How to spot employee burnout

There are 10 warning signs that your people are burning out

How to spot employee burnout

We may be working from home, but it’s anything but relaxing. As the world shifts steadily to remote working, employees are increasingly isolated and alone, leading to fatigue, anxiety, and possibly loss of engagement. For HR professionals, spotting the signs of employee burnout early can help organizations take action and improve employee satisfaction.

The notion of working from home, of busying away whilst surrounded by the comfort of your own belongings, sounds very relaxing. And yet, employees have discovered that working from home is sometimes synonymous with being ‘switched on’ at all times of the day – from early mornings through to late evenings.

Read more: How to support mental health in COVID-19

This culture of 24/7 communication is having a serious mental impact on employees, as more and more workers admit to feeling burned out. Research from Kronos found that 73% of employees with children believe the strains of 2020 and remote working are having a serious detriment on their work performance.

Signs of employee burnout
So, what are the warning signs that your employees are on the brink of burnout?

HRD spoke to Robert Stone, head of talent at McCANN Group, who highlighted some warning flags.

“It’s important to understand that not everyone shows signs of burnout,” he told HRD. “It’s cliché, however, prevention is always the key to prevent burnout.

“All businesses prior to COVID-19 should have operating models in place to ensure staff are not being overworked. If you’re starting to see some changes in behaviour such as lack of engagement, lack of communication and a noticeable drop in quality of your employee’s output or work, then it’s best that you address this straight away.

“A lot of employees don’t speak up until it’s too late. Managers need to be making more of a conscious effort now more than ever to ensure employees are dealing with the constantly changing work environment and uncertainties which COVID-19 may bring to their work but also personal life.

“It is also crucial that managers ensure that they have an understanding of each individuals’ circumstances as there could be additional factors that are contributing to increased workloads such as, care giving or home schooling.”

HRD found the top ten signs of staff burnout – and have listed them below:

  1. Sporadic absence
  2. Lack of motivation
  3. Dwindling job performance
  4. Medical problems
  5. Constantly worrying about work – even when you’re not working
  6. Depression and anxiety
  7. Insomnia
  8. Irritability
  9. Making mistakes
  10. Looking for a new role

How to prevent fatigue
But spotting burnout is only half the problem, as it’s incumbent on HR to take the necessary steps to stop any further diminishment to employee productivity. As Stone mentioned, it’s important that employers approach each suspect case on an individual basis – rolling out a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to burnout will not be effective.

“Given the current climate in light of COVID-19, I think that HR needs to evolve the role that they traditionally play,” continued Stone.

“Good HR professionals should always have an understanding of what is going on in the office from ‘walking the halls’ and having an ear to the ground. These casual and organic conversations allow employees to build relationships with HR departments which ultimately leads to higher engagement and willingness to partake in open and comfortable conversations.

Read more: How to find happiness at work

“Therefore, it’s important that HR continues to keep some form of normality and ensure that they’re regularly organising ‘check-ins’ with all staff members over video conferencing, albeit in a virtual manner.

“In addition, HR needs to ensure that managers within their organisations are focusing on their team members individual needs. Performance reviews and goal setting is more important than ever. Also, it’s critical that managers are working with HR to develop guidelines, frameworks and rules regarding new ways of working. For example, ensuring people aren’t working over their contracted hours, ensuring breaks are being taken, and redefining employee benefits and rewards which are more relevant to the current climate.”

Exhaustion or laziness?
And while this crusade against burnout has good intentions, it’s essential that HR know the difference between burnout and sheer laziness. As a good HR leader, you should know your employees well. You know the difference between a hard-working, dedicated employee who’s suddenly acting ‘off’ compared to the type of worker who clocks in at 10am and out at 4pm religiously.

Again, the key is to look at each case in a unique manner.

“If an employee is going to be lazy, they’re going to be lazy, it doesn’t matter if they’re working from home or in the office,” added Stone.

“Don’t be afraid to manage staff through the current climate. Performance management isn’t purely used to improve underperforming staff members, it should also be used to ensure that you’re building growth and development plans to ensure all staff members are constantly developing and challenged.

“To support employees and equip them with the right tools as far as practically possible, organisations need to develop new training materials for Managers that are reflective of not only the current climate, but also the future state needs post COVID-19, as I don’t believe we will ever return to what we remember as being ‘normal’ in a work environment.

“I know that most people want to put 2020 behind us, however, it is important not only to our people but also our businesses, to document and take the positive learnings from COVID-19 that have accelerated a new, modern and flexible workforce.”

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