Don’t Let Burnout Put Your Employees Out

Warning bells

While I was completing my PhD, I was also holding down a full-time job. I would arrive at the office, having worked through the night pushing to complete my dissertation. This went on for an extended period of time and finally, with my dissertation submitted, I expected to recuperate. Work continued as usual, but I was struggling to cope with day to day activities. I found myself hiding in my office, avoiding any kind of interaction and simply staring at my computer screen, lost as to what to do next. I was physically present yet felt totally disconnected and it was affecting the quality of my work and my productivity. I knew something was wrong, but I kept thinking everything would come right eventually. If a colleague hadn’t warned me about burnout, explained that I was showing all the signs and convinced me to cut off completely from my work situation so that I could recover, I’m sure I would be in a very different place today; physically, mentally and emotionally.

The perfect recipe

I can look back now and recognise that everything going on during that period was the perfect recipe to produce burnout, which can be defined as emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by high levels of stress over an extended period of time. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. When an individual is under immense personal pressure, which for me was trying to complete my dissertation and carrying the load alone, and then facing work pressures and deadlines on top of it, there’s no time to recover. We can all cope with varying degrees of stress and recover pretty quickly from them, but when one stressful situation follows another, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not surprising that performance suffers, we lose focus and the simplest of tasks seem unachievable.

Leaders beware

When we look at this in a business context, we can see how leaders not a-tuned to the signs and symptoms of this condition can miss a valuable opportunity to rescue an employee from becoming another burnout victim. Burnout can be reversed, and better still avoided if a few measures are put in place to catch it before it’s too late. An insensitive team leader could make matters worse by failing to understand the situation, giving negative feedback and adding more pressure by placing further demand on the employee in an attempt to get them to ‘pull up their socks’.

Back on track

Another reason why it’s important for leaders to be aware of the signs is that people heading towards a burnt-out state often have no idea what’s happening or how to express what they’re feeling. A vicious cycle begins when productivity and work quality decrease and pressure accumulates as the person can see that things are falling apart around them, but feels powerless to do anything about it. This could result in a once competent and valuable member of the team eventually quitting their job or being fired due to poor work performance. It’s unfortunate because leaders can implement certain measures in order to avoid such a situation from occurring in the first place by:

  • understanding what their employees are facing on a day to day basis,
  • being able to recognise telltale signs and symptoms, or
  • helping those employees who may already be experiencing burnout to heal and get back on track.

Building people up

The longer things go left unchecked, they harder the road to recovery. This impacts both the individual and the company as a whole which is even more reason for employers to desire to create an environment:

  • where employees feel valued,
  • they know what is expected of them, and
  • work-life balance is respected.

Deadlines will always be there, and work pressures are a reality, but consideration must be given to each individual and warning bells should sound as soon as burnout symptoms are being displayed. Good leaders will be able to recognise the signs and put the fire out before their employees find themselves out the game.