Staff Burnout

Courtesy: Flickr - Sander van der Wel

Courtesy: Flickr – Sander van der Wel

In a fast-paced business environment, many of us feel the need to excel at work by doing more, doing it faster and perhaps in a more cost effective way. That is how most businesses are run.

It is no wonder why staff burnout is becoming a commonplace.

According to actalliance, a community based psychological support organisation, there is a list of symptoms that a burnout is eminent.

When I compared notes with other managers versus my own observations, some key signs stood out. These signs do not occur in any particular order, or some may only show one or two signs (as everyone reacts differently):

MC rates start climbing
Being absent from work is normally the first sign of burnout. If someone starts calling in sick for minor ailments, especially those that does not normally bother them, it is time for that talk.

What to do: This is the time to be empathetic. Highlight to them that their absenteeism has been noticed and ask if they are ok. It is important for them not to feel like they are being “attacked” for taking MC days. Understand their challenges and help them manage their work-life balance, so that they don’t feel like “I deserve a break so I am going to take a MC day to get a day off”.

Quality of work takes a dip
This is normally very stark and very noticeable; a punctual employee starts coming in late or missing deadlines and excellent workers start producing work that is of sub-quality.

The likelihood is that they are exhausted and unable to focus. They could be facing sleep issues, physical symptoms (headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances) and other stress symptoms.

What to do: Speak with them. Have them acknowledge the drop in standards is not helping. Then review their workload and plan out how to schedule the work and delegate them wherever possible. Create time and space for them to take breaks. Perhaps some pep talk might help; create a team spirit so that everyone knows that they are all in this together. Have that support system in place.

Staff unleashes their angst
Similar to the drop in work quality, this is stark and very noticeable. Instead of letting their work suffer, staff may instead show their burnout in their behaviour.

These behaviours vary with individuals, but the tendencies are they:

  • Become less sociable
    Keep to themselves and perhaps start missing out on social activities (even missing out after work drinks or simply rushing off at the end of the day).
  • Become moody or angry
    They could be constantly restless, frustrated or even worried.
  • Start picking fights or stop caring
    The key is to spot a polar change. Those that take problems head on and fight them through till a resolution is reached become overly compliant without resistance; almost as if they didn’t care. Or those conflict averse types who become overly defensive or angry.

    Long term emotional turmoil will eventually lead to other symptoms that are health related. See the first point.

What to do: Understand that these behaviours are manifestation of other issues. Engage these employees and allow them to feel safe talking about those issues bothering them. The issues could range from dissatisfaction with certain situations or even their managers, to stresses with workloads or responsibilities. Provide them the support that they need.


These are the top 3 signs that I have observed. Handling them requires empathy to begin with, then engage the troubled employee to understand their challenges. From there establish ways to help them cope with the issues.


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