Checked out, uninterested, and consistently dispassionate. Being burnt out is one of the most potent causes of career stagnation and subpar workplace performance. Yet it’s also one of the most commonplace phenomenons of modern working life, especially with work cycles that get particularly intense at specific times of the year.
When you have a burnt-out employee on your hands, it doesn’t just threaten their own performance at work, but that of the rest of the team as well. Helping them out of such a situation is easier said than done, though; burnout can often neither be threatened into extinction nor condescended into being resolved. The crux of the matter is perhaps best expressed as such: how do you motivate someone who is too tired to really invest herself in anything at work?
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While burnout can manifest itself differently in different people, it tends to follow the same patterns—exhaustion, disillusionment, and disengagement. Keeping an eye out for these three harbingers of job burnout can make all the difference in identifying burnout in your employees.
The catch, however, is that you need to pay attention to your people; to know them well enough to realise when something is definitely off. Absent leadership doesn’t lend itself well to the active role that a manager must play in helping her employees fight and overcome burnout.
Without identifying the root cause of your employee’s burnout, you won’t be able to help tackle the problem effectively. Burnout is commonly associated with overwork and the ensuing mental and emotional fatigue in the aftermath of it. In reality, though, things are probably more complicated than that: overwork isn’t the only cause of job burnout, and is likely not the only cause of it either.
People can get just as burnt out from playing office politics, loneliness in the workplace, or a lack of autonomy. Spend some time talking to your employee to help them figure out why and when they’re feeling spent at work. It’s important to note, though, that for them to be willing to open up to you about what they’re going through at work, they need to feel psychologically safe.
If people feel like they’re going to be judged or punished for being authentic and vulnerable, they’ll be less willing to have honest conversations about what’s bothering them and how things can change.
To that end, it helps to leverage on the strength of your personal relationships with each employee. The stronger the bond between manager and employee, the likelier people are to be truthful and forthcoming about how to make work better for themselves and for everyone else.
You can’t hope to help anyone with their problems if you can’t help yourself first. People sense, absorb and take their cues from their leaders. If you as the manager are yourself on the brink of burnout, it will rub off on your people in very detrimental ways. If the manager is already tuning out and slowly pulling away from the team, it’s not only discouraging, it send the message that disengagement is the norm instead of a temporary issue to be resolved.
Being overworked, over-stressed, disengaged or lonely at work to the point of burnout is already taxing enough. It’s especially hard on employees who are normally incredibly passionate about what they do. Consequently, when performance suffers, it’s not something that they can generally just snap out of. It takes time and compassion, both from the manager and in the form of self-care on your employee’s part, to work through a period of job burnout.
Empathetic leadership is critical here; it’s not just about mechanically pinpointing the cause of burnout. You need to strike a balance between recognising the difficulties of burnout, and motivating people to overcome it. To that end, it’s crucial to reinforce people’s self-efficacy and beliefs in their ability to weather the storm; half the battle is fought in the mind, especially when it comes to job burnout.
Practicing active listening is particularly essential. When people feel cared for as thinking, feeling people instead of just as employees and cogs in the machines, it’s much more reassuring and replenishing. Conversely, the more people feel neglected and unappreciated, the less motivated they’ll be to climb out of burnout.