Signs that One of Your Top Performers is Experiencing Burnout

June 14, 2017 Andrew Larsen

While top performing employees are hitting high marks, it is important to note that just like Superman has his kryptonite, seemingly superstar employees have their weaknesses. Chief among them is burnout.

High performers sometimes adopt an “I can do everything” mentality. They’re eager to prove to both themselves and the company that they can handle difficult tasks and deliver positive results. But this drive can sometimes push a top performer to go beyond what is mentally and physically healthy.

What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of chronic stress, which is a psychological response to long periods of emotional pressure. It begins in the endocrine system where corticosteroids are released in response to a stressful situation such as a workplace emergency. While the initial effects of stress hormones can be beneficial, if the mind continues to be exposed to them, then these hormones can have harmful effects. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) states that, “Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences and adversely affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems.”

What causes burnout?
Stress both inside the office and outside the office contribute to burnout. Family crises, financial struggles, or overbearing hobbies all have an impact on an employee’s mental health. The workplace is also riddled with its own stresses. In some instances, employees can experience a “perfect storm” where everything in their work and home life suddenly becomes too much to handle.

In the workplace, an excessive workload or moving deadlines forward can create levels of stress that could spiral an employee into burnout. For example, a company is determined to save as much money as possible by hiring fewer employees. To do this, the company places HR responsibilities onto their office manager’s shoulders. This office manager already has her own responsibilities but now she’s inherited a new host of tasks that she is unsure how to handle. First, she may feel stress from taking on extra work.  Second, the office manager may know very little about HR and may be stressed about becoming an expert in a field she doesn’t understand. If there are also challenges in her personal or family life, suddenly this office manager is in danger of burnout. 

Consequences for the employee and employer
For employees, burnout leads to problems such as:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cynicism
  • Detachment
  • Increased illness
  • Depression

These are only a few of the consequences that an employee can face when they struggle with burnout. Depending on the severity of the case, some of these challenges can be long lasting.
For employers, consequences of employee burnout can lead to problems such as:

  • A higher turnover rate
  • Lower job satisfaction
  • Increased presenteeism
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Employee disengagement
  • Strained workplace relationships

In the end, burnout in the workplace will ultimately impact the bottom line. Employees who are unsatisfied, disengaged, coming into work sick, and creating problems in the workplace lead to lower productivity, negative client interactions, and loss of time. Employers should be constantly watching their workforce for signs of burnout and take measures to prevent it before it becomes an issue.

Symptoms to watch for?
Here are some symptoms of burnout that should be watched for:

  • Poor performance
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Frequent illness
  • Exhaustion
  • Detachment from coworkers
  • Higher sensitivity
  • Pessimism

These are a few signs of burnout, but they’re not the only ones. Employees will react to stress in different ways but managers should be able to see the subtle emotional and behavioral changes that occur in their employees by measuring it against past behavior.

A level of trust between employees and managers is critical to preventing burnout. Employees should be able to discuss their struggles with their managers in open and honest ways, and trust that their manager won’t belittle or degrade their situation. 

What can a manager do about it?
In moments where an employee confides in a manager that they’re struggling, or a manager notices signs of burnout, managers and employees can work together to create a plan to recover from stress. Help them disconnect from the workplace by encouraging them to take paid-time-off (PTO). It may take high-performers a little convincing, but ultimately some time off can be more productive than putting in extra hours at the office. 

As for stress related issues outside the workplace, there are ways a company can help too. Offering financial counseling as a part of the benefits plan can help with financial worries. Offering gym memberships can give employees a place to exercise and blow off some steam. Implementing a creative benefits plan and encouraging employees to use them can help with mitigating the risk of burnout outside the office. 

Signs of recovery
In many ways, signs of recovery are the exact opposite of the symptoms. If performance improves, or employees seem to have genuine enjoyment in the workplace, you can know an employee is on the road to recovery. After a few weeks of working with the employee ask yourself: Does the employee seem to have more energy? Are they engaging with coworkers again? Can they handle feedback? 

As a company takes the time to be conscious of their workforce they can implement strategic solutions that will prevent burnout before it becomes an issue. This in turn will drive a workforce to be productive and ultimately be a benefit to employers and employees.


About the Author

Andrew Larsen

Andrew is the Marketing Communications Specialist for Zuman, the one solution for HR, payroll, and benefits administration that supports growing small to midsize businesses.

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