Identifying and Responding to Employee Burnout
Burnout can affect not only an employee’s work but also their relationships and their health. Therefore, it’s essential to know what burnout is and its symptoms so you can spot them quickly and take steps to support an employee who is struggling.
Burnout is the effect of chronic, long-term job-related stress. This stress leads to the inability to function well at work or in your personal life. As a result, most people suffer physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, a loss of personal identity, and a reduced sense of accomplishment in their work. Even if you love your job, you can still be at risk for burnout.
According to the World Health Organization, “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
The top five causes of employee burnout are:
Unfair treatment at work
Lack of role clarity
Lack of communication or support from manager
Unreasonable time pressure
Understanding the symptoms of burnout gives you the ability to intervene before things get worse. Here are some signs that an employee may be heading toward burnout.
Decreased productivity, efficiency and energy
Reoccurring sickness or absence from work
Self-doubt or difficulty making decisions
Reduced job satisfaction
Sarcasm or negativity
Cynicism towards colleagues or work
Poor workplace morale
Complaints of headaches or fatigue
How can you help prevent employee burnout?
1. Make time and listen. Make regular check-ins with employees a high priority. Ongoing open communication between manager and employee, where an employee feels their manager will address workplace problems and genuinely cares about them, reduces the likelihood that they will experience burnout.
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities. Be upfront and clear in sharing your expectations and the requirements and duties of the job. Check in with the employee to address any confusion and ensure they are clear about the degree of authority they have within their role.
3. Encourage teamwork. Co-workers are a vital element of emotional support for employees who are on the road to burnout. Supporting work teams to engage in effective and frequent communication helps build bonds, team cohesion, and accountability. In environments where co-workers experience connection, respect, and mutual care, teams and the individuals within them thrive.
4. Invite everyone’s opinion. When employees believe that their viewpoints and opinions matter, they feel included and valued. Employees often take on more responsibility for their performance and experience an increased sense of ownership and control over their work when their manager regularly seeks their input and encourages their creativity.
5. Make work purpose-driven. Employees who feel their work is important and connected to the organization’s mission are far less likely to experience burnout. Help employees feel a sense of purpose at work by showing them how their role and daily work contribute to fulfilling its mission.
6. Focus on strengths-based feedback and development. Identifying employees’ strengths, celebrating what they do best, and guiding them into tasks and opportunities that maximize their natural talents encourages their best performance. Employees who are supported to do what they do best are more engaged, effective, less stressed, and less likely to experience burnout.
7. Encourage work-life balance. Encourage taking meal breaks and getting outside or taking a walk during their workday. Review workloads regularly to ensure they are manageable and invite employees to let you know if they feel too busy or have spare capacity. Focus on the completion of tasks rather than counting the hours an employee works. Lastly, encourage employees to disconnect from work email during off-work time and take their allotted vacation time.
Dealing with employee burnout.
There can be many contributing factors to employee burnout, heavy workload, lack of clarity around roles, lack of leadership, or unfair treatment. Regardless of the reason, it is essential to connect directly with the employee to identify the cause.
Aim to have an in-person or face-to-face conversation via video conferencing.
Keep what they share confidential and private.
Be careful not to make assumptions or to steer a conversation to what you think the problem is. For example, talking about job struggles can invoke anxiety and worry for employees.
Ask empathetic, open-ended questions that invite them to be honest with you.
Work to help find solutions to mitigate any workplace contributing factors. For example, solutions may involve adjusting workload expectations, reducing time pressures, protecting them from interactions with unreasonable or demanding customers, or improving workplace communication.
Remind the employee of the benefits and supports available to support the employee, such as personal counselling or coaching services available through the EFAP.
Set a time to follow up on how the employee is doing and see if the changes have effectively reduced burnout.
 World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases