Recognizing Employee Burnout: 4 Simple-to-Spot Symptoms You Need to Know

November 7, 2016

The statistics are concerning. One in three people reports being chronically stressed on the job, leading to as many as one million employees being absent every day of the year. Beyond this, chronic stress is driving up costs related to lower productivity, increased healthcare costs and dramatically higher turnover rates. In 2015 alone, the average employer saw one out of every six employees voluntarily leave their position before the year was over.

Employers know burnout is a problem— but most feel powerless to reverse the trend. When there are thousands of employees to keep track of, how can anyone possibly spot something as subtle as burnout before it’s too late?

The good news is that research does provide clear physical symptoms that don’t require a lengthy lunch or interview to notice.  Here are the four clearest symptoms to put on your radar:

1. Note the needle drop

The textbook definition of burnout is “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.” Thus, the proverbial canary in the coal mine is this: decreased productivity. See an employee’s sales record has slumped? Notice they’re coming in later and later? Witness a lot of procrastination with deadlines? While any number of things other than burnout could be causing these behaviors, one thing is clear: you’ve got a problem.

2. Beware the bags under the eyes

Perpetual exhaustion is almost always near the top of the list of physical symptoms signifying burnout is imminent. It might be that the person is having trouble falling or staying asleep. It might be that no amount of sleep is enough. It might be that they’re self-medicating their misery with sugar, alcohol, drugs and/or caffeine. At any rate, you can be assured that their body is running ragged and it will manifest itself in some form of chronic fatigue.

3. Their world is bleak

Another common symptom of oncoming burnout is general negativity— be it cynicism, isolation, frustration, lack of enthusiasm, depleted motivation, or all of the above. Some people are just generally more Eeyore than Pooh, right? And that’s another topic for another day. If a positive performer has started to slide into daily doldrums and/or diatribes, however, something is probably going on.

4. Their senses are dull

Another thing you might notice is a loss of memory or concentration. They might become forgetful or distracted, whereas they used to be razor sharp. In the case of a buildup of stress, the mind has become focused on that negative stressor and nothing else. Some people call it “fight or flight” tunnel vision, meaning the brain kicked into gear to register a threat and then never disengaged to return to baseline. As long as it’s in the red zone, however, all decision-making and problem-solving is going to be extra hard.

Employers can reverse the trend

Considering that one in three employees are reporting chronic stress from the workplace and one in six are ready to leave altogether, employers are right to worry about burnout. With thousands of employees to consider, however, it can feel impossible to know who is at risk. The above checklist should go a long way to make it easier.

We can help, too. LifeDojo works with employers who not only want to identify employees at risk of burnout; they want to reverse the trend. If you want to learn more about our unique approach to finding and engaging employees to help them avoid the pitfalls associated with burnout, we would love to chat.

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