Almost everyone experiences burnout at some point in their career. Some in toxic work environments deal with it constantly. But a workplace doesn’t have to be unhealthy in order for someone to feel burned out. 

Burnout can happen to anyone, even your star players. It happens when they feel overwhelmed, undervalued, or forgotten about. And these are just a few examples.

The pandemic hasn’t helped — lots of people felt especially isolated and disconnected over the last year, making the potential for burnout much higher. 

Fortunately, burnout is fixable. In some cases, it’s a helpful warning sign that people need a change of some sort. It may even provide clues for you and your team to rework culture in order to create a stronger, more creative, more productive organization. 

In any case, the important thing is to address the root causes of burnout as soon as possible, and learn tactics to prevent it from happening in the future. 

What Burnout Looks Like

While there are lots of fairly common signs of burnout, not everyone experiences it the same way. 

We often talk about the importance of fostering personal connections with people on your team — noticing burnout early is just one of the benefits of that personal investment. When you know your team, you’ll notice when something is off. 

Here are a few of the most common symptoms of burnout to watch out for: 

  • Lack of enthusiasm for what they’re doing. This may take the form of a drop in creativity, effort, or general excitement. 
  • Lack of quality of work. You may notice people missing deadlines, forgetting important details, or submitting work that isn’t quite finished. Keep in mind, for your star players, this may just look like a drop in quality from their usual high-caliber performance. 
  • Not growing into their position. It may be that someone simply isn’t adapting to a new role like you thought they would. That could be because they’re simply overwhelmed and burned out by the added responsibility. 

Once you’ve identified that burnout is happening, it’s important to consider the root cause. Is the problem with that person specifically, or is it related to a more widespread issue? 

Is It Culture or Capacity? 

Because feeling overwhelmed is one of the most common causes of burnout, time management is just as often one of the most powerful solutions. Evaluate a person’s time management from all sides to determine if they’re in a position to get their work done well. You may want to ask questions like: 

  • Are they working late hours or coming in extra early? 
  • Do they seem organized or always scrambling to get things done? 
  • Has the amount of work expected of them increased recently? 

If someone doesn’t seem to have the capacity to perform their duties, leaders must also consider whether the organization is adequately supporting them. If support is lacking, and they can’t perform to their utmost ability, their burnout may require cultural retooling. 

How Leaders Can Help

“A leader should be as in tune with their people as they are with their bottom line.” — Chris Ihrig, Chief Engagement Officer at FiredUp! Culture

Know your teams well so you can identify the signs of burnout as soon as they start to develop. Ideally, you’ll notice something long before they have to tell you. Oftentimes, team members will stay quiet while struggling because they’re afraid of seeming incompetent or letting leadership down. 

  1. Regularly check in with your teams so you have a baseline for how they’re doing. That way, you’ll know when something’s off. 
  2. Assist with time management skills as part of regular training. Help people break tasks down into more manageable chunks by staggering timelines or milestones. 
  3. Offer a broader view. For example, communicate with teams that there’s a big project coming up, but then there’ll be downtime to recover. Often you can avoid burnout by filling people in on the larger picture. 

Whether you’re returning to the office after the pandemic or transitioning to a fully digital workspace, burnout is likely to be more common in the coming months than usual. 

Help prevent the most common sources of burnout by transforming your culture into one that’s always supportive, always positive, and always improving. Learn how by downloading our free resource: A Comprehensive Guide to Leading Through Difficult Times.