Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when a person feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

As an employer, you may feel confident that this isn’t the type of culture that you promote. While this may be true, it should be noted that culture alone does not prevent employee burnout from occurring.

According to Google, searches relating to the signs of burnout have increased by over 200% in the past three months, so it’s clear to see that this is becoming a real issue for employees. Even Pope Francis has expressed concern, as shown in his recent Twitter post.

In truth, the pandemic has changed the working patterns and habits of many employees, which has had a subsequent impact on their expectations of work. Whether you have people doing their jobs at home or in the office, it is crucial to ensure that nobody feels excluded by their own circumstances or location.

Communication is key, with regular one-to-ones and supervision acting as the basis for understanding how your employees are performing and feeling. For this to work, you must ensure that your staff and managers are educated about the signs of burnout.

How to spot burnout

The most common signs of employee burnout are:

  • Exhaustion – physical and emotional depletion leading to headaches or sleep issues
  • Isolation – feeling overwhelmed and avoiding socialising as a result
  • Escapism – constant dissatisfaction could lead to abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Irritability – loss of temper with colleagues or family when faced with challenges
  • Frequent illness – being susceptible to colds/flu/insomnia or mental health issues

For most people, experiencing burnout is part of a wider process, summarised by psychologists Freudenberger and North as the 12 Phases of Burnout Syndrome.

1. Excessive drive/ambition
Common for people starting a new job or undertaking a novel task
7. Withdrawal
Social life becomes small or non-existent as you completely withdraw from family and friends
2. Pushing yourself to work harder
Ambition pushes you to work harder
8. Behavioural changes
Snapping at people and becoming aggressive
3. Neglecting your own needs
Sacrificing self-care like sleep, exercise, and eating well
9. Depersonalisation
Feeling detached from your own life and your ability to control it
4. Displacement of conflict
Blaming your job or colleagues, rather than acknowledging your excessive working
10. Inner emptiness or anxiety
Turning to alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings of emptiness
5. No time for non-work related needs
Social invitations begin to feel burdensome rather than enjoyable
11. Depression
Life loses its meaning and you begin to feel hopeless
6. Denial
Becoming impatient with those around you, seeing them as lazy or incompetent
12. Mental or physical collapse
Your ability to cope is significantly impacted, which may require medical attention
12 Phases of Burnout – Freudenberger and North

How to prevent burnout

Having clearly defined expectations can go a long way in helping to prevent burnout. This means employees are more likely to feel satisfied with the work they are completed, while allowing your managers to measure performance more effectively.

Regular one-to-ones and supervisions give employees and managers an opportunity to discuss what is going well, what isn’t going well, and provide feedback. These sessions can also help to identify problems prior to them developing into bigger issues, which should prevent unnecessary conflict and potential grievances.

Offering an Employee Assistance Programme is another great way to ensure that your employees have access to support when they need it. Knowing that professional and confidential help is available can help to eradicate burnout in its early phases, therefore reducing the possibility of costly absences or issues.

As providers of a market-leading Employee Assistance Programme, we can help you to prevent burnout in your organisation, with full details available here.

The most important point to note is that employee burnout is preventable. There are many other approaches to help with this, and employees should always be encouraged to do as follows.

Exercise

Not only is exercise good for our physical health, but it can also give us an emotional boost. Employees don’t need to spend hours at the gym to reap these benefits. Mini-workouts and short walks are convenient ways to make exercise a daily habit. Offering discounted gym memberships or running an exercise challenge, such as who can do the most steps in a month, can be a fun way to encourage this.

Eat a balanced diet

Eating a healthy diet filled with omega-3 fatty acids can be a natural antidepressant. Adding foods rich in omega-3s like flaxseed oil, walnuts, and fish may provide a mood boost. Providing fresh fruit or ensuring healthy options are available for staff will help with this.

Practice good sleep habits

Our bodies need time to rest and reset, which is why healthy sleep habits are essential for our well-being. According to the National Sleep Foundation, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual, and banning smartphones from the bedroom can help promote sound sleep hygiene. Our Employee Assistance Programme can provide information to help staff with this.

Ask for help

During stressful times, it’s important to reach out for help. If asking for assistance feels difficult, consider developing a self-care ‘check-in’ with close friends and family members so that you can take care of each other during trying times. Making your staff aware that they can ask for help when needed can provide much-needed comfort and reassurance.

What can employees do for each other?

How can you help someone experiencing burnout? While you can’t take away someone’s stress, offering support can help lighten their emotional load.

Listen

Before jumping into ‘fixing’ mode, offer to listen to your colleague difficulties. Having someone to talk to can make a world of difference. Often people need someone to witness their stress or suffering, and listening to them can go a long way in helping to overcome it.

Validate feelings and concerns

When colleagues are feeling the effects of burnout, saying “It doesn’t sound that bad” or “I’m sure things will get better” — while meant to offer reassurance — can feel invalidating if someone is really feeling low and hopeless. Instead, offer validation by saying, “You’ve been working so hard, I can understand why you feel depleted.”

Offer specific types of help

Individuals who are burnt out are often too tired to think of ways that others can help them. Instead of asking, “How can I help?” offer to drop off a meal, pick up dry cleaning, or do a load of laundry.

Kind gestures

Sending flowers, a thoughtful text message, or a written card can remind friends and family members that they’re not alone. Because they’re often working long hours, people with burnout can feel lonely and underappreciated, but small gestures of kindness can be nurturing.

The benefits for employers

Although burnout and stress are real issues in the workplace, it isn’t all doom and gloom for employers. Every step taken to prevent burnout will increase wellbeing across the workforce, which should lead to a positive impact on productivity and performance.

When wellbeing is strong within an organisation, it becomes much easier to retain your existing employees, while also attracting quality candidates. Happy employees will cause less issues and conflict, helping to reduce the possibility of grievances in the long-term.

Overall, a proactive approach to managing burnout is essential to reduce your potential exposure to employment tribunal claims. It is well established how expensive and time consuming a claim can be, so we highly recommend that you follow the guidance in this article.

If you would like to receive tailored advice on managing employee burnout, or enquire about offering an Employee Assistance Programme in your organisation, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or complete the form below.