5 Signs of Team Burnout (and What to Do About It)

ProjectManager.com

If you think there’s no reason to worry about your team’s burnout, you’re wrong. Sure, it’s their job. Just do it, you may say, trying to rally them around a sneaker tag line. But employees aren’t products that are pushed into market, they’re human beings, like you, whose productivity will falter if not engaged with the work they’re doing.

Analysis conducted by ResearchGate from 2012 reflected a strong correlation between burnout and job engagement. It makes sense. Burn out is something more than just trying to work on an empty stomach or without a good night’s sleep. It’s a systemic collapse: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. You can’t concentrate, problems feel overwhelming. You’re less creative. It impacts your decision-making, how innovative you are and your ability to assess risk.

This is not the profile of a productive team member, but what can you do about it, you’re not a psychiatrist. No, but you are a leader of resources tasked to complete a project and it’s part of your job to ensure nothing stands in the way of this goal. That means you have to be cognizant of the  “happiness” of your team, as we explored in a previous article. You need to know if someone is exhibiting signs of burnout.

So, without going back to school and getting your doctorate in psychology, how can you tell when someone working for you is suffering from burn out? Thankfully, it’s not that hard. What’s difficult is not judging their behavior and instead recognizing it and then working on resolving it before it negatively impacts the project.

Is your team burnt out?

Turnover

If you’re going through employees, if your office has a revolving door that never stops spinning with working quitting, that’s a red flag. Sure, one or even two workers might not be a corporate fit or their departure is just an anomaly, but remember three’s a trend. Once you’re noticing attrition, then it may be time to look at how you might be contributing to making the workplace unpleasant.

While certainly you can’t control the entire office culture, one thing you can do is address the environment for your team at work and see if there are things you can do to make it more attractive to the kind of worker you’re looking to keep (or recruit, depending on how many people have left). You can review workplace incentives to see how you might add value, or develop social events for your team to celebrate milestones regularly on the project. 

Speak to your team members, get to know them, find out what they’re like and what they want both out of life and on the job. You may not have the power to implement cultural changes at the organization you work at, but with this knowledge you can help make the climate at work more comfortable. 

Absenteeism

Most employees are likely not in a position to abandon their job if they’re unhappy or burnt out. However, they may take advantage of sick days or vacation days or arrive late and leave early as a more passive way to avoid the situation at work.

Keep your eye open for excessive absenteeism. It is a sure sign that you’re facing burn out.

Dealing with this problem is not dissimilar to the turnover issue. Start with surveying your team. If you can find a way to question what employees want and need from their job that’s a good start, but if you then don’t follow through on seriously responding to their concerns you’re only going to further the burn out by simply giving lip service to it. Acting on the comments of your team is how you build a trusting and fruitful relationship.

Of course, the employee may be responding to something not job-related. There could be a conflict with his or her spouse or family. They may have been diagnosed with an illness that is compounded by stress. The possibilities are endless, but do what you can within reasonable limits to learn what’s bothering them and how you can work together to limit its influence on project performance. Tread carefully, however, boundaries must be respected.

Never Taking a Vacation

On the flip side of the coin is the employee who never leaves. You know the type: the overachiever, who burns the midnight oil and has a backlog of vacation days they’ve never put in for. You may think this is exactly the kind of go-getter attitude you want on your team, but there’s a dark side to all work and no play.

Remember The Shining? All work and no play makes, well, everyone a dullard… or worse.

Nothing is more likely to result in burnout on the job than overextending oneself at work. There have been many studies supporting the need for a life-work balance, including recent research by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams in the Harvard Business Review. It may be a bit of a buzz concept and easier said than done, but certainly few would deny that devoting all your energies to one subject is going to dull, not sharpen, your work.

 

It shouldn’t be too difficult to pick out the team member who never leaves their desk; more problematic may be prying them from it without making them feel threatened. This is likely best accomplished by a personal one-on-one discussion, giving them a sense of job security and impressing on their work ethic by noting how much more productive they’ll be if they give themselves time to reboot.

Conflict

Some personalities mesh and others don’t. That’s life. Nothing you can do about that. In a work environment, though, we should know to leave our personal issues out of it. We’re a team united in a common goal. That said, realistically, there’s going to be clashes.

Sometimes these conflicts are positive in that they help the team resolve problems. But if you’re noticing a team member who is always arguing, never cooperative and continuously on edge as if looking for a fight, this can be a signal that you’re dealing with a burned-out individual.

Here it can be hard to want to help and not just terminate someone who is so unpleasant, but if you put the work in, you may find an employee who is doubly committed to the job. It helps to have compassion, be empathetic, listen to their complaints and, if you’re not about to offer solutions, then at least show support. Sometimes it’s as easy as that. Sometimes it’s not. You’ll have to decided on how much investment is worth the return.

Ineffectiveness

Another way team members exhibit burnout is in by disengaging on the job and showing a lack of productivity. This may have other causes, too, such as they may need further training on a specific aspect of their job to get up to speed. 

And, like most of these signs, the cure is relatively the same: identifying the cause of the team members dissatisfaction and addressing it to the best of your abilities. You’re not a nanny, but you are a leader, and leaders should be effective. You’re not going to have an effective engine to drive your project forward, if one of the pistons isn’t firing correctly.

There are many ways to deal with burn out, and you’ll have to tailor your methods to the individual, but creating a nurturing environment, empowering employees to feel autonomy, fostering healthy competition and offering a venue for feedback are all a good start to facilitating a place where burn out is less of an issue and project success a more likely result.

One way to avoid your own bout of burnout is to equip yourself with the proper tools for the job. ProjectManager.com is a robust online software suite that offers features to help you plan, monitor and report on your project in real time. Try it out free with this 30-day trial.

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