In 2020, an alarming number of US employees admitted to feeling stressed or fatigued, with 76% stating that they were experiencing burnout. Regardless of how you define it, burnout is very real. In most cases, the causes of employee burnout are so small, it’s often hard to notice they’re occurring. When you notice your team’s productivity is beginning to slow and/or employee morale is dipping, it’s important to take a step back and try to identify the early warning signs of burnout before they become something bigger.
Here are 9 early warning signs that your team is on the brink of burnout and 9 things leaders can do to pull their employees back from the edge:
1. Loss of Control/ Overcommitment
A critical factor in burnout is feeling overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that situations in an employee’s personal life can speed up the road to professional fatigue. If someone feels like they’re spinning too many plates, it doesn’t matter where those plates came from.
Even though it is important to set clear boundaries between work and play, it can be helpful to know what your team members are managing in their personal lives, so that you can effectively help them manage their schedules and workload.
Encourage these conversations with your team members while setting clear boundaries; while it may be helpful to know if your employees have recently taken on caring for an elder member of their family or are going through a divorce, you don’t need to know the details of their doctor appointments or parent-teacher meetings.
2. Unclear direction
When directions or expectations are vague, employees might find themselves doing more work than needed. When your team is on the brink of burnout, bringing them back from the edge requires streamlining processes and reducing workload. Be sure to set clear expectations so that everyone can save on time (and ultimately frustration).
3. Unrealistic Expectations
While you may have a team of super performers, they do not have superpowers. Your team members are unique –all with different strengths and weaknesses. Just because one person can complete a task faster than other employees, doesn’t mean everyone should be held to that same expectation. Additionally, a new client, a departing team member, market trends, etc., all impact productivity rates. Realistic production rates are dynamic; being able to be flexible and adjust expectations based on these situations is essential in stopping employee burnout before it starts.
4. Fear of Failure
If an employee is constantly afraid of the consequences of failing or feels like their head is on the chopping block at work, it creates a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. This also erodes their confidence and ability to perform. Outside of the overt impact on employee morale, this dynamic also negatively impacts team performance and productivity. Here’s the kicker: it doesn’t matter if that’s the reality of the situation; it only matters that those employees perceive that to be the reality.
When employees do not have performance issues, pinpointing why they feel this way can be challenging. Because the causes for why someone may feel this way are vast, there’s no one way to remedy this feeling. However, clear and transparent communication coupled with supportive dialogue focused on change management is required.
If multiple members of your team are sharing in this excess anxiety, reviewing your employee performance incentives and PIP programs can be a great place to start.
There is more truth than you may realize to the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty glass”, so give yourself time to rest and recharge.
5. Poor Work Culture
Contrary to popular belief, a positive company culture isn’t simply about having Friday Fun-Days or a Kombucha cooler in the breakroom. It’s about how team members of different management levels and different departments work together.
D&I is a huge buzzword in the HR space right now, but without an inclusive, welcoming environment –one that has respect at its foundation—no one will show up to your Friday Happy Hour.
As a leader, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of how your team perceives you and your leadership style. Collect feedback regularly:
- What are you doing well?
- What strategies in your 121s would they like you to continue?
- Is there anything you’re doing that they find to be redundant or ineffective?
So much of showing respect is simply creating a space for feedback to be given. Not only will the answers to these questions help you build up your leadership toolbox but applying the feedback from your team will make your team stronger.
6. Lack of Work-Life Balance
It’s one thing to have a deadline-driven work environment, it’s quite another to put pressure on your employees to work until the wee hours of the morning to hit their goals. Of course, there will occasionally be times where a job requires a team member to work beyond clock-out time, but if it becomes a recurring (and expected) aspect of the job, workload and employee expectations need to be reevaluated.
If a professional does not have time to mentally walk away and give attention to other aspects of their life, work productivity and innovation will suffer. Furthermore, working your team close to (over above) 100% capacity is a fast way to breed resentment and motivate them to search for employment with companies that do respect their time.
7. Lack of Recognition
Similar to company culture, the occasional “Way to Go” or “Atta boy”, does not make for meaningful recognition. Comprehensive employee recognition programs include but are not limited to:
- Performance-based incentives (bonuses, gift cards, lunch, etc.)
- Written/verbal praises at the department or company level.
- Rewards for anniversaries or other milestones
- Group incentives for hitting monthly/quarterly goals.
- Public displays of team performance (ex. Team leaderboards)
Everyone responds to different types of praise in their own way. Ensure not only that you have a wide variety of performance incentives, but that employees are aware of them.
Diversifying the ways your team celebrates success sends the message that your company culture cares about employee success and shows your team that their hard work is appreciated.
8. Too Much Engagement
No one likes a micromanager. Nor do they like feeling like the majority of their time at work is spent talking about the work that needs to be done, rather than simply doing it. We’ve all heard of death by meeting. It’s an easy trap to fall into –especially if team engagement seems to be falling. Remember the answer to boosting camaraderie and gaining feedback isn’t packing your team’s calendars with meetings.
9. Not Enough Engagement
If you are working at one of the many businesses that have pivoted to a remote working environment or enforced social distancing measures, some element of isolation is certainly impacting your team’s morale and their likelihood of feeling burned out.
If proactive and intentional measures are not put in place to build team engagement, employees are left to fill in that silence with their own anxieties. These fears can run the gambit from:
- Performance issues
- Feeling excluded from the company culture
- They are not contributing to team production/dynamics
- Their feedback/opinions are not valued
Even a small “Good Morning” or, “How was your weekend?” can go a long way to combat the anxieties being on Isolation Island can produce.
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As a leader who oversees a team’s productivity, it is important to ask what you can do to alleviate feelings of burnout. It’s important to remember that burnout does not happen because of one event. It builds up over time and is often the result of a perfect storm of stressors.
Complex situations require diverse solutions to prevent them from happening again. Employee burnout is no exception. For team leaders who are invested in their employees’ success, recognizing the early warning signs of burnout should be easy. You know when an employee just doesn’t seem like themself.
Encouraging your team to take some time to disconnect from work –whether that’s a walk around the building or a few days off to refresh –will undoubtedly help productivity and your team’s bottom line.