4 Employee Burnout Signs and How Great Managers Respond

A man sits with his hand on his temple looking at a laptop in frustration

As many employees work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, managers must watch for employee burnout signs.

Many American workers have experienced burnout at work, and that was before the scramble to work from home during a global health crisis. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, it's more important than ever for managers to watch out for employee burnout signs and take measures to protect their teams from its dangers.

Leading a fully remote team is a huge challenge on its own. Right now, many employees are struggling to adapt to work-from-home life under extremely unusual circumstances, sometimes with a spouse and children at home with them. Managers of these newly remote teams are in a unique position to serve as watchdogs for their associates' mental health and should remain vigilant for early indicators of burnout.

Watch for These Signs of Burnout

1. Elevated stress levels

Managers should acknowledge that this is a particularly stressful time and monitor their associates' ability to cope. When you ask your team members how they're doing, make sure they really tell you. Most likely, your team is still having regular meetings, now via video conference instead of at the workplace. Whether you go round robin with your whole team or touch base with associates in one-on-one check-ins, aim to create an environment where your employees feel comfortable talking about the challenges they are facing during these unprecedented times — whether those challenges stem directly from work or not.

"Most people will not be inclined to share their thoughts and feelings openly if they sense the listener is not paying attention," says Martha Bird, ADP's Business Anthropologist. "Active listening, a form of listening based in respect and reciprocity, is the conversational counterpart of authentic speech. To feel genuinely heard is key."

Foster a culture where it is not only OK to vent, but encouraged. This should give your team an outlet to discuss stresses and make it easier for you to spot opportunities to improve workflows or help them in other ways.

2. Sleeping too much or too little

When employees approach burnout, they might become tired more easily during the day or have trouble sleeping at night. Ask your employees how they're sleeping. If your team is having a tough time getting a good night's sleep, ask some follow-up questions and brainstorm ways to help the situation. Is anything about their workload keeping them up at night? Do you need to move your early morning video call to later in the day so they can catch up on rest in the morning? Do they need to take some time off to refresh?

3. Irritability or hostility

If you worked closely with your team prior to the social distancing requirements, you probably know them pretty well. That relationship can help you recognize unusual behavior more easily. If one of your associates is getting upset more often than usual or their emotions seem to escalate more quickly, this might be an early sign of burnout.

Also, be aware of anyone suddenly complaining constantly about work projects, coworkers or even their own performance.

4. Lower quality work

Burnout causes employees to disengage from their work and often results in decreased productivity. Watch the quality of your team's output compared to what you have come to expect based on past performance. If an employee's work quality takes a noticeable downturn, employee burnout could be the cause.

Martha provides this perspective: "Burn-out has a long sociocultural history dating back several hundred years. Whether in literary works of the 17th century or in the psychology literature of the 1970s, the theme of burnout is about depletion – of energy, of will, and of purpose."

Recognizing the signs of employee burnout in one of your team members is an important first step, but making the observation often prompts more questions than answers. Is it too late to help? Is it my fault they are feeling burned out? Is it even my place to discuss this with my employees? Fortunately, managers can do a lot to help alleviate the symptoms of employee burnout and, in some cases, solve it.

Three Ways to Protect Your Team From Burnout

1. Let employees take time off

Taking a break from a grueling routine can help many cases of employee burnout. In some instances, having the freedom to take a quick coffee break during a busy day is all it takes. Some employees might need more time in the form of a partial or full day off. Empower your team to make their own decisions about when they need to take a break, even during the busiest work days.

2. Recognize contributions and show gratitude

When employees feel that their work matters, they are less likely to experience burnout. Make an effort to recognize your team for their efforts and output, especially in front of other team members or other parts of the organization. This may be as simple as thanking an associate for their work, but it doesn't have to stop there. Rewarding contributions in other ways, such as with extra time off, can help employees feel appreciated and keep them engaged with the team and their work.

3. Talk about burnout

Have an open dialogue with your team about burnout, and make it a matter of culture, rather than a meeting agenda item. Ask your associates what they need to stay fresh and encourage team members to share their struggles and successes with one another. Doing so can create a network of support that helps each individual balance their difficult emotions in a healthy way. Managers could also share resources with employees to help them manage stress, such as mindfulness and meditation techniques.

Employee burnout can be a destructive force, but learning to recognize the signs can help managers spot it early and take swift action. As we adapt to the uncertain circumstances of this pandemic, leaders who invest time and energy in their teams' well-being stand a better chance of avoiding burnout and continuing to function as a productive, engaged team.


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Helpful information can be found here: ADP Employer Preparedness Toolkit — Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)