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5 warning signs your staff are burning out

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At the end of the year, it’s normal for employees to feel increased stress levels, particularly if they’re dealing with important end-of-year deadlines.

But do you know exactly how burnt out they really are? And what does it mean for their mental health and your position as a boss or HR director who is supposed to be looking out for their best interests?

This video from HuffPost Live shows a former lawyer talking about the moment she realised her work-life balance was way off.

“I started to realise it wasn’t for me and how burned out I was when I’d be walking to work and thinking, ‘I just wish I could be hit by a car. I don’t want to die or anything, I just want to break my legs so I don’t have to go to work’,” Lori Ann Wardi said.

It’s an extreme example, but the comments below the video show many people around the world feel exactly the same way.

It got us thinking – how can you as a leader identify when your staff start feeling like this? And what can you do about it?

Here are five red flags you can start to counteract today if you think your staff are heading down this dangerous path:

1. They are angry and moody. Often or all the time.

If you’ve got an employee who is usually smiling and happy, but appears to be sullen and moody more often than not these days, this is often a sign they are feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.

If a staff member is constantly frustrated, angry, restless or worried, you should be concerned. Feeling these emotions for an extended period of time can be severely detrimental to an employee’s health.

What you can do: Sit down with that employee and have an open and honest conversation about what is bothering them. Make sure they feel safe opening up about their work hours, workload – or whatever is making them stressed – and make sure you’re in a position to help them achieve more balance in their life.

2. They start picking fights with everyone, or stop fighting altogether.

Conflict and apathy are just as dangerous as each other.

Perhaps you have a placid employee who dislikes conflict, who has suddenly started acting defensive or sending angry emails. This is a side effect of manifested anger and only gets worse if left unaddressed.

Or maybe you have an employee who was previously the most likely to speak up or face problems head on, who is now withdrawn, quiet and basically doesn’t care. This is potentially more dangerous and an absolute sign of burnout.

What you can do: Find out the root cause. Are they responding negatively to a poor manager? Are they giving up because they simply can’t handle the workload? Then it’s up to you to manage the manager or develop a plan to pull the employee through the other side of their anger or nonchalance.

3. They’re calling in sick more often

Absenteeism is one of the first signs of employee burnout, so if you notice a staff member repeatedly taking days off – and for minor things which normally wouldn’t bother them – it’s time to have a chat with them.

What you can do: Let them know you have noticed they’ve taken more MCs than normal and ask if everything’s alright. Be empathetic and do not make them feel as though they are being questioned or attacked for taking a sick day. Then, help them meet their work-life needs so they don’t feel they have to take extra days off to feel ‘balanced’ again.

4. Their quality of work drops.

This usually stems from the above points – i.e. not caring or feeling exhausted – and it’s noticeable. An employee who usually produces excellent work and never misses a deadline is suddenly turning in sloppy reports late.

What you can do: Telling a burnt out employee outright that their work has dropped in quality won’t do anything to help. Instead, create a plan to avoid overwork and give them a break! Adjust, delegate work among staff and make other accommodations to make sure one single employee isn’t overloaded. Boost the team environment by recognising the heavy end-of-year deadlines and reminding everyone they’re in this together.

5. They are suddenly less sociable.

Employees who are burnt out tend to become less sociable and even sometimes secretive at work. They keep to themselves, rush off at the end of the day, are rarely interact with other employees.

What you can do: Give their social support a boost. Have a talk to their manager or a trusted colleague and mention your concern about the staff member’s interaction. Giving an anti-social employee more opportunities to interact and collaborate with others will help them deal with the stress. Strong coworker relationships make all the difference here.

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Rebecca Lewis
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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