Recognizing, Dealing With - and Avoiding - Employee Burnout

Picture of Gina Blitstein Gina Blitstein combines her insight as a fellow small business owner with her strong communication skills, exploring topics that enhance your business efforts. That first-hand knowledge, matched with an insatiable curiosity to know more about just about anything, makes her a well-rounded writer with a sincere desire to engage and inform.

Recognizing, Dealing With - and Avoiding - Employee Burnout

Burnout… It’s not a pretty thing. Employees experiencing burnout can be:

  • Sluggish
  • Irritable
  • Unproductive
  • Detached
  • Cynical
  • Careless

These manifestations make such employees unpleasant for coworkers to interact with. They’re bad for morale, turning the workplace into a hostile, toxic environment. Such an attitude can be sensed by customers, leaving them with a bad taste in their mouths where your business is concerned. Indeed, burnout can be like an infestation throughout your company - a threat to the comfort and well-being of those who work there and who do business with you.

How do employees become burned out? It can happen for several reasons; some of them having to do with an employee’s personal life. In other cases, it could be the result of things that are happening - or not happening - at work. Burnout can occur at any stage of an employee’s career - no matter their age, the length of time with the company or in a particular position.

Causes of burnout include conditions that cause the employee stress, such as:

  • Trying to perform well while actual expectations are not clearly stated
  • Poor or incomplete communication between the employee and management
  • Having too much responsibility
  • Not feeling appreciated for their accomplishments
  • A toxic or stressful work environment
  • Being expected (or feeling like they are expected) to constantly be connected to/available for work
  • Feeling isolated (or actually being) isolated from coworkers and management
  • Micromanagement or other overt behavior that demonstrates the employee isn’t trustworthy

As captain of your ship, so to speak, it’s smart to be mindful of your crew by keeping your eyes and ears open for symptoms of work-related burnout. Don’t assume, even if you have a good relationship with your employees, that they’ll report their stress to you. Stress and overwhelm are touchy subjects to talk about, especially with a manager or boss, whom employees are inclined to want to impress. There’s, unfortunately, a stigma surrounding mental health issues that causes many employees to suffer in silence rather than admit the vulnerable truth that they’re experiencing challenges to keeping on an even keel.

Of course, burnout is best managed when detected and acted upon early. In fact, by the time full-blown burnout has manifested itself, it could be difficult or impossible for the employee to re-engage. They may be so far gone that they’ll quit rather than even try to reverse the situation.

That, of course, is not an ideal scenario. It would be preferable to be on the lookout for the early symptoms of burnout so you can help to nip it in the bud. Employees on the road to burnout openly complain, are argumentative, aggressive and combative. They speak negatively about the company. These employees are shutting down their connection with the company and their work; they tend to resist coaching or even feedback.

Such a possibility begs the question, "What can bosses and managers do to set employees up for success in avoiding burnout?" There are certain mindsets that can be demonstrated in the workplace that are empowering and effective. They center upon promoting work/life balance and they include such policies as:

  • Recognize the need for - and demonstrate a desire to promote work/life balance; then practice what you preach to set an example of how it can work within the framework of your company.
  • Maintain a policy of open and non-judgmental communication so employees will feel more comfortable confiding how they’re coping with that work/life balance. In fact, make it known that you welcome their feedback in all areas of the business.
  • Closely monitor each employee’s workload and schedule to ensure that no one is being overburdened with work or responsibility. When the scale is weighted too heavily on the professional side, the balance will be off.
  • Provide remote work options and the most flexible hours your company is able so employees can actually experience that work/life balance. Additionally, don’t simply offer generous vacation time; encourage your employees to avail themselves of it. It’s a benefit to not only them; you are rewarded with fresher employees for the time away from work to rest and recreate.
  • Provide career paths to offer employees a roadmap to building their professional life within the context of your business. An employee with a clear professional vision will be steadier both at work and in their personal life.
  • Train those in management positions to be strong leaders who build up their team and set them up for success. They should be trained in communication, goal setting, conflict resolution and employee motivation. Ensure that your management is on board with work/life balance policies and have the resources and opportunities to make them available to employees as a matter of course. You don’t want your managers causing stress that will eventually lead to the burnout that causes an employee to bail from your company.
  • Invest your business’ resources in programs that assist employees in managing their lives as a whole. These include those that encourage wellness, both physical and mental, on and off the job; financial and retirement resources and/or counseling; and ones that promote self-care and stress management to help them better navigate work and life.

Employee burnout is preventable in most cases if you have structures in place to bolster your employees’ resilience.

How can you help your employees balance their work/life balance to avoid burnout?

Read other Gina articles