You know the feeling, it’s a Sunday evening and you hold onto those last few hours of freedom so dearly because the impending dread of Monday morning is knocking at your door.
Except, it shouldn’t be like this.
If you’re feeling like this, you’re probably suffering from burnout. The effects of burnout can impact your physical health as well as your mental health and can lead to fatigue and even heart disease.
But how do you know if you’re burning out? And how can you look for signs for burnout in your team? You might think that the risk of burnout is lower with so many offices working remotely as a result of COVID-19, but this sadly isn’t the case.
When we think of burnout we probably think of those who have been worked to the bone, constantly on overtime and spending their free time taking work calls. However the causes of burnout can be quite varied.
According to the Mayoclinic, some of the causes of burnout include:
This means that it’s not just the overworked team members who are vulnerable to burnout. If your workers aren’t getting enough work to take up their work day, they could also be getting burnt out. If your team doesn’t have a good communication network within the business, they could be getting burnt out.
Unless you’re speaking with your team members regularly to know what issues they’re facing, your team members could be burning out.
Surely the benefits of working from home means that teams have a reduced risk of burnout? Unfortunately some of the downsides of working from home can lead to team members working longer hours due to the unstructured environment, and the stressors of home life spilling into worklife.
A main cause of burnout relating to work in a distributed workforce comes from a lack of communication. When we speak of a lack of communication we mean two things, specifically:
Working from home can be quite an isolating experience, and when we’re not throwing a little bit of banter with our neighbour or having those water cooler conversations the risk of loneliness can be quite high.
Not having these interactions can have a detrimental effect on your team’s mental health and ability to process the stresses associated with the work that they do. This can lead to burnout.
You’ve had a problem with a task, so you simply pop your head over and ask your neighbour or boss what they think of your issue. They give you a helpful answer and you’re on your way.
But… You’re working from home.
Those quick conversations are one of the first things to go when working in a distributed office. They stop feeling quick and start feeling time consuming when you have to send an email or not-so-instant message that can take hours to receive a reply.
This also extends to information managers give their team about work projects and tasks. Unclear instructions can become quite stressful when communication is virtual. It’s harder to understand what’s going on through a call with the cameras turned off or through a few sentences on a messenger app.
There’s no doubt that unclear communication can cause a stressful environment and this can lead to job burnout.
On top of these causes of burnout, you also need to consider the fact that your team probably isn’t taking leave. Lockdown laws have meant that travel has been greatly restricted, so those trips to see family members or to take some much needed time off haven’t been possible or desirable.
We know that burnout is a business risk if employees are overstressed and fatigued. But it’s also important to recognise that because of COVID, your team members aren’t getting that much needed annual leave to recharge before coming back to work and this absence of a break could also lead to (you guessed it) burnout.
Accumulation of leave can also be a business risk if it comes to paying out leave when employees leave or all employees taking extended leave when travel is possible again.
It’s important that business leaders encourage staff to take time off if they need it, whether it’s a mental health day or also taking a week’s annual leave. As we come into the holiday period, many won’t be able to travel to their family which can cause more external stress.
Managing leave and stress in the workplace is a key role of people managers, and it’s important to communicate regularly with your teams to understand how they’re travelling and when to take some time off for mental health.
The signs and symptoms of burnout can be presented differently in everyone. Emotional stress can take a large toll, and some of your team may work harder to try and get through a stressful situation, but others may disengage entirely.
Apart from common symptoms of employee burnout such as feeling exhausted, you can also look for changes in behaviour from your team. If a certain member of your team is often very extraverted and you see them shrinking into their shell, or choosing not to engage in an office activity, this could be a key sign that they’re burning out. If a previously quiet team member is asking for more clarification and being more conversational and vocal in meetings, this could be a sign that they’re burning out.
Many HR teams use regular, automated wellness check-ins to monitor employee wellbeing and these can be a really great tool to identify burnout. Already doing wellness checks and notice your team member has stopped responding? This is a definite red flag that calls for a one-to-one conversation.
Though it’s important to know the signs of burnout, it’s best to nip it in the bud where possible by keeping a line of dialogue open with your team members.
One of the first steps to stopping the spread of stress is by starting the conversation around it. This could be with a check-in around your team’s responsibilities, work-life balance and their workload.
If you’re seeing any of the causes of burnout become apparent, work with your team member to identify a solution and work towards this together. If they need a break because of chronic stress, suggest taking a mental health day for burnout recovery.
The most important thing here is to work collaboratively with your team and actively listen to what they’re telling you.