3 Ways to Detect and Reduce Burnout

Work related burnout is real. And with it comes some serious consequences for employees and employers. 

Throughout my corporate career, I lived with low-grade burnout, much like a low-grade fever. Work and stress were synonymous for me, mostly due to my type A personality: my tendency to take on a lot of responsibility and efforts to complete everything to perfection. I found that when I didn’t feel connected to my team or organization, my “low-grade fever” spiked.

I’m certainly not the only one who’s experienced this. According to the O.C.Tanner 2020 Global Culture Studies Report, 79 percent of employees are suffering from burnout. That’s an overwhelming majority of employees.

So why does burnout occur? Most people think that burnout results from being overworked or having a boss you can’t stand. Surprisingly, however, the biggest culprit what I found to be true in my years as an employee – a lack of emotional connection at work. Not feeling inspired by a sense of purpose, a lack of meaningful relationships and not feeling appreciated at work are all contributing factors.

Luckily, some of the best solutions to lessen or prevent burnout are easy to implement in any organization. Leaders, it’s time to look around at your team and assess whether they are affected. If you don’t, it could cost your company a lot of money.

Diagnosing Burnout

Before you try to solve for burnout, first it’s important to identify employees who are suffering. There are a few key behaviors to look for in yourself or others to detect the signs:

  1. Mental and physical exhaustion – Do you have low energy during the day and low enthusiasm for work activities? Are you tired when you wake up or consistently have trouble sleeping at night?
  2. Poor attendance – Do you dread going to work and try to find reasons to not show up? Do you have unexpected or frequent absences?
  3. Bad attitude – Do you feel cynical about work and the people there? Do you feel like nothing will ever get better, so why bother trying?

What Can Leaders Do?

Once leaders notice signs of burnout in their employees, it’s important they take steps to remedy it. Burnout spreads low morale, results in lower productivity, higher healthcare costs, and turnover costs. In fact, employees are 2.6x more likely to leave their employer when they’re experiencing burnout.* And because type A personalities (often your highest performing employees) are especially prone to burnout, you run the risk of losing your rising stars.

Leaders have tremendous impact on the employee experience because they are closest to “micro-moments” – little, daily moments that add up to the overall employee experience. For that reason, leaders have a great opportunity to create cultures that can lesson or prevent burnout. Practices rooted in positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes humans thrive, provide a guide for easy ways to boost positivity at work through micro-moments. 

Here are some easy tips to lessen burnout using positive psychology in both team meetings and 1:1s:

Be Mindful of People and Purpose – Turn thoughts into the present moment rather than rehashing the past or fixating on the future. 

  • Be present with others. Take time in 1:1s to ask how someone is feeling and really listen to their answer. You may pick up if they are suffering from burnout.
  • Be present in meetings. At the start of meetings, articulate the purpose (remind them why meeting matters to the bigger picture) and allow 30 seconds to pause and set intentions. When people run from meeting to meeting, they feel frazzled and not their best in meetings.

Express Gratitude – Being aware of and thankful for the good things in your life and taking the time to express appreciation and return kindness.

  • Show appreciation. Write notes to acknowledge the work of others and say thank you a lot
  • Celebrate small wins. Take 5 minutes at the end of meetings to share and acknowledge small wins

Invest in Relationships – A sense of belonging with others is a major contributor to our sense of meaning in life.

  • Ask better questions. “How are you?” are the three most useless words at work. The person asking doesn’t really want to know and the person responding doesn’t tell the truth. Ask better questions to spark more meaningful conversations with colleagues that will boost morale, engagement, collaboration and outcomes at work. e.g. “What are you learning that’s new for you?” “What are you looking forward to?” 
  • Find happiness outside of happy hours. Try volunteer as a team. A volunteer project for a cause that is meaningful to colleagues not only fosters team building, but also connects people to a higher purpose and spreads kindness.

Real Results

When you focus on these practices, both employees, leaders and the organization as a whole will realize so many benefits. Rather than burnt out, employees will feel more positive, resilient, satisfied and focused. As a result, leaders will see improved engagement, performance and retention. And of course, this leads to greater progress toward the organization’s goals. 

For more information about burnout at work, check out my new course: Be Your Best Without Burning Out

Let's Connect

Beth believes a positive, connected and committed organizational culture is critical to business success. That’s why she combined her 25 years of corporate leadership and management consulting experience with her expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to launch, The Brimful Life, a consulting firm that works with executives to strengthen their leadership skills and transform their leadership teams and organizational cultures to better support the organization’s vision and strategic goals. In addition, The Brimful Life podcast series, keynote presentations and workshops inspire and equip leaders to put people and culture first.

Beth has lived and worked in London, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Bangkok, Boston and New York City. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of Virginia, a MA in International Relations from Tufts University and an MBA from Columbia University.

Beth lives a brimful life by spending time with her husband and three kids and with running, speed skating and watching cooking competition shows on TV which is ironic because she hates to cook.

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