How to Identify Employee Burnout

According to a recent FlexJobs survey, 75% of people “have experienced burnout at work, and 40% said they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic.” This isn’t surprising, but every workplace should address it. The first step to reducing employee burnout is identifying it. There are several telltale signs that your employees may be burned out.

Listen to your employees.
One way to identify employee burnout is simply to listen to them. Although some may directly tell you that they are struggling with burnout, Rovner said, seemingly innocuous phrases may also indicate a problem. Listen for the frequent use of phrases like “I’m tired,” “I’m just trying to keep my head above water”, “thank goodness it’s Friday,” and “I wish it were Friday.”

“If you hear a lot of people in your company say things like this frequently, you may have an undiagnosed burnout issue,” Rovner said. “Even if you only hear one person or a couple of people say it a lot, there could be a deeper underlying issue. At the very least, it’s worth exploring why that individual or those people are feeling that way.”

When you hear these types of statements, Rovner suggests responding in a genuine way by saying something like, “I know you said you’re tired frequently. Do you feel like you’re burning out? What can I do to help?”

You can also listen to your employees by surveying them and addressing their responses.

Watch your employees’ behavior.
Some employees aren’t vocal about their burnout, but you may be able to recognize it through their actions. For example, Laker said, key indicators of burnout can include shorter attention spans, cranky behavior, clear fatigue, manic behavior, reduced engagement, absenteeism or longer work hours. Another key indicator to watch for is procrastination.

“[An employee] may tend to be completing their work at the final moment, as times of burnout often fuel toxic perfectionism, and therefore push for more procrastination,” Porter said. “This procrastination is not a sign of laziness; rather, it is a sign of nearing absolute burnout.”

When burnout hits, employees often become resentful, short-tempered, and overwhelmed, and a good employer will recognize these signs and jump in to assist, Porter added.

Key takeaway: Identify employee burnout by listening to your employees and watching their behavior.

How to reengage burned-out employees
If you notice an employee is reaching the point of burnout, it is important to address it right away. Laker said an effective leader can step in, help the employee focus on higher-priority items, and give them permission to slow down.

“Many employees burn themselves out through an overwhelming sense of obligation to complete their tasks, and a strong manager can help them pull back, regain energy, pace themselves, then resume work effectively before reaching the point of burnout.”

Laker recommends rebuilding company culture and reengaging burned-out employees by setting attainable, positive goals and implementing activities that can bring employees together in social ways – even if that means virtual activities.

“In 2020, many companies struggled to find ways to build their company’s culture because traditional methods went out the window,” Laker said. “Find ways to bring back the norm. Also, set short-term attainable goals that your employees and teams can achieve quickly and successfully. Having some quick wins is a great way to re-energize a company’s culture.”

Porter said one of the best ways to reengage employees is, again, by simply listening to them.

“Ask them questions, either personally or even through an anonymous response system,” he said. “By showing employees you care through listening, they will feel more trust and greater engagement with the company.”

Key takeaway: You can help reengage burned-out employees by setting attainable goals and prioritizing team-building activities.

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