Burnout Signs Managers Need to Notice

Article 4 mins
Managers need an empathetic eye for detail to identify early signs of burnout. This can help them customize well-being programs for employees to prevent or decrease the effects of burnout, significantly.
Burnout Signs Managers Need to Notice

The battery icon on your phone starts begging for help at 15%, but we ignore it. "Oh, there's plenty of time left". At 10%, it again pleads for help, but we ignore it again. Sometimes, it reaches a dangerous level of 2-5% before being plugged into a power source. The signs were visible, but we were so engrossed in our own lives that we overlooked the warning notifications.

However, unlike a mobile phone, humans cannot be rejuvenated by just switching on an electronic charger. It's much more complicated for us. If you ignore the glaring signs of exhaustion and poor health, it can lead to burnout—something that's hard to come back from.

Based on a report by Microsoft, almost one in three Indian employees felt more burnt out during the pandemic. The role of a manager gets more critical here, with remote work scenarios not ending anytime soon.

Signs that indicate employee burnout

Burnout is a result of chronic stress at work which doesn’t fade away with a small vacation or some time away from work. It affects employees personally and professionally at an agonizingly slow pace. Managers must constantly be on the lookout for these warning signs before burnout leads to mental health issues:

1. Exhaustion

Prolonged stress in the workplace causes exhaustion. It could lead to overwhelming emotions and a lack of energy and motivation to work productively. With virtual teams becoming the new normal, managers need to engage in personal conversations with employees to gauge the symptoms of burnout. Read between the lines for any signs of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion like lack of sleep, tiredness, and an inability to focus on work, amongst others.

2. Poor engagement

A drop in proactiveness, participation, communication, and socialization are common forms of disengagement at work. If a highly engaged employee is not interacting on one odd day, that may not be very alarming. However, if this becomes a pattern, it should definitely be a red flag for the manager.

3. Degrading health

Physical or mental health issues are unavoidable with chronic stress. Physical manifestations of stress such as panic attacks, palpitation, reduced appetite, hyperacidity, stress-eating, weight loss/gain are the key to detecting these issues. This is usually marked by employees availing more sick days than usual, absenteeism and presenteeism. Some may be present at work with subpar performance while others may take a break to rejuvenate or avail leaves to avoid a situation, person, or a project at work, which is the likely cause of stress.

4. Loneliness

A usually interactive employee going silent or getting angry and irritable during social interactions? This could be an offshoot of loneliness and requires intervention from the manager, and at times the team as well. It might be difficult to see this clearly in a virtual setup but it’s important for the manager to initiate a conversation to understand the employee’s issues and help them.

5. Extreme reactions

Increased sensitivity and overwhelming reactions to simple conversations and feedback are other signs to look for. If the employee is finding it difficult to handle criticism by means of excuses/explanations, anger, or total disregard, it might be time to intervene and figure out the underlying cause.

6. Decrease in productivity

Overwhelming work and the inability to revel in one’s own accomplishments can cause a lot of stress. It affects an employee’s ability to focus at work and reduces productivity. Managers need to evaluate their responsibilities in light of their employee’s skill set, interests, and bandwidth. There will be a few employees who may seem productive as they meet their targets and KPIs, but still feel burnt out. Special attention is required for such employees.

Identifying these early signs can help managers strategically customize well-being programs for employees to prevent or decrease the effect of burnout significantly. 

About the author

Prakriti Bhat

Prakriti Bhat

Prakriti's knowledge of wellbeing was limited until she found herself burned out. This led her to explore different facets of wellbeing and how each affects us. After writing for various platforms, she shifted focus on wellbeing-centric research and writing. She is part of the Roundglass Workplace Collective Editorial Team and aims to herald change and drive wellbeing at the workplace with her work.

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