We live in a fast-paced world that always seems to be short on time. Stress is a natural symptom of this problem. How many of us consistently experience sleepless nights or wake up feeling disinterested in work or feel irritable and exhausted at work?
We may explain this as being human, but these are actually pointers to more serious conditions of a burnout. The World Health Organization (WHO) says burnout is characterized by "feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy”.
At the workplace, individuals come together as teams to deliver work. It is critical these teams are enthusiastic, motivated to work hard, engaged and productive for best operational results. A team that is burnt out cannot be expected to achieve their goals. Hence, it is important team leaders and people managers are vigilant about spotting burnout symptoms early and actively taking steps to address them.
Burnout is never sudden. It is a culmination of prolonged periods of overwork and elevated stress levels. Three telling signs of a burnout are:
Repeated mistakes, lapses and errors
When team members are physically and mentally exhausted due to excessive workload or unrealistic delivery timelines, continuous working without letting their minds and bodies rest, they are bound to make mistakes. Repeated instances imply burnout. Taking more time to do tasks where they are already trained and consequently dropping productivity levels point to a burnt out team.
Team members may display “I don’t care” behaviors or lack reaction to anything being said during interactions at the workplace or appear disinterested in work. In a burnout, people may feel helpless or cynical and consequently not perform to expectations.
Lack of accomplishment
Burnt out people may start feeling ineffective and not value their work. Dissatisfaction and demoralization may creep in and further impact productivity.
Leaders should continuously engage with their teams to understand whether there is an equitable work distribution, whether people understand expectations from the tasks assigned to them, whether delivery timelines are realistic, whether they have the support required to accomplish their goals.
Checking in regularly with teams and open and honest conversation around the following questions could help:
Do you have trouble coming into work or starting your day? Do you find it hard to concentrate? Do you feel a lack of purpose or sense of disillusionment in your job? Do you feel a lack of happiness at any significant accomplishment at your workplace?
Consistently answering yes to the above questions are clear signs of burnout. Prioritizing tasks, taking regular breaks to rejuvenate, asking for help when required, saying no to work sometimes and recognizing and appreciating good work could all help in addressing the challenges arising from burnouts.
Professional careers are like marathons, not sprints. We should train ourselves and our teams for endurance not speed.