Employee Burnout: spot the signs and support those struggling

By Robert Half on 23rd March 2021

This is a ‘make or break’ time for many businesses. The struggle to adapt and push forward requires all hands on deck, making the health and wellbeing of employees more essential than ever.

According to a recent Robert Half survey, 37% of employers feel their teams are teetering on the brink of burnout due to heavy pandemic-related workloads. Failing to spot the warning signs can lead to demotivated, demoralised and under-productive employees, right at a time when you need them most.

What is employee ‘burnout’?

Burnout occurs when an employee has been under intense stress for a prolonged period of time. Burnout symptoms manifest as physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of powerlessness, and hopelessness. Luckily, this can be avoided by simply learning to spot employee burnout signs.

Employee burnout signs

It’s unlikely your employees will come forward and admit they’re burning out. According to mental health charity, Mind, 30% of staff said they wouldn’t feel able to talk openly about stress with their line manager. If you don’t start the dialogue, there’s a good chance it’ll go unchecked.

Although the signs of burnout manifest differently for everyone, these four red flags are a good place to start:

  1. A negative attitude: This can relate to your employee’s overall outlook on life, the way they interact with fellow team members or their approach to tasks.
  2. Decline in performance: Performance reviews and weekly catch-up sessions are a great way to spot this particular sign of burnout.
  3. Missed deadlines: The fatigue and low motivation associated with burnout could cause even the simplest tasks to take far longer.
  4. Frequent illness or fatigue: This may manifest as an employee regularly calling in sick, frequently complaining about poor health, or simply looking tired.

Remember — burnout is a slow-burning issue that develops over time. In order to catch it, you’ll need to remain vigilant long term.

Remote working has changed the nature of burnout

Don’t be tempted to assume employee burnout has lessened now that staff are working from home. If anything, current circumstances have created a perfect storm for stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.

Since last March, households have been subjected to national lockdown in varying degrees. This puts employees under prolonged pressure as they juggle work, childcare, and home schooling under ever-changing circumstances. A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of adults felt unable to cope with the stress of the last year.

If the situation weren’t difficult enough, working from home introduces an entirely new set of factors that can contribute toward burnout. Without set boundaries between work and home, it’s far easier for employees to work past office hours without realising. There’s also more pressure for them to appear hyper-productive while working from home in a bid to reassure employers that output can remain high.

Is ‘working from home burnout’ harder to spot?

Although performance-related burnout signs can still be spotted in a remote working environment, there are some additional red flags you can look out for. For example, if certain employees are regularly sending emails outside of work hours or accessing documents when they should be ‘at home’, it may be an indicator that they’re overworking.

Remote working requires you to be more observant as an employer. Pay close attention to body language, tone of voice and expression when chatting to your team over video calls — the signs of exhaustion and demotivation may be more challenging to spot without in-person contact.

How can business leaders provide support in the ‘new normal’?

  1. Realistic approach to workloads: Preventing employee burnout means confronting ambitious workloads with a more realistic view. How much work can your employees do without staying late or missing lunch breaks?
  2. Offer flexible hours: Shifting the workday by several hours can take the pressure off employees who are trying to manage home-schooling, care duties and household logistics alongside their workload.
  3. Be approachable and accessible: By promoting healthy discussions around wellbeing and mental health, you can encourage reluctant employees to come forward before burnout becomes a serious issue. Ensure you remain accessible to staff when they need a quick call or video chat.
  4. Support through resources: Does your company have mental health resources available to staff? Make sure your team know what support is available to them, whether it’s free counselling, wellbeing programmes or educational literature.

Read our advice blog for more information on health and wellbeing at work or contact our experts for flexible recruitment solutions to support your team.

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