How Managers Can Spot Burnout In Employees
Burnout is an occupational phenomenon recognized by the World Health Organization to contribute to serious mental health issues. For employees who feel burnt out, there comes a higher likelihood of depression and anxiety. This ends up costing the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
With the real toll mental health takes on business, more organizations are recognizing that burnout is as much a company issue as it is an employee issue. But it’s not necessarily an issue HR leaders and people managers are equipped to deal with. They might not even know the signs of burnout.
Udemy instructor and Harvard Business Review contributor Deborah Grayson Riegel recommends using the following five categories of the Stress-APGAR framework to recognize symptoms of burnout in your employees.
Body language and how we carry ourselves say a lot about our emotional wellbeing. Stress stays with us if we can’t release it through exercise or restore the body through sleep. Take note of the physical cues employees might unknowingly share when burnt out.
Look for noticeable changes in the physical traits listed below. Note that some of the symptoms might be harder to spot when working remote and only seeing one another from the shoulders up on video calls.
- Looks fatigued or mentions lack of sleep
- Slumped posture or body language
- Mentions new body pains like headaches or stomach issues
Just as stress takes a physical toll on our bodies, it also affects our mental cognition. The physical symptoms mentioned above, like fatigue, make their way to our brains, and it’s difficult for even once high-performing employees to continue working at the same productivity levels and effectiveness.
Some signs of cognitive impairment in your employees may include:
- Slower to make decisions
- Trouble following a logical train of thought
- Difficulty collaborating on typical team projects
In this category, you’re not looking at your employee’s spiritual well-being in a religious sense, Deborah says. Instead, you’re reflecting on their sense of purpose. Do their actions and words signal a loss of direction or belief in a better future? If they’re frequently questioning the purpose of projects and company initiatives, that‘s an opportunity to check in with them and ask how you can help them find more meaning in their work.
If an employee asks versions of the following questions, encourage them to explain what they mean and why these questions are coming up:
- “What are we even doing this for?”
- “Where’s this even going?”
- “How long will I be in this role?”
For better or worse, people bring their whole selves to work. Humans aren’t machines that can turn off the stresses of the outside world as soon as they log in to work for the day. Displays of emotions will happen. Managers monitoring for burnout, will want to note any uncharacteristic emotional outbursts from employees.
You may want to check in with employees on their emotional wellbeing if you notice any of the following:
- Irritability or impatience
Humans are inherently social creatures, and the support of friends, family, and, yes, colleagues goes a long way to keeping our wellbeing in check. If you notice the dynamics of your employees’ social relationships shifting, this could be a sign that they’re stressed and heading towards burnout.
Like many of the categories in the Stress-APGAR framework, you’ll want to look for changes with employees. If someone often didn’t attend after-work happy hours to begin with, that’s not necessarily a sign of social relationships slipping. Instead, monitor if they’re:
- Not participating in meetings
- Suddenly declining invitations to team activities
- Spending less time with friends and family
Get creative to remedy burnout
Share ways to destress throughout the day with your employees. But also take it a step further and understand how you can help their wellness overall. Are there tasks you can take off their plate? Can you adjust their work hours so that they can balance work and family commitments? Are there employee benefits you can help them access? Be open to creative solutions to help your team feel validated in their experiences.
Mental health isn’t always an easy topic to bring up with colleagues. But the more you start doing it, the less awkward it will feel. These discussions will go a long way in helping your employees feel engaged in their work. Get more tips on wellness in the workplace in Deborah’s course, Talking to Your Employees About Stress at Work.