Work Burnout: 5 Ways To Read The Signs And Help Employees Recover

Burnout syndrome (BOS) – popularly known as mental burnout or just burnout, is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped with incessant demands being made on you in the workplace. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress.

The NHS definition of burnout is “feeling there is just not enough – not enough time, energy, enthusiasm, ability, and inner resources. Common feelings include ‘being emotionally drained’, ‘feeling empty’ or ‘just not being able to be myself anymore.” It can present itself both in your personal and professional life.

However, work burnout is rising rapidly on a global scale. According to a recent report by Mckinsey – one in four employees report experiencing high rates of toxic behaviour at work.

Employee burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a series of triggers that occur over time. It can cause even the most passionate employee to become disengaged as a result.

In her book which was released last year, “Beating Burnout At Work”, lawyer and psychologist Paula Davis writes, that when asked about aspects of their jobs that undermine their mental health and well-being, employees frequently cite the feeling of always being on call, unfair treatment, unreasonable workload, low autonomy, and lack of social support.

Ultimately burnout in teams will reflect itself through reduced productivity, frequent absenteeism, mass resignations, and an overall fall in company performance. And on top of that, you also deny your workforce the joy of seeking fulfilment through their work.

In this guide we help you identify the signs of burnout in your teams, and the effective ways you can help employees recover from burnout. This is achieved while also cultivating a culture of work-life balance in your organisation, so you can prevent future waves of burnout and prioritise employee well-being

What are the five symptoms of burnout?

1. Anxiety

Everyone experiences some level of anxiety now and again. Uncomfortable situations like confrontation at work, or dealing with the pressure from deadlines can cause more anxiety for some individuals.

Thus job burnout sees a correlation with heightened anxiety in employees, where they are unable to finish work on the time that was previously second nature to them.

This is because anxiety makes you feel that even simple tasks are insurmountable challenges. The mental exhaustion that follows makes you avoid tasks or take forever to complete them.

2. Poor Physical Health 

The most prevalent and obvious burnout symptoms are physical reactions of the body to stress, such as panic attacks, chest pains, increased heart rate, nausea, headaches and insomnia.  Employees may lose their appetite and even lose weight, or they may start to gain weight from using food to cope with their stress.

3. Lack Of Creativity And Purpose 

It’s alright to occasionally struggle with a lack of connection with your work. However, when employees are burnt-out their drive to create is lost. Even as they complete tasks, they will still bring an energy of aimlessness to work.

4. Emotional Numbness

Emotional numbness in burnout means losing interest in the things you previously found enjoyable. At work, it can manifest itself through usually energetic and motivated employees, when they stop participating in meetings, avoid taking on new projects or stop returning phone calls and emails.

From the many burnout symptoms out there, emotional numbness is the most alarming one. This is because you often lose a desire to escape from it once you become emotionally numb. This is also known as habitual burnout — the point at which stress is so endemic in your life that you are unable to distinguish it from ‘normal life’, and you are therefore likely to experience ongoing mental, physical or emotional exhaustion as a result.

5. Cynicism

One of the subtle signs of burnout at work is cynicism. It usually reveals itself as higher sensitivity to feedback in employees.

Employees affected start to consider criticism at the workplace as personal attacks, and thus react with increased defensiveness, anger, or other signs of stress. Feedback is often blown out of proportion, and you might hear them say statements like: “I guess I can’t do anything right,”.

How do you rectify burnout?

1. Set a good example

Though the workplace culture doesn’t change overnight, the impetus must come from the top in order to address or fix job burnout. This can be achieved by:

  • Taking regular breaks between meetings
  • Sending emails only during reasonable work hours
  • Setting healthy limits on how much work encroaches on evenings and weekends
  • Prioritising downtime with friends and family

The quote here feels fitting – “bring humanity back into the room,” as Whitney Johnson, the author of Build an A-Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve, told the Harvard Business Review. This way you create a value system at the workplace, which sends a message to employees about how they should approach their tasks and working relationships.

2. Build connection

As mentioned before in the article, one of the burnout symptoms is feeling disconnected from our work. As a leader you can provide an antidote to this by developing a shared sense of “why” — as in, why are we driven to accomplish this project? Why will it benefit the customers, the company, and your employee’s careers? When people have a shared connection with the work they perform, they are more likely to feel positive about doing it, especially when circumstances are more demanding than usual.

3. Talk & Listen

According to research done by Gallup, employees whose managers listen to their work-related problems are 62% less likely to experience burnout.

When asking employees what bothers them, and then listening to their feedback, you might feel that you have to face shortcomings in your own management style, or feel criticism of the organisation you both work for. Use this communication as a ground to be compassionate towards your employees and their struggles and let them know that they matter.

4. Advocate for your team

Once you know what struggles your team members are going through, it’s up to you to communicate those struggles further up, to senior leadership. People who are burnt-out are facing too much emotional exhaustion to advocate for themselves. Let your boss know that while your team is committed to their projects, they are also tired or otherwise affected, which could have adverse consequences. It could lead to employee errors that could be costly to rectify, or losing people that are valuable to the organisation. Once that is done, you can then ask for reasonable pushbacks of deadlines, shortenings of meetings and other measures that will put your team at ease. 

5. Show appreciation and praise

There can be phases in your organisation where work frenzy is inevitable. In those times it is important to show appreciation, and also give praise for your employee’s efforts. Celebrate the moment together when your team hits a milestone, or when a particular crunch time is over.

This will help cultivate a feeling of community and social support, which further makes stressful demands manageable for those short periods of time.

You can also choose to lean on us if you’re finding it challenging to eliminate work burnout in your companies all by yourself. Howdy offer a suite of burnout preventive and wellness tools for your company that can help restore employee work-life balance. Schedule a presentation of Howdy here.

Our resources work in tangent with organisational policies that support employee wellbeing.

Your management’s commitment to cultivating a positive and healthy work environment is critical to beating burnout in the workplace.  

Article written by Payal Mohta – Journalist