Workplace 5 minute read

Don't Let Burnout Sabotage Your Team: Tips for Managing Employee Burnout

Employee burnout is real. And, it’s more common in Australia than you might think. But, with thoughtful, well structured management, workplaces can get ahead of this mental health epidemic. 

In 2019, 92% of mental health concerns in the Australian workplace were attributed to work-related causes. In 2021, the Microsoft Index trend found that 62% of Australian workers experienced job burnout. In fact, a lot of burnout research suggests that Australian workplace burnout is very real, and very common. 

Research also suggests, however, that particular management approaches can have a hugely positive impact on the prevalence and severity of employee burnout. In this article, we’ll deep dive into what burnout is, the early warning signs to look for, and strategies managers can adopt to manage employee burnout. 

Recognising burnout in your team

Burnout can manifest very differently from person to person. Some may experience extreme physical health issues, while others may see severe mood shifts. 

For managers, this can make it tricky to identify when an employee may be experiencing burnout. Although it may feel like you have little or no control, understanding what burnout can both look and sound like is the first step to supporting your employees’ wellbeing.

What does burnout look like?

Physical exhaustion and lack of sleep are major physical symptoms of burnout. Some common physical signs and symptoms to look for include:

  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Loss in appetite or a noticeable shift in eating habits
  • A lack of concentration (this could look like: staring off into space, fidgeting)
  • Strain and tension in the shoulders, face and hands

What does burnout sound like?

Burnout is a form of mental and emotional exhaustion. It causes poor emotional wellbeing and can cause severe changes in mood and personality traits.

What your colleagues both say and don’t say in the office, can be subtle burnout symptoms. Some things to listen out for include:

  • Increased expression of frustration or irritability
  • Being short with fellow colleagues or stakeholders (chronic stress)
  • Lack of (or no) engagement in group discussions
  • Expressions of negativity (this could sound like: “This is a waste of time,” or “Why am I doing this?”)

Strategies to pull your team back from the brink of burnout

No manager wants to see their employees experience burnout. But, as the pace of the modern workplace continues to increase to meet industry demand, it can sometimes feel inevitable.

In some cases, managers are in a position to recognise the warning signs and symptoms of burnout before it fully develops. If this is the case, there are some leadership strategies you can implement to try and pull your team members back from the jaws of burnout.

Find the underlying cause

Burnout can be caused by a number of both internal and external factors. So, understanding how and why an employee is reaching the point of burnout is crucial. 

As a manager, it can help you to tackle issues at the source, rather than simply band-aiding a larger problem. Common workplace issues that can lead to employee burnout include:

  • A severe lack of a work/life balance
  • Enduring too much long term stress
  • Taking on too much work or too many responsibilities above their capacity
  • An inability to effectively and properly delegate responsibilities
  • Trying to meet unrealistic project goals and timelines
  • Receiving unclear direction as to what a role’s goal and trajectory is

The best way to find the root cause is to ask questions. Have conversations with your employees. 

Frequent and clear communication is a leading factor in bolstering workplace confidence and motivation, leading to more positive work experience overall. Open communication also builds an invaluable workplace asset—trust.

Creating trust or ‘psychological safety’ in your team has been linked to higher levels of self efficacy, resilience, hope and optimism within the workplace. It means, when burnout feels imminent, your team is more likely to make you aware and ask for help— making you a part of the solution rather than a hurdle. 

Protect your team

As a manager, you act as the spokesperson for your team to the wider business. This means their workflow and their expected output becomes your responsibility. 

According to various leadership research, it also means you should act as the “human shield” to meddling internal and external pressures. Why? So, they have enough time and space to properly tackle their projects and fully complete their work without reaching breaking point.

Protecting your team can look like:

  • Saying no to new projects when your team is at capacity
  • Negotiating new timelines and due dates when needed
  • Advocating for more help when the team is consistently over-worked
  • Ensuring your employees feel safe to speak up
  • Encouraging supportive relationships in the office

Encourage work life balance

It’s easy to let work create tunnel vision in your life, especially when it’s a busy period. As a manager, it’s your job to ensure your employees continue to strive for balance, even when work is hectic.

Why is this important? 

Well, a lot of research suggests that a poor work life balance reduces productivity and performance at work, while a healthy balance will actually improve productivity.

Job productivity has been psychologically linked to job satisfaction in a number of studies. And, job satisfaction means less burnout. You see where we’re going with this?

Here are some ways to regain balance in your team:

  • Lead by example — you can’t expect your employees to take a break if you never do
  • Encourage holidays — they’re there for a reason
  • Enforce breaks during the day — everyone needs to eat and step away from the screen sometimes

How to support employees to overcome burnout

Lead with compassion and empathy

Burnout is messy and difficult. Sometimes, it's not even caused by work, but rather too much stress in a person’s home life. As a manager in this case, your ability to show compassion and empathy during this time is paramount.   

This all links back to creating psychological safety in the workplace. This feeling of trust should remind your employees that their level of “best” is allowed to vary—not everyone can work at 100%, 100% of the time. 

By cultivating cultural support in the workplace, you’re creating an invaluable resource for your employees to use when time gets tough. Embedding this trust and open communication allows for you and your employees to develop new avenues to achieve goals, and to manage any stress and emotional exhaustion they're experiencing. 

Champion support services

As a manager your job is not to therapize or psycholo-analyse your employees when burnout has struck. You are there to support, guide and direct them to the right resources when things become too much.

Research suggests that stress management interventions like using mindfulness techniques and CBT (cognitive behavioural training), can significantly improve burnout symptoms, and employee mental health.

Mindfulness groups in the workplace, for example, can significantly improve physiological symptoms of burnout by lowering employee cortisol levels and . They can also help employees develop and implement on-the-spot tension release strategies to help reduce stress throughout the workday.   

Similarly, cognitive behaviour treatment can help employees develop their own tolerance skills, and re-frame how they perceive their work, their stresses and available resources. Thus, allowing your employees to feel empowered and in control in the office—even when it’s stressful.

Strategies to prevent burnout

Offering flexible work options

Since the pandemic, modern work practices have changed. Flexible working has now become the new norm, and refusing to offer the option can have serious consequences on your staff’s mental health. 

According to a study conducted by Forbes, work schedule flexibility can greatly improve employee engagement and productivity. They’re also more likely to feel connected with their manager and a company’s overall goals and values. 

Credited to be one of the leading factors that has improved work culture in recent years, providing flexible working opportunities should be a priority.

Practise what you preach

Now, it’s all well and good for managers to implement these strategies with employees. However, it’s equally as important to implement these strategies with yourself. 

As a manager, you’re a point of contact, guidance and leadership. Therefore, your own mental wellbeing must be a priority if you’re to have any chance of helping others through their tough times. 

Ensure you take time to reflect and re-adjust your own workplace habits and lead by example.

Burnout prevention is possible. It can be managed, or at least minimised, when the correct cultural and systematic pillars are in place to support employees. And, managers play a huge role in ensuring these pillars stand strong.

By leading with compassion, open communication and firm understanding of your team’s capacity, you have a real chance at minimising employee burnout, improving employee well being and building a positive work environment.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to create a workplace that can minimise things like employee burnout, learn more about how to cultivate a thriving culture as a manager. 

Read More

 

Want to learn more about how Smiling Mind’s Workplace Program can help embed mindfulness and psychological safety in your team? Get in touch with us.  

Smiling Mind

Written by Smiling Mind

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