Burnout. Prolonged exposure to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, to wear out or become exhausted especially from overwork or overuse — employee burnout signs don’t look the same for everyone, but there are employee burnout symptoms to look out for. With all that has happened in the world in the past couple years, burnout continues to rise. We all, in our own way, are failing, wearing out, and feeling overworked and overused.
Indeed recently surveyed 1,500 U.S. workers from various industries, age groups and experience levels. They compared the results with a survey they conducted in January 2020 and found some interesting things about burnout. Pre-pandemic, 53% of millennials were already burned out and they are still highly affected with 59% experiencing it today. Gen Z is a close second to the Millennials: 58% report burnout, up from 47% who said the same in 2020. Burnout levels have also increased for Baby Boomers, up 7% in the past two years. Gen X saw a 14% jump up to 54%. Reaffirming that burnout really is impacting everyone.
Causes and symptoms of employee burnout
It’s not one factor contributing to the growing number of people who feel the effects of employee burnout, it’s several. From governmental changes that impact people’s work, benefits or their personal lives, to the ongoing pandemic and navigating the hybrid workplace, the daily stressors can weigh heavily on your employees. Stressors like trying to ensure your family does not get sick while still managing to work, figuring out how work gets done in a hybrid workplace, the impact of understaffing as labor shortages affect industries world-wide can all relate to causes of employee burnout — and ultimately, the combination of all the above creates the perfect storm.
One of the biggest challenges in well-being today is recognizing burnout in employees. Since we’re all feeling moments of powerlessness, it becomes even more difficult to focus on the emotional and physical needs of others. But it’s imperative. Research shows that companies with engaged employees are 78% more profitable and 40% more productive. This leads to stock growth price 2.5x that of their peers. So, the well-being of your workforce is beneficial, even critical, for business success.
Employee burnout signs: How to spot employee burnout
There are three places to watch for employee burnout signs: mental exhaustion, physical exhaustion and overall disconnection. Let’s examine all three signs of burnout:
1. Mental exhaustion
Job stress and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed is quite common. It’s also common in our culture to not speak up about emotional well-being and mental health for fear of appearing weak. In fact, many of us regularly talk about how busy we are as a badge of success. But that’s all starting to change. As employees reach the breaking point, there are warning signs to help you reach out to them in time. People who are mentally exhausted may appear sad. This sadness is not just for a few hours or a day. It’s the sense that someone is struggling with prolonged sadness.
There is also loneliness. Is the person withdrawing? Are they keeping to themselves at work? Do they have friends at work? Chronic loneliness and lacking inclusion can bring employees to the breaking point. You may also notice they are more anxious about where they are working, the type of work they are doing or other workplace issues. Lastly, you may notice they are displaying emotional changes such as anger. These are all signs of employee burnout.
2. Physical exhaustion
Much like mental exhaustion, physical indicators are also noticeable if you’re looking for them. Keep in mind that noticing physical changes to punish the employee is not the goal. If you’re noticing changes like a dramatic weight change or more sick days being taken, it should be used as a conversation starter about burnout, not about the specific change. Similarly, if an employee is demonstrating mood changes it could be due to lack of sleep or some type of physical pain. Again, the key is taking in that information and using it to communicate with the employee that you care about their stress level.
One of the most visible indicators of burnout is disconnection at work. If you see an employee that is pulling away from you or the team, take notice. Are they disinterested in meetings, in casual “office talk”, or other time when employees are typically engaged? Does the person seem more frustrated with work in general? Are they reacting with a short fuse when something is not going their way? These are all signs they are feeling overwhelmed and burned out.
When employees are burned out, several things happen. Health and work performance suffers, and ultimately retention suffers. It’s a slippery slope and if not caught early, it can be hard to come back from. And with each burned out employee who leaves, more work and pressure are heaped on the ones that remain, potentially resulting in a domino effect of more employee turnover.
The importance of well-being
Encourage leaders how to spot burnout to alleviate any chance of things getting bad. Communicate with employees to step away from work to spend time with family, friends or on community work. Remind employees that before they can be helpful to anyone else, they must first take care of themselves. Then, demonstrate these same behaviors to reinforce the importance of well-being.
For even more tips on how to avoid work from home burnout and assistance incorporating expert advice, consider integrating an employee well-being platform. Limeade is designed to help drive participation in programs that could help your employees become happier and more productive members of your corporate team.
Despite the pandemic, Gallup reports a sharp drop in the percentage of employees who strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall wellbeing. Check out this guide on how to reduce employee attrition with a well-being program.
A candid conversation with Limeade CEO on the revolution of well-being at work.
About the author
Trish McFarlane is the CEO and Principal Analyst for H3 HR Advisors, is co-host of The HR Happy Hour podcast network alongside Steve Boese, and is also the creator of the HR Happy Hour WORK BREAK! daily vlog.