinkedIn Workforce Insights study, employee burnout rocketed by 33% in 2020. Not a massive surprise as the world battled with a pandemic, right? So what has your leadership team done to address this increasing struggle that employees are facing?


The truth is, as many organizations and teams alike activated autopilot mode last year, burnout and chronic stress continue to be overlooked; almost as if it is simply an expectation of adjusting to this new world of work. However, this oversight can be extremely costly for companies. A Gallup report stated that employees who were experiencing burnout were 2.6x more likely to actively look for a new job. In addition to this, a Harvard Business School study stated that stress triggered by the workplace accounts for 8% of the national U.S. healthcare budget.


So how do organizations manage stress? And more importantly, how do leaders and managers identify the signals and prevent burnout?


According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, there are two types of burnout indicators – passive indicators and activity indicators. Passive burnout indicators include internal emotions that are often the most difficult to notice or detect. These early red flags include feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and hopelessness. However, these emotions are often internalized as personal failures by the individual, making it difficult for leaders to identify them. This despondency can often showcase as cynicism and disengagement. Defeatist language such as ‘why bother?’, ‘it’s just the way things are’ or ‘good luck trying to change the system’, audible sighs, employees withdrawing effort or lowering their standards of performance should all be considered as passive indicators of burnout. Meanwhile, active indicators of burnout are often more obvious. Absences from work, neglecting healthy habits, and reoccurring expressions of impatience, annoyance or aggravation are all examples of this.  


Burnout indicators are easy to overlook in their initial stages but if they continue to be ignored, this often results in more insidious behaviours that fester throughout teams, hinder productivity, and negatively impact employee engagement.


Three things you can do as a leader to prevent burnout:



  • Spot the symptoms


Get to know your team members well enough so that you notice when they are off-form. Proactively ask them about the task that is causing them the most pressure. Be aware of the subtle symptoms of burnout and do not overlook them.



  • Reflect before you react


If you detect chronic stress, stop and ask yourself what role you’re playing in their burnout. Perhaps your team members are trying to meet an unrealistic deadline or they feel unsupported. Designate time to empathetically respond to small issues in order to prevent their burnout from getting worse.



  • Combat the culture of immediacy


Is there a culture of infinite urgency in your organization? Consider if there are deadlines you can defer to take the pressure off your team. Flexible work hours allow your team members to strike a work-home balance in a way that best relieves their stress. Stepping back and adopting a high-level view of the situation might help you identify actions that will improve employee wellbeing.