It’s normal to feel stressed at work from time to time. But for some workers, the stress becomes a chronic situation that renders them unable to keep going even if they’re willing to, leading to the 4 key risk factors of burnout.
To tell if your team is close to burning out, first you need to understand how burnout comes about. The syndrome is the result of deep, long-term stress that has not been successfully managed, either by the sufferer or their employer. It manifests in four dimensions: exhaustion (physical and emotional) that workers suffer when they feel that they cannot do their job well (sense of ineffectiveness related to work performance), that they cannot provide added value (cynicism) or that they experience conflicts or impossibility of connection with other people at work (depersonalization).
How can you spot the burnout signs in yourself and others?
If you think you or your direct reports might be suffering burnout, start by asking the following questions:
- After a day of work, I feel run-down and drained of physical or emotional energy
- I do not have a clear idea of the value and purpose of my job
- I am harder and less sympathetic with people than perhaps they deserve
- I feel that I am achieving less than I should
If you or your team answered yes to any of these questions and the frequency is bi-weekly or higher for a sustained period of time, you have your wake-up call.
These questions are a sample of what you’d see in Talkit, a burnout prevention tool that runs in Slack, and is a good starting point for all workers to identify if they’re at risk of burning out.
Employees grade statements on a scale of 0–6, where 0 is never and 6 is every day. This gives them access to their overall score and historical data over time to spot potential problems in a timely manner.
What employers can do to protect their workers
Any worker has the potential to suffer from burnout and the syndrome has always been around, but our fast-paced, always-on lifestyles have amplified the problem putting knowledge workers at the forefront.
To prevent burnout, it’s necessary to design actions at three levels of intervention: individual, group, and organizational.
At the individual level:
We recommend keeping track of the emotional well-being experienced while working. If this emotional well-being is low for more than two months, the person is at risk of experiencing burnout. The key to managing emotions is to learn to recognize them first. E.g.:
- If anger is experienced for two months, the risk of depersonalisation increases.
- If frustration or lack of interest is experienced, the risk of cynicism increases.
- If anxiety is experienced, the risk of exhaustion increases.
- If a lack of achievement and fear of making mistakes is experienced, the mind enters a loop of doubt that generates a loss of personal security, one stops believing in one’s own competences and self-ineffectiveness appears.
At a team level:
We recommend team leaders to practice what’s called proximity leadership, which generates positive emotions that protect against chronic stress. Provide clear instructions (giving security), quality feedback (so that people don’t experience emotional exhaustion due to doubts and uncertainty), and recognise effort and achievement (so that people feel valued and admired). Teams feel protected against burnout when they experience group cohesion, achieved by caring for relationships and promoting collective engagement at work.
At an organisational level:
We recommend establishing a policy that focuses on caring for people’s emotional well-being. Periodically measure burnout and design the job positions so that they adjust to the skills of the worker. If the position challenges the person and they can use their skills in everyday work, they’ll experience what’s known as flow. It’s the most productive emotion that can arise even in negative situations like the current pandemic, filled with environmental uncertainty.
Our recent survey of 100,000 tech workers showed that 67% of them were experiencing high burnout risk during the pandemic. Covid-19 is a literal “stress test” for individuals, teams, and organisations everywhere.
The current crisis challenges leaders to support the mental health of their collaborators so that they can prevent their teams from feeling defeated or lose great team members. Practices such as the ones stated above can help companies understand how their collaborators are doing and make informed decisions even in suddenly-remote workplace environments.
The Burnoutindex.org offers a free-forever, science-based assessment to check your personal burnout level under two minutes. Taken by +100,000 knowledge workers from companies like GitLab, Spotify, Shopify, Typeform, Uber, and Stripe, among others.
About the author
Carlos Sponton is the Head of Behavioral Science at Yerbo, the workplace platform democratizing mental health through burnout prevention tools. Additionally, he’s a researcher and consultant with over 15 years of experience specialized in burnout and work engagement for universities, government, and companies like CocaCola, Renault, YPF, among others. As a proud Argentinian, he deeply enjoys playing soccer and declare himself Messi’s number one fan. Curious by default, his current hobbies include video game development and wine tasting.