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Employee Burnout: Its Causes & How to Prevent it

Burnout is becoming one of the biggest threats to employee wellbeing while working from home. Let's dive into what it is, its signs & causes, and how to prevent it.

Krishan Patel image

Written by Krishan Patel

11 May, 2022  –  4 min read

The success of remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic has seen many companies adopt hybrid working. This mix of home and office work provide workers more flexibility and reduces commuting time. However, balancing home and office working is stressful for many people and, in some cases is causing employee burnout.

For some employees, hybrid working means exhausting commutes and the social stresses of a busy workplace on office-based workdays. Then it’s longer workdays and an ‘always-on’ culture during remote working days. Research indicates 69% of employees have symptoms of burnout.

Juggling home and office work can mean many staff face hybrid burnout as they deal with the stresses of both and the disrupted routines thanks to dividing their time between home and the office. But what actually is employee burnout, and what can we do to avoid it?

What is employee burnout?

While employee burnout isn’t technically a diagnosis, it’s a helpful way to describe a collection of symptoms caused by prolonged workplace stress. If an employee is experiencing burnout, they may feel exhausted, lack motivation, experience anxiety, feel irritable, and see a drop in their work performance. Some people with burnout also experience physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, stomach aches or headaches.

Employee burnout can creep in through overwork, inadequate feedback, lack of management support, and feeling excluded on certain decisions. These concerns can be made worse by remote working arrangements that mean employees spend less time in the office.

There are also plenty of non-work-related stressors affecting employees right now, such as illness, childcare, and personal finances. People who experience greater stress levels are more likely to feel ineffective, fed up, and tired.

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9 Most Common Signs of Employee Burnout

All employees can face burnout, especially those who often work longer hours. Employees who hit burnout are more likely to quit, so companies need to look out for signs that indicate action is needed to support a valued employee. There are many signs of employee burnout to look out for, including these issues.

1. Lower engagement and productivity

A top-performing employee appears less engaged and has stopped actively participating in meetings and sharing their thoughts and ideas. They have also stopped returning emails or phone calls or avoided taking on new projects. They no longer seem to have the will to be engaged with the business, affecting their quality of work.

2. Making mistakes

An employee who cannot concentrate or feel engaged with the business is more likely to make mistakes, forget important tasks and miss deadlines.

3. Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion

Employees may look exhausted, report feeling drained, and struggle with sleep issues. They may lack energy and focus.

4. Irritability

If an employee is under a lot of pressure, they may stop getting along with others. They may become more irritable, impatient, and quick to snap. They may be aware that they are less efficient, that their work isn’t of the usual standard, or feel ineffective and unimportant.

5. Cynicism

When employees’ passion for their job is exhausted, they can develop a cynical attitude towards their work. This cynicism can affect an employee’s trust in their management and colleagues. It can also impact productivity if this cynicism spreads across the organisation.

6. Increased absenteeism

Overworked employees are 63% more likely to have a sick day. They may hope that a day off will give them a break, restore their spirits, or use it as a way to avoid projects, colleagues, or managers.

7. Depression

If employees appear more withdrawn, lack confidence, or excessively worry about deadlines, they might be depressed. They may also show signs of fatigue, lack of engagement, appetite loss, or overeating.

8. Sensitive to feedback

An employee struggling with burnout may start taking constructive feedback or criticism more personally. They may overreact with increased anger and defensiveness, which are clear signs of stress.

9. Physical symptoms

Stress and exhaustion can manifest as physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, increased heart rate, chest pains, and even panic attacks. An employee may start to use food to cope with stress and gain weight or lose their appetite and lose weight.

7 tips to prevent employee burnout 

Working at home may have many advantages, but it also has drawbacks. As many as 69% of employees working at home experience burnout symptoms while they struggle to deal with the blurred lines between home and work. But, by using platforms such as Seenit for internal communications and these seven tips below, you can support employee engagement and help protect them from burnout:

1. Reconnect with your employees

Employees can soon start to feel disconnected from the business, their colleagues, and even the purpose of their job when working from home. Ensuring they have a real connection to their work can help them put things into perspective when the meshing of work and life becomes stressful. Encourage an exchange of ideas and feedback that give them a sense of ownership and purpose in what they do.

2. Keep meetings to a minimum 

Zoom fatigue affects many employees working from home and can soon turn into Zoom burnout. Endless online meetings can be disruptive and draining. Reduce the number of Zoom meetings to minimise stress in an employee’s day. You could even consider marking a meeting invite as optional if an employee’s presence isn’t imperative. This will help keep them in the loop while giving them your approval to focus on other tasks.

3. Keep emails to a minimum 

Research has found that email fatigue could result in 38% of employees quitting their jobs. Employees can feel under siege by an influx of emails, and it’s not surprising given that 40% can receive up to 75 emails a day. Rather than automatically copying employees to every email, consider who really needs the information. You might be able to reduce the number of emails by compiling a weekly round-up bulletin instead.

4. Respect work-life boundaries

Some home-working employees feel like life is all work and struggle to switch off. Helping employees distinguish between work and home is key to preventing them from experiencing burnout. Schedule emails to avoid contacting them outside work hours and encourage them to log off at a reasonable time.

5. Support parents

Be mindful that working at home isn’t always easy when employees have young children, especially when Covid outbreaks mean schools close. However, you can help relieve stress by being flexible. This might mean giving parents extra time off or letting them move their working hours around to accommodate childcare needs. Gestures like that can make a huge difference to parents.

6. Encourage employees to disconnect

Some employees may feel reluctant to take time off, especially if the workload is exceptionally high or other team members are on annual leave or off sick. Despite feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, they may be worried about leaving the rest of the team in the lurch or have real concerns about job security. Encourage your employees to prioritise their well-being and make sure they know they can take time off if developing burnout. As a manager, you should be modelling this behaviour yourself by taking time off and communicating this to your team.

7. Schedule regular check-ins

There’s a saying that people don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad bosses. And it seems to be true. Nearly half (49%) of UK employees say they have quit their job because of a line manager. That’s why it’s important to be a supportive and communicative manager and offer one-to-one time to each employee. Regular check-ins provide a valuable opportunity to find out how they feel about their workload, work-life balance and any issues or concerns they may have.

While working from home offers many advantages, employee burnout can be a major drawback. But by recognising the signs of burnout and taking steps to support your staff, you can create a happy and healthy working environment for your remote employees.

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