When you have a cynical, disengaged, or underproductive employee, your first thought might be that a little disciplinary action should set them straight again. But in reality, if those behaviors are coming from an employee who typically never drops the ball, you might have a case of employee burnout on your hands.

Continue reading to learn the telltale signs and what you can do to address them.

What is employee burnout?

Employee burnout is an unfortunate reality that all managers have to come to terms with at some point or the other. It was recently classified as a diagnosable medical condition. No matter what range of efforts you might make as a manager to avoid it through perks and rewards, there’s bound to come a time in every employer’s life where they’ll realise that an employee will start feeling tired of the routine and gives up the excitement and zeal they started their position with. This certainly doesn’t mean that the abilities of the employee have diminished, and there’s no need to set out to find a replacement.

For any company, its employees are its most valuable assets. As a manager or the CEO of a company, it is your job to ensure the health and happiness of all the employees under your care. It is essential to know that if they are not giving their all, it’s not always solely their fault, but nonetheless the wellbeing of the company is at stake, so it’s important to take action. Employee burnout happens due to stress, repetitive tasks, a toxic work environment, and a number of other reasons. The signs may not always be straightforward to spot, but it’s your job to identify them from the get-go before they get too out of hand and negatively impact your employee and your company.

What leads to employee burnout?

Before we can discuss the signs of employee burnout, and how to address them, it’s important to understand what leads to employee burnout in the first place. These are some of those causes:

Intense workload
When an employee has a workload that perfectly matches their capacity, they can get their work done in a timely manner without rushing it, and still have time to rest. Keeping this balance is crucial to maintain a healthy level of motivation without feeling stressed or anxious. When an employee is consistently completing their tasks at the expected rate it’s easy to assume that this means they can handle more work in the same amount of time. For many individuals, especially those inclined to strive to please others, it might be hard to say no to additional tasks despite being fully aware of the added intensity it brings to their otherwise calm workday.

Lack of control
Employees feeling like they have a lack of control in their position and have no access to the resources needed to do their job to the best of their ability may feel overwhelmed. This is also true for employees whose job roles are constantly shifting, so they feel like they can never get ahead and get a grip on their role.

If, as a boss or CEO, you’re in contact with your employees outside their work hours and during all times of the night, the feeling of always being on call takes away any chance they may have to catch a break and separate themselves from their work life, which can easily lead to employee burnout.

Lack of appreciation
If there is a disconnect between the degree of rewards your employees are receiving and the amount of effort they effort they perceive themselves to be putting into their work, then it may be easy for them to feel underappreciated and discouraged.

If you suspect this as being the case with your own employees, it may be beneficial to self reflect and ask yourself what you would like if you were in their shoes.

Expecting too much from themselves
It’s expected that the majority of employees, if not all, aim to please. However, employees that hold themselves to an unrealistically high standard are at risk of overworking themselves and burning out much faster. As an employer, it’s important to spot when an employee is clearly overworking themselves. Going above and beyond for the company may be a positive sign of engagement and loyalty, but overworked employees take it upon themselves to beat deadlines and in the long term this can have a negative impact on their mental health and lead to lower engagement over time if they feel like they can’t live up to their own expectations of themselves.

Telltale signs of employee burnout

Exhaustion
Feeling tired and worn out is a common experience and can be expected from time to time if your employees work long hours in a fast-paced environment. But when this develops to extended periods of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion, it’s time to start taking it more seriously. They may appear unfocused, dazed, and forgetful. This is also likely to impact their ability to meet deadlines.

Sometimes, exhaustion can be spotted by some telltale physical signs; dark circles under the eyes from lack of sleep, a dull complexion, blank expressions, and neglect in their appearance in an employee who normally looks sharp are some characteristics of exhausted employees and employee burnout

Solution: Ask them about it. Be upfront and mention that you’ve noticed a change in their appearance, but not in a way that would make them want to slap on some hair gel or makeup as a bandaid. Their exhaustion may not always be a result of their work environment; personal life and the home environment can have an impact too and it’s important not to discriminate against this. Mention your concern for their wellbeing, employees are likely to confide in their bosses if they feel like their concern is genuine. Sometimes it’s necessary to offer to give them a day or two off to recalibrate. This will benefit your company as your employees will come back feeling refreshed and appreciative, and therefore more likely to complete their tasks to a much higher standard.

Uncharacteristic disengagement
Engaged employees are a vital aspect of any well-run business. Employees that are on the edge of burnout often experience a disconnect from their work and coworkers. Although a disengaged employee may not always be a sign of employee burnout, burnout is definitely a cause for disengagement. It causes workers to have a lack of interest in their tasks and pay less attention to detail.

Increased cynicism
A negative attitude, irritability, and a desire for self-isolation in a normally sociable employee are a dead giveaway of employee burnout. It’s normal for everyone to have an “off” day every now and then, but if this goes on for an extended period of time, the employee will benefit from addressing the issue.

Solution: This may be easy to spot in normally outgoing employees, but these signs of employee burnout can easily be missed in employees that are normally introverted. It’s important to know who your introverted employees are so that you can pay extra attention and more easily spot any abnormal behavior

Accidents or missing days
Since employees who are on the verge of a burnout experience some form of mental, emotional and/or physical symptoms, their chances of taking a sick day and being absent more frequently can greatly increase. It may be hard for them to motivate themselves to get out of bed in the morning, and this fosters a sense of dread towards their job roles and duties. If they do manage to drag themselves to work on a day they feel like this, they will be more likely to complete work to a lower standard than usual and increase the possibility of causing more accidents if their job involves operating machinery of any sort. When employees are burnt out, a lot of their attention and focus during the day is taken up by how tired and unhappy they feel, so their logical solution, when left with no other option, is to take the day off to avoid feeling this way altogether.

Solution: give your employees outlets to let out steam and cope with stress. Make sure they have access to the resources needed to take care of themselves both around the office and outside. You can do this by creating an area within the office to allow them to take a minute to relax and reorganize their thoughts, and be away from their desks for a minute. It’s also beneficial to include coverage for mental health expenses such as therapy and medication in your insurance program so that employees have access to these facilities if they need them.

Unfinished tasks
Is your employee who normally completes all their tasks on time leaving for the day with unfinished work and missing deadlines, or taking longer than usual to complete simple assignments? Or perhaps their work has a higher number of mistakes than usual. This isn’t a clearcut sign of a bad employee, but rather one that doesn’t have the mental capacity to complete their assignment likely due to employee burnout.

Solution: Ask your employees what they’re struggling with, if the workload is too heavy, see what you can do to reduce the burden. It’s important to remember that your employees are only human, and they will get tired at one point or another. Cut them some slack from time to time and show them you care about their wellbeing so that they’ll be more motivated to produce better results.

Employees shouldn’t be seen as disposable, and just because one burns out doesn’t mean that your immediate reaction should be to hire a replacement. Your workers are human and the pressure and repetition of their job are going to get to them one way or another. As a manager or CEO, it’s in your best interest to identify these signs of employee burnout early on and put measures in place to address them immediately before they start having a negative impact on your company.

Your employees will be more than grateful and maintain their loyalty as a result.