We all know the outward signs of burnout. It is the stressed manager who quits on the spot — the team member who starts taking a sick day once a week. The typically calm boss who yells with such intensity you fear their veins in their forehead will pop! One of the first signs of burnout can be a change in regular patterns of behaviour.
Earlier this year, the world health organisation added burnout to its 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon - due to the increase in reported cases of the condition.
Everyone in any profession - engineers, builders, logistics managers, tech staff are susceptible to burnout. Despite being so common, many leaders aren't aware of why burnout happens or how to prevent it – but given the impact on their team's ability to shine, they need to know.
Being able to understand burnout, its causes, and how to prevent it is essential in maintaining a happy, healthy and high performing team.
It is also a good reminder for leaders to understand their own stress levels so they can also seek to correct an imbalance early. After all, you can't look after your team if you can't look after yourself.
Here are eight signs that could indicate you or your team are on the brink of burnout:
Sign #1 – Workload mismatch
We all know the team member with the two-page to-do list who is sending emails at 2 am. It is a visible sign that they are overloaded, yet one that is often overlooked or mistaken for dedication.
Are they tasked with too much work? Are the demands of the job unrealistic? Do they have the skills to do the job? Do they have trouble delegating? Are they covering for lack of expertise in their team?
Sign #2 – Weight gain
Stressed out, overworked, exhausted employees are more likely to head straight for the couch at the end of the day than to the gym, especially if they finished work late the night before. They are also more likely to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their body, which can also cause them to favour unhealthy foods. 44% of workers blame work stress for their weight gain.
So, if a once fit, active, healthy and happy employee is looking worn out, tired and unhealthy, then they could be a high-risk candidate for burnout.
Sign #3 – Increased workplace politics
If your team members are subjected to increased politics, it would be wise to see if this stems from role ambiguity or role conflict, which are two key factors that can lead to burnout.
If job roles and responsibilities are unclear or there is a lack of support for the project among senior leaders, then these factors can create significant stress on a team member while they navigate the bumpy waters.
Sign #4 – Social withdrawal
Team members who were the social butterflies of the organisation but now remain at their desk during social events can be a sign of burnout. Perhaps their workload prevents their participation? Maybe they have no energy left to care to socialise?
They may be feeling isolated from colleagues, or if given a choice between socialising and leaving the office on time, they just want to head home.
Sign # 5 – Increased frustration
Whether it be about the strategic direction of the business, a team’s inability to co-operate or the state of the lunchroom, when amiable, constructive team members start to vent their frustration, this is a sign something may be up.
Employees who have been living with high levels of stress and lack of sleep are more susceptible to 'losing it' – after all, they're only human!
Sign # 6 – Absenteeism
83% of men and 72% of women claiming workplace stress carries over to their personal life. Whether they are short-tempered with their kids, isolating from relationships or downloading on a partner, the effects of workplace stress can be widespread.
Further, the impact of stress on your body can deplete the immune system making you more susceptible to illness. Typically, punctual and present employees who seem to be taking more time off than usual could be on the brink of burnout.
Sign # 7 - Lower productivity or quality of work
When you notice errors creeping into their work or recurring missed deadlines, it’s time to do some digging.
While an exemplary employee could theoretically turn lazy one day, it’s more likely that they are overworked, exhausted and even losing their passion for the job. Ask yourself, are your employees working on too many projects at once or putting in too many hours?
Sign # 8 – Lower care factor
Does some, or all of your team seem less engaged than usual? Have you noticed a decrease in collaboration, helpful suggestions, and feedback in meetings and around the office?
A study carried out by ResearchGate in 2012 uncovered a strong correlation between job engagement and burnout (1), and it’s not surprising that workers who are suffering won’t feel those warm and fuzzy team vibes. Uncharacteristic disconnection among your workers often stems from burnout.
If you witness any of these eight signs, it is time to intervene. You can ask yourself:
Are the demands of the job realistic?
Does your team have adequate resources?
Do they have the tools to do the job?
Do they know what is expected of them?
Is there role conflict or ambiguity that needs resolution?
Is there ample support?
Have you created an open and supportive culture?
Are they appropriately recognised and rewarded?
Do they partake in decision making?
Are they able to pursue their work in the most effective manner?
If the answer to any of these questions is 'no' then that could be the first place to start making an impact with the ultimate aim of preventing burnout.
The bottom line
Employee burnout may be common, but it doesn’t have to be part of the job. As a leader, you can prevent and even reverse burnout by ensuring all your employees have a clear role, a manageable workload, fair treatment, and plenty of communication and support.
If you want to build a team of highly engaged, balanced employees, contact a recruitment agency like Trojan Recruitment Group and get advice from the experts in labour-hire, temp recruitment, permanent and contract staff.
Cole, Michael & Walter, Frank & G. Bedeian, Arthur & O'Boyle, Ernest. (2012). Job Burnout and Employee Engagement A Meta-Analytic Examination of Construct Proliferation. Journal of Management. 38. 1550-1581. 10.1177/0149206311415252