12 Nov 2021
How leaders can help prevent employee burnout
Is burnout the new worker pandemic? The latest research suggests so. Our experts explain the important warning signs when it comes to identifying (and preventing) burnout among their employees.
What is burnout?
Burnout comes about when three factors come together with chaotic (and often life-changing) results – including experiencing:
- 1. Emotionally demanding situations
- 2. Chronic situational stresses over a long period of time
- 3. A state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion
Burnout is also usually accompanied with symptoms including feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and physical depletion. Unsurprisingly, your ability to cope becomes severely hampered.
How common is burnout?
As leaders, we are all very familiar with the real dangers of prolonged stress on the well-being of our teams, peers – and ourselves!
Research suggests that burnout is the new worker pandemic, with almost almost 4 in 10 workers in the study suffering with overwork or burnout. It’s especially prevalent as organisations increasingly shift towards hybrid working.
We know that the causes (which can include uncertainty, loss of control, isolation or reduced sense of belonging), when paired with poor leadership skills and low support, increase the likelihood of burnout occuring.
How workplaces can support well-being
Preventing or responding to the risks of burnout start by leaders simply observing, listening, and understanding.
Identify those most likely to be at risk
Think about your team members. Which of these people are:
- Highly driven?
- Expect a lot from themselves?
- Have experienced previous workplace stress, or perhaps even burnout previously?
- Lack confidence in their abilities?
- Do not feel valued?
- Fear that they have have too much to do in too little time?
Those exhibiting these types tendencies are more at risk of experiencing burnout.
Notice the signs
Pay attention to what your employees are openly expressing – and what they aren’t saying:
- Be observant for changes in behaviour and attitudes
- Note if there is a shift in energy towards negativity, cynicism or a growing ineffectiveness
- Another key sign is that the person may still be just as busy, but they are much less productive. They may also begin to make regular errors.
Listen to their language
Frequently, employees experiencing significant stress insist that they are coping. When asked about their mental state, they may answer with “I’m fine” – but their tone and actions are clearly the opposite.
Other responses that can be a warning sign include:
- “I’m just tired today.”
- “You don’t understand, I have to do this.”
- “I can’t hand it over, the other person is even more pressured than me.”
- “Just let me get on with it, I’ll take a break after this task/project is completed.”
Have strategies up your sleeve
As leaders, being responsible for the well-being of your employees is (somewhat ironically) a stress-inducing situation in itself! Be prepared by equipping yourself with a ‘toolkit’ of strategies which you can implement as necessary.
- Set reasonable expectations under the circumstances. You also need to priortise your own mental health.
- Identify what is critical when it comes to tasks. What can be left for your team to focus on at a later date?
- Encourage support seeking. Remove the barriers to seeking help.
- Provide resources. Let your employees know how these can be accessed and remind them of this over time.
- Don’t rely on your top-performers to pick up even more. This will add to their mental load.
- Set realistic expectations. Ensure your team members don’t feel always obliged to say ‘yes’ because of your status.
- Support personal empowerment. Let people have choice and flexibility around how they work.
- Role model the desired behaviours. Show your team that you are investing in your own well-being by taking breaks, prioritising your workload etc.
- Help your employees to set similar personal boundaries.
Finally, communicate often – and not just about work. With much of our workplace interactions now occuring virtually, it is easy for these conversations to become purely task-focused.
Important warning signs may be overlooked unless you facilitate those crucial ‘water-cooler’ conversations. Read our expert suggestions here.
Understand the impact
When employees experience prolonged workplace stress, and a lack of leadership or workplace support to help resolve it, poor morale is likely to occur – along with a breakdown in workplace communication and an increase in accidents and incidents.
Supporting employee well-being is critical because it ultimately underpins organisational performance and productivity.
Where to seek additional support