Your workers are the lifeblood of your company. Oxford researchers have found that happy workers are 13 percent more productive, so doing all in your power to stave off burnout and ensure your employees' well-being isn't mere altruism on your part. Yet it can be difficult to gauge how team members are doing, especially when many currently work from home (WFH). Leaders need to prevent employee burnout, yet few know what to look for in order to catch it in the early stages.
But just because it's difficult to wage an effective offensive against WFH fatigue doesn't mean it's impossible. Savvy managers are fighting back with solutions ranging from no-meeting Wednesdays to mindful virtual commutes. The burnout-prevention strategies are there, but it's up to leaders to know when to deploy them.
Here are three ways to spot potential burnout in your employees:
1. Look for anxious behavior.
In an April 2020 survey of its workforce, behavioral and mental health services provider Pathways at Work found that 76 percent of employees were experiencing anxiety. That's hardly surprising: The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it a dangerous and poorly understood public health threat, an abrupt shift to remote work, and--for many working parents--the sudden need to become hands-on educators.
More than a year on, we can add WFH exhaustion to the factors contributing to employee anxiety. Because anxious employees are at risk of burnout, it's vital to identify those who might need a hand before things go that far.
Signs of anxiety include avoidance of social situations, irritability, concentration problems, and fatigue. If one of your extroverts starts skipping every Zoom happy hour or a top performer begins missing deadlines and snapping at constructive feedback, it's time to have a candid conversation.
If anxiety is the cause of your employee's difficulties, there are ways you can help. If your company doesn't have an employee assistance program or provide mental health services, now's the time to start. Some companies offer online counseling sessions, access to meditation apps, and peer support groups. One or a combination of these resources could pull your anxious team member back from the burnout brink.
2. Look for a lack of boundaries.
Once upon a time, remote work was considered a sought-after perk that promoted work-life balance. For many it still is, but other workers are finding it difficult to switch off when the office sits at the other end of the kitchen table.
According to an August 2020 survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, 37 percent of employees were working more hours than they had been before the pandemic. Without a conscious effort to unblur their work-life boundaries, too many employees risk burnout from overwork.
It's easy to spot an overwhelmed employee when they're the last one out of the building every night, but how can you detect overwork in your WFH team members? Be on the lookout for employees who never snooze their Slack notifications or perennially send emails at midnight. Check your PTO schedule to see who hasn't taken any time off in months.
There are solutions to overwork, and they start with you. If you don't want an employee responding to instant messages over the weekend, then don't send them. Encourage employees to work for a set schedule--even if it's not a 9-to-5 one--and to shut things down at the end of their workday.
Beyond that, determine whether employee workloads need to be reassigned. Sometimes the blurring of work-life boundaries isn't down to an employee's poor time management; they simply have too many tasks.
3. Look at sick-day usage.
Gallup research found that employees suffering from burnout are 63 percent more likely to call in sick. After all, it's hard to stay healthy when you're in an unhealthy spot at work.
If your employees are being kept from the physical or virtual office at increasing rates, this should be a clear sign that something is wrong. A few days here and there now could turn into much more serious absences down the line if you don't take action early.
Given the well-established mind-body connection, the burnout solutions here mirror those for employees suffering from anxiety and overwork. Help team members establish clear boundaries around work--reconfiguring that work if necessary--and encourage them to take advantage of mental health resources.
In addition, you could launch or revamp a workplace wellness program. Healthy snacks, yoga classes, fitness center discounts, and smoking cessation programs are all good ways to keep your employees out of the sick bay.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nowhere is this truer than in the realm of burnout. Learning to recognize the early signs is just as crucial as knowing how to alleviate them. A great leader will do both.