5 Tell-Tale Signs of Employee Burnout and How to Help

Mental Health

Male worker who is dealing with burnout from overworking.

Burnout is a serious problem in Australian workplaces. Being physically and mentally exhausted from work can cause health problems and work performance issues. Managers have a duty of care to their employees to look for the signs that their staff aren’t coping and offer assistance. Some people may only have one symptom while others have several. Here are some of the signs to look out for with employee burnout and what you can do to help them.

#1 Reduced Output of Work

A worker who has plenty of work to do but may achieve little when they’re highly stressed or burnt out. When we are highly stressed it can be a lot harder to focus. Workers who are overwhelmed by their to-do list often don’t know which task to start on and have trouble concentrating on one at a time. They may try to multi-task which leads to them not finishing anything and getting further behind and more stressed. Sometimes they will spend more hours working but achieve even less than what they did working shorter hours.

#2 Increased Sick Days

Poor mental health often results in a person calling in sick more often than they did in the past. The thought of getting up and going in to face another day of stressful situations can become too much. 

A stressed and burnt out employee may also feel unwell at work. Common symptoms include headaches and nausea. They may soldier on or go home early.

#3 Lack of Motivation and Energy

When a person is burnt out, their behaviour will often change. They may have previously been a positive, motivated employee but a burnt out worker is likely to be more negative and cynical about their work and the organisation. With careful observation a manager may be able to tell the employee doesn’t have the same positive attitude they once had.

#4 Frustration and Anger

A burnt out worker may show signs of anger or frustration towards colleagues. Many people can recognise that when they feel overwhelmed or stressed they’re snappier at the people around them. They may not have the time or patience that they once showed other staff.

#5 An Increase in Error Rate

Ongoing high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol can change the structure, function and effectiveness of the brain. Stress can impact the brain’s ability to concentrate on one task at a time. A manager may notice a burnt out employee has a higher error rate than they did previously.

How a Manager Can Help a Burnt Out Employee 

If a manager suspects their staff member is suffering from burnout and stress, it’s important to take action. If left unchecked, a worker’s physical health and mental wellbeing can suffer. Employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace - both mentally and physically healthy.

Employee burnout not only negatively impacts the employee but also the organisation - poor morale can be contagious in a workplace. When multiple staff are affected by poor morale, it can take a toll on the culture of the organisation. Below are some actions you can take to assist a staff member who is dealing with burnout.

Talk to Your Staff

Speak to the staff member privately and ask if the workload is too high or the tasks required of them too difficult. Some employees may be too proud to admit there is a problem or ask for help when asked ‘on-the-spot.’ It may take them a night to process the conversation and they may want to talk about it later. Be sure to tell an employee that it’s fine to come back to discuss at another time or if anything changes in the future. Offer for the employee the chance to speak to someone else in the organisation such as HR if they prefer not to discuss a concern with their manager. 

Offer Resources

If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Program, remind the employee that they can access free confidential counselling and advice. Talking to a professional who is not directly part of the organisation may make it easier for them to open up about the issues they are facing. The EAP gives staff free access to a professional to help with any problem they may be experiencing - whether it’s at home or work. This can take the form of a coaching or counselling session, depending on the staff members preference.

Managers can check in with a staff member of concern by asking if they need any resources to help deal with tasks or ask if they would like to hand over any work they don’t have the time or expertise to do.

Take Away Some of The Load

Ask colleagues to offer to take on some work of an overwhelmed employee. Offer training or courses if a worker doesn’t have the skills required to do their role. Some additional training can give a worker the skills and knowledge or even confidence to complete tasks and feel less stressed.

Assist with Prioritisation 

When overwhelmed with workload, it can feel that everything is a priority. Then it can be difficult to work out which task to start or finish and overall productivity decreases. Managers can assist employees by clearly identifying a plan of prioritisation that will allow their employees to focus and reduce their burnout symptoms.

Provide Feedback

Provide praise and positive feedback to a staff member who is doing their best. Feelings of being under appreciated in the organisation can contribute towards burnout.

Encourage Breaks From Work

Enforce breaks amongst all staff. Stepping away from the desk to take regular breaks and to eat lunch can reduce the risk of stress and burnout. If a staff member is working back or starting early on a regular basis, let them know that they should try to work within their hours for the sake of their health and wellbeing.

If you’re a manager and not sure how to ask a staff member about their mental wellbeing, we can help. Call PeopleSense by Altius Group on 1800 258 487 or get in contact online

Category: Mental Health