Employee burnout is more than just dealing with an overwhelming project or working overtime for a few days in a row. It’s a condition in which an employee feels chronic stress, energy depletion and cynicism at work and it can have a number of negative side effects.
In fact, employee burnout is so prevalent in the workplace, the World Health Organization officially added “burnout” to its International Classification of Diseases in 2019. Researchers at Harvard Business School estimate employee burnout costs between $125 billion and $190 billion every year in healthcare costs.
A key warning sign of burnout is low engagement, which ultimately means low performance and poor business results. It’s not that those employees don’t care, it’s that they’ve given all that they have and are running on an empty tank.
We can all do more to pay attention to our coworkers—if you see a team member exhibiting these signs of burnout, it’s time to take action.
Emotional, Mental and Physical Exhaustion
It’s hard for anyone to be “on” 100 percent of the time but suffering from burnout is more than just feeling tired. Exhaustion affects the entire body. It can physically manifest as a co-worker looking ill and worn down, perhaps with increased headaches, noticeable dark circles under the eyes and weight loss.
If someone is consistently dragging themselves to work and appears to be suffering from burnout, take a moment to ask how they’re doing. They might simply need a few days off to rest and reboot. In any case, reevaluate their workload to see what can be delegated and examine whether you need to hire more employees to prevent burnout from happening to others.
Employees suffering from burnout will most likely try to avoid the work environment, regardless of your organization’s employee attendance policy. Whether it’s calling in for an abnormal amount of sick days or consistent tardiness, there’s no motivation to go to work and get the job done.
A workplace wellness program can help. Consider inviting regular speakers to educate employees on how to cope with stress or manage a busy schedule. Think beyond the traditional “physical fitness” options and introduce daily mediation sessions or create settings for outdoor meetings to help break up the monotony.
Disengagement and a Negative Attitude
It could be a red flag when an employee suddenly loses interest in activities and projects that once excited them. When someone continually disconnects from work life and exhibits unenthusiastic behavior, it’s pretty obvious. What’s worse is if an employee brings negativity and cynicism to the workplace, potentially affecting others.
To combat lower levels of engagement, make sure employees are involved in tasks where their skillset will be most appreciated. Loop them in on the decision-making process and genuinely ask for their input when possible. Let them know how valuable they are to your team—even the smallest gestures of appreciation go a long way to boosting morale.
Unfinished Assignments and Inability to Concentrate in a Work Environment
Sometimes, a distraction is just a distraction, but if an employee is consistently unable to focus, misses deadlines, ignores meetings and only partially completes tasks, it can signify worker burnout. As the condition worsens, so will performance and productivity. Take a look at what they have on their to-do list and see if there’s too much to handle. If there is, consider using independent contractors or freelancers to help handle the workload.
Also be aware that, unfortunately, managers can inadvertently contribute to employee burnout. Properly training your leaders and continual development is critical. Employers who can get ahead of burnout will have a competitive advantage as their workforce will be more engaged and productive. Start by examining the benefits you offer—they can have a direct impact on reducing employee burnout and thus turnover.
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