HR Answers: Signs of Burnout and Ways to Avoid It

stressed out businessman holds his head in his hands at the office
By Royston Guest

4 minutes

Emotional well-being can have both short- and long-term impacts on workplace productivity. Ask these five questions to gauge your employees’ levels of work-related stress.

Burnout at work is real and maybe more common than you think. The U.K. government’s Health & Safety Executive agency defines work-related stress, depression or anxiety as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work. In 2018, 15.4 million working days were lost due to this condition alone, with respondents citing the main factors as workload pressures, tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

Behavioural changes resulting from burnout could include poor sleep patterns, loss of appetite, the dreaded “Sunday night” feeling as the weekend comes to a close, sickness, persistent lateness, disengagement or merely being unable to switch off.

Emotional well-being is not a luxury; it’s the energy source that powers performance. When it’s low, performance is low, which can have both a short and long-term impact personally and professionally. Well-being is measurable beyond business performance; lack of happiness can affect employees’ health.

If you see signs of burnout in the workplace, ask these five questions to gauge the well-being of your staff—and yourself. Even leaders are not immune.

1. Are you constantly feeling overwhelmed?

Overwhelm can put you in a state of analysis paralysis where, despite your best intentions, you end up doing nothing, or you focus your time and energy on things you can but shouldn’t be doing. This amplifies the feeling of overwhelm, as you don’t feel you’re making any progress. Question everything you do daily: “Is what I am doing right now worthy of my time?” If not, why are you doing it? Learn to say “No” to the unimportant things, and then you will have more time to say “Yes” to the important things.

2. Are you questioning why you’re doing what you’re doing?

So many successful people achieve high levels of professional success only to find that their personal relationships have fallen apart or that it’s not something they actually wanted to be chasing. You might feel you’ve ended up in a place that is entirely wrong for you. Revisit what success means to you. Is your career path aligned with where you want to be?

3. Is your internal warning system telling you something isn’t right?

Each morning you’re waking up with an itch deep within your very being. You know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it. There is a vast reservoir of untapped potential inside every one of us. Your professional self—your work—should contribute to unlocking your potential and creating the future you want. If it’s doing the opposite, stop, take stock and consider the action you need to take.

4. Are you struggling to manage tensions between the different versions of you?

Our lives have many facets: work, home, family, friends, colleagues, partners and perhaps children. Over the years, commitments creep in, almost unnoticed, to the point where there are probably multiple versions of you all struggling to meet differing demands and expectations. The answer isn’t to become universally excellent at all of them, but to understand which demand requires the most attention at any given moment. Remember, there may be many versions of you, but there’s only one physical you.

When you are clear about what success means to you, both personally and professionally, you can better design your working life, fully aware of the tensions and trade-offs you’re making. For example, if you’re seeking a promotion, you may accept the extra hours you have to work to prove you’ve got skin in the game, or you may not. When you define which “you” is the priority, you remove the pressure to be someone that you’re not or don’t want to be. You can remove potential conflicts weighing you down and the unhappiness that goes with it.

5. Are you working more but achieving less?

There is an urban myth that says the more hours you work, the more you will get done, but it is simply that—a myth. In reality, the more hours you work, the less productive you become. Why? Because we all need quality downtime, and with 24/7 connectivity, it’s tough to switch off completely. To give your best, you have to be at your best. It’s good to be focused and driven and to push yourself to excel—but it’s also good to do nothing. Take the time to recharge that emotional energy.

Royston Guest is a leading authority on growing businesses and unlocking people potential. Entrepreneur, author of No. 1 best-seller Built to Grow and RISE: Start living the life you were meant to lead, CEO of Pathways Global and founder of The Business Growth Pathway™

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