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How to spot burnout in remote workers

0 2 years ago

You might be watching burnout take hold in real time.

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.”

Burnout is a widespread issue, according to Gallup, 44% of employees report feeling burnout at least occasionally while at work.

The effects of burnout on employees can also have a financial impact. Every year, more than $100 billion in healthcare spending results from the physical consequences of burnout (some estimates put it at nearly $190 billion).

As so many companies pivot towards remote or hybrid workplaces, spotting burnout among your employees can become more difficult when communication is limited. You can’t see someone looking visibly frustrated or checked-out unless you’re on a video call and they show it. However, it’s not impossible to spot.

Let’s quickly walk through four telltale signs your remote workers may be experiencing this common issue.

Less use of video on video calls

Do you find you have a formerly stellar employee who now attends video conferences with their camera off, or cancels on the call last minute more consistently than before?

They’re probably feeling checked out of whatever’s happening due to feelings of burnout. A key symptom of burnout is feeling like one lacks control or autonomy over their work, and even small actions like turning off a camera during a call can feel like a way of taking some form of control.

It’s also a way to not face the problem, quite literally. If someone has their camera off, they don’t have to make “eye contact” or express themselves anymore than necessary.

If you’re noticing this shift, take quick action by pulling the employee aside and checking in on their well-being.

A slower response time to emails, messages

The ‘always on’ mentality of remote work can create a feeling of being overwhelmed among employees. Their initial quick, succinct responses may trail off as they become more and more overloaded with information.

If you notice a typically high-performing employee becoming slower and slower to respond to emails, Slack messages, or texts, hit pause on your communications and reassess the best way to reach out. Are you hitting them with too many angles of communication, and they feel like they’re drowning?

The best way to find out? Just ask.

During your conversation with them, point out concrete examples where communication fell through the cracks. Ask them if the amount of work they have on their plate is overwhelming, and what, if any tasks, could be handed off to give them a better handle on their responsibilities.

The key is to approach the employee with empathy and understanding. Burnout doesn’t get better with blame, it gets better with helping the employee take control of their work/life balance again.

Reduced sharing of personal stories, outside work talk

Not sharing personal stories may just be a sign of someone who is more conservative in the workplace, but if it’s a new trait, watch out.

Burnout can create a feeling of alienation and cynicism among employees towards work. When employees begin to resent their jobs, they’ll share less about their personal lives. They see work as just another blocker between them and their ‘real life’.

When all conversation becomes about work, it’s a sign the individual no longer sees you as someone invested in their life beyond the office. This lack of social support can become a destructive cycle, as lack of relationships in a work environment can exacerbate existing burnout symptoms.

Worried this is happening? We’ve written about changing your team’s culture, including the importance of taking a break. Paid time off can result in a reset that allows people to reassess their impact on the company, and the company’s impact on their mental wellness.

Work quality is degrading due to burnout

One of the most clear signals of burnout is loss of work quality. Workers lose energy, find it more difficult to generate creative ideas, and may even begin to experience physical symptoms (headaches, stomach pain, etc.) that interfere with work.

Managers should remember that loss of quality may not be merely because an employee has checked out, the physical and mental toll of burnout can be intense enough to affect deliverables.

Burnout is a far-reaching and serious issue for any modern day workplace. As you begin to recognize signs of burnout in your remote workers, adopt an attitude of empathy and ensure your employees have access to resources that address their symptoms.

Burnout can happen to anyone, including the founder of the company.

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