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Spotting The Signs Of Burnout Before It’s Too Late 

In our last blog, we discussed the importance of fully recovering from illness before returning to work. We’re now looking at what can happen in the long-term if you don’t take care of your, or your team’s, health: burnout.  

If it’s not something that you’ve already experienced personally, you’ll probably know someone who has experienced burnout. That’s because burnout is, sadly, far too common. We’re going to be talking about burnout over the next couple of blogs as we think it’s important to build awareness. We’ll explore what it is, how it can be avoided, and how to help team members who are already suffering from burnout.  

What is burnout? More than just tired or overworked 

It’s easy to dismiss the term ‘burnout’: for some, it sounds like just another piece of corporate jargon. Underestimating burnout in this way is harmful to you, your team members, and your organisation.  

Burnout, an “occupational phenomenon” (World Health Organisation, 2019), is a condition that arises from chronic workplace stress that has built over time and hasn’t been effectively managed. Even though it stems from stress, burnout is not another word for stress. Burnout happens when you go from the feelings of overwhelm experienced with stress to the feelings of ‘nothing’ once you’ve shut down. It is a lack of energy, enthusiasm, or engagement.  

The impact of burnout on your organisation 

It’s been recently estimated that UK businesses are losing more than 80 million hours per year due to sick days from burnout. As the UK working population logs approx. 1 billion working hours a week, it might seem like 80 million hours a year is insignificant. It’s not. It’s costing UK businesses more than £700million a year and affecting up to two in five employees

It’s more than just about money, though. Burnout is contributing to people’s decisions to leave organisations. In today’s job market, where it’s hard to find great people, why wouldn’t you work harder to keep the great people you already have in your team. 

What are the symptoms of burnout? 

Burnout presents with a wide range of symptoms as it affects both the physical and mental well-being. The result changes in how you think, feel, and behave including: 

  • Physical and/or emotional exhaustion. 
  • Increased procrastination. 
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing. 
  • Lacking productivity 
  • Problems sleeping. 
  • Feeling irritable or negative. 
  • Feeling isolated. 
  • Feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Relying on increased caffeine and/or alcohol. 
  • Becoming ill. 

What are the causes of burnout? 

Burnout creeps up on you slowly. It starts with some occasional workplace stress when some days are more difficult than others. If not correctly identified and managed at this stage, it can lead to chronic stress (frequent and intense levels of stress). Again, if problems are not addressed here, it leads to burnout (critical exhaustion) and, eventually, habitual burnout (ongoing mental health issues).  

In short:  

Occasional stress > chronic stress > burnout > habitual burnout. 

Have a good think about the people around you to identify if anyone is at the early stages of burnout.  

The six key predictors of burnout 

Given the WHO definition of burnout as a predominantly organisational problem, these predictors focus on the workplace environment. 

  1. Work overload/highly stressful work. 
  1. Lack of autonomy or control. 
  1. Insufficient rewards. 
  1. Lack of community or support. 
  1. Mismatched values. 
  1. Unfair treatment.  

If you’re one of our regular blog readers, you’ll know that we’ve already talked about the importance of these themes in other ways. For example, embracing hybrid working as a way to support team members’ autonomy and wellbeing. We’ve also talked – many times – about the importance of open team communication but most recently in building strong working relationships for a new team member. 

If you’re able to tackle these six predictors, you’ll not only reduce the possibility of burnout but also the likelihood of a stressed-out team, which will keep a consistently high level of engagement and productivity, as well as increased levels of retention.  

We’ll be talking more about burnout in our next blog but, if you don’t want to wait until then, feel free to get in touch and we can talk about it together sooner. 

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