Managers: Be alert to signs of burnout

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Maybe you’ve noticed that your troops’ morale is low. You’re having trouble maintaining their engagement and performance.

Before you have a case of occupational exhaustion on your hands, see how you, as a manager, can improve the mental health of your team.

Usually, this condition is associated with work overload. But did you know that it can also be due to boredom and loss of meaning? Find out more about this phenomenon so that you can monitor your teams’ mental health. And yours!

Boredom? Work overload? Loss of meaning? How do you tell the difference?

New terms for describing occupational exhaustion are being used by managers. But is the experience new? Not really, but now we have names to distinguish among the various states falling under the umbrella term of occupational exhaustion.

Exhaustion due to work overload

This refers to burnout, which is the most well-known type of occupational exhaustion.

It is caused by work overload and occurs when a person is under chronic stress.

What are the signs of burnout?

Be aware. Occupational exhaustion seeps into all spheres of life: emotional, cognitive, physical and social.

You should therefore pay attention to the following symptoms among your staff:

  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Isolation, negativity or cynicism at work
  • Disorganization and inefficiency

Of course, everyone is unique. Occupational exhaustion may be expressed through other symptoms.

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Disproportionate emotional reactions
  • Lack of motivation
  • Little accomplished in relation to hours of work
  • Feeling of incompetence
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Anxiety symptoms

Exhaustion due to boredom

This is also called boreout. This type of occupational exhaustion is caused by a lack of quantitative or qualitative work. The expression “dying of boredom” is very pertinent to situations where there is a lack of occupational fulfilment.

How do you recognize boreout in your team? By having open and non-judgmental dialogue that allows the person to admit to feeling:

  • Constant boredom at work
  • Feelings of not being appreciated
  • Anxiety at the idea of nothing to do
  • The need to work slowly in order to fill up the day
  • Fatigue in the evenings
  • An obligation to pretend to like their job

Exhaustion due to loss of meaning

This type of occupational exhaustion has not been studied as much as the preceding two types and is called brownout. It is observed as a lack of motivation. It’s the quality of the work that is the problem. The person finds the work uninteresting, useless and meaningless.

They become less and less motivated and the lack of well-being becomes generalized. Since the person remains functional, it's more difficult to detect this condition. If you're looking for indicators, you’ll hear the person say that their skills are underutilized at work or that they feel useless.

Presenteeism and its consequences

If employees show up for work when they aren’t in any physical or mental shape to be productive, it's called presenteeism. It can be summed up as being physically present but absent in spirit.

There are several reasons for this choice such as:

  • Work overload
  • Denial of sick leave
  • The employer's lack of flexibility
  • Social pressure since colleagues come to work when they are sick

Some figures on presenteeism

According to a 2006 study by Brun et Biron, the cost of presenteeism was 9.9 days per year whereas for absenteeism it was 7.1 days.

In 2007, Statistics Canada estimated that 4% of workers, that is 500,000 people, suffered from depression. However 40% of these employees never missed work.

Your role as a manager

How can you support your staff’s mental health?

Firstly, through prevention.

Listen to them!

To detect the first signs of occupational exhaustion in your team, you need to know them. If necessary, use your organization’s Manager Assistance Program. Organizational health specialists can guide you on how best to support your staff.

Listen and pay attention to symptoms of occupational exhaustion. This will reduce the risk of it occurring in your team.

During conversations, you may face some criticism. Demonstrate openness, humility and kindness to making the changes that involve you.

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A healthy workplace

Don’t wait until you are faced with a case of occupational exhaustion. Proactively implement a prevention and action plan to promote health and wellness in your organization.

Several measures can be adopted beginning with a prevention strategy applicable to mental health.

Motivational recognition

You probably already highlight the accomplishments and initiatives of your team. But you can do more! Mention the monotonous tasks as well. Even though they are not as spectacular as an innovative project, they contribute just as much to the organization’s success.

Show you are happy with the time and energy that your staff invests, regardless of which tasks are performed.

You have no idea how valuable a compliment at the right time can be. It can boost morale and make the person feel appreciated, particularly when the tasks are not engaging.

Put effort into job design

Design the tasks to reduce organizational stress and the risk of occupational exhaustion in your team.

Expand the tasks: To avoid your team members having monotonous tasks every day, be creative. Ask them to do additional or different tasks, showing you appreciate them and allow them to shine.

Rotate positions: Obviously all monotonous tasks cannot be eliminated. Try to divide them up among a group so it’s not the same person doing them all the time.

Enrich the tasks: Give your staff more responsibility. Have faith that they can work independently and give them more freedom.

Job design (work organization): Ask your staff how you can add a little more “wow” to their work. Review work processes jointly with them.

You notice a change? Act now!

Have you noticed that one of your most loyal employees is out of sorts? Don’t wait until she is a shadow of herself. Take action at the first signs of a change.

To start a conversation on this delicate subject, share your observations with her to verify that you got the right impression. Ask her the reasons for her lack of energy and motivation.

Explore solutions together. Finding them will take careful listening to understand the reality of employees who need help. You’ll find them based on what they tell you.