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Three signs your employees are reaching burnout – and how to support them

Posted on 29 April, 2021

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By Lindsey Appleby-Flynn, mental health expert for HIT Training's educational partner, Connect2Care.

It’s no secret that we’ve all experienced a certain level of workplace stress from time to time. Whether that’s the final panic to meet a strict deadline, or the desire to tick everything off our to-do lists – short-term stress is something we’re all used to.

But when that workplace stress becomes chronic and all-consuming, it can lead to us experiencing ‘burnout’. Burnout is feeling emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, often caused by excessive and prolonged workplace stress.

Understanding burnout

Whilst not considered a medical condition (yet!), burnout is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’.

According to the ICD-11: “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

In short, burnout is caused by overwhelmingly high levels of workplace stress and can have huge ramifications for the person experiencing it.

If an employee is experiencing burnout, it can have a negative impact on all aspects of their work and home life – leading to a vicious cycle of underperformance and poor mental health.

But how can you recognise the signs of burnout? And how can you support staff members who are at risk?

Here are our three signs of burnout to look out for among your workforce:

Losing passion

You might notice that someone’s usual attention to detail, proactive approach to work and passion for the task at hand is lagging.

This could be a sign that someone has too much on their plate and is feeling overwhelmed by the volume of work they’re expected to complete. When work is piling up, it can be difficult to know where to start and some may feel a little like a deer caught in the headlights.

To help identify if this is happening in your workplace, you could monitor levels of engagement on an ongoing basis. This could be through pulse surveys to all staff members helping you to identify if there are pockets of your company where employees are under additional stress.

Growth in absenteeism

If colleagues seem less alert, lacking their usual energy, or you notice an increase in staff members taking time off sick, this could be a sign that members of your team are experiencing burnout.

Research by Gallop found that employees who frequently experience work burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day. Sometimes people think taking a day off work to catch up on sleep or just have a breather from their workload will help them come back with a newfound vigour, but this is unlikely to address the root of the problem.

Keeping an eye on your absence records is the best way to spot if this is happening in your workplace. Whilst employees may not be honest to say stress is the reason for not coming to work, noticing a spike in recurring short and long-term absence will be a good indicator.

Drop in performance

You might notice that silly mistakes keep cropping up, or that the typical work output of your workforce has decreased over time, again this could be a sign that burnout is being experienced within your team.

Typically, burnout affects someone’s ability to complete everyday work tasks as they can feel negative about the work in front of them. Experiencing burnout can cause someone to have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity - resulting in a drop in their performance and productivity.

Sometimes, you’ll easily be able to see if someone’s performance isn’t meeting their usual standard, or if errors are being made on a regular basis. You could also make sure you have regular check-ins with your team to review the size of their to-do list and make sure things are being checked off in a timely manner.

How to support employees experiencing burnout

Strong, supportive and mental health inclusive leadership is key to reducing the risk of burnout in your organisation. Line managers in particular are best placed to support employees if they’re experiencing burnout, however having dedicated internal mental health support is essential.

As burnout and disengagement with work are closely linked, increased engagement between employees and their line manager could be the first step to reducing the risk of burnout. An employee who feels heard and supported by their line manager is likely to view their day-to-day work in a more positive light as the stress of ‘battling work alone’ is lessened.

Encourage line managers to regularly check in on their employees, they’ll be able to help an employee to manage and potentially reduce their workload if they do begin to feel the pressure. This could also highlight that certain areas within your business are somewhat overloaded, suggesting that your organisational structure may need reviewing.

Having dedicated mental health support in place at work, such as First Aiders for Mental Health, is essential for mitigating burnout. A First Aider for Mental Health offers a friendly point of contact for any employee who is having difficulty with their mental health – work-related or not. They can offer an employee a listening ear, early intervention, and/or signpost them to get additional support if needed. To help give your team these invaluable skills, Connect2Care’s Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health training course is specially designed to give learners the knowledge and confidence to provide mental health guidance to others.

Free First Aid for Mental Health Training

AT HIT Training, we're passionate about promoting good mental health for all. That’s why we work with Connect2Care to offer their Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health training course completely free of charge to support employers who want to be more mental health inclusive, but don’t have the funds to do so.

Two staff members from any business in the UK are eligible for the online tutor-led learning. This initiative has been launched in response to growing concerns around mental health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

To apply for your free place, please email: [email protected]

Create a mental health inclusive workplace

You can also take steps to create a mental health inclusive workplace. By creating a workplace which promotes good mental health and provides support to those with poor mental health, you’ll reduce the stigma surrounding issues like burnout and stress. As a result, employees will feel more comfortable coming forward and asking for help with stress before it becomes a long-term problem, reducing the risk of employees experiencing burnout.

To help you introduce a positive approach to mental health in your workplace, Connect2Care have created the free to download e-guide: ‘Creating a mental health inclusive workplace’.


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