Burnouts often occur among highly (or overly) committed employees who want to please everyone and to do everything perfectly. The extent to which individuals are at risk of a burnout therefore depends on their character and behavioral patterns – but the way employees are managed can also have a significant influence. Line managers can do a great deal to prevent their people from suffering a burnout.
The most important thing for managers to do is to keep their eyes and ears open and to pay attention if the behavior of employees changes. Alarm bells should start ringing if they suddenly make more mistakes than usual or are increasingly withdrawn. What are the typical early signs that employees are at risk of a burnout? Employees such as these:
- Never have time and always seem rushed
- Want to make all the decisions themselves and have trouble delegating
- Are EXTREMELY dedicated and hardly ever take time off at weekends or for holidays
- Are resistant to change and inflexible
- Lack concentration, forget appointments or make more mistakes
- No longer show much interest in the personal concerns of colleagues and tend to withdraw from others
- No longer take pleasure in things and always seem to be down
- Are unapproachable and irritable
- Consume more tobacco, coffee and alcohol
- Have trembling hands or sweat profusely
- Are absent more frequently
If employees display two or three of these symptoms, it is time to take action. The problem is that most of those affected don’t want to recognize the warning signs until their body says: Stop! Burnout is a gradual process, even if the actual collapse can then often happen very quickly. My experience with real-life cases shows that burnout is frequently triggered by an acute crisis, e.g. when a person loses his or her job or goes through a relationship break-up. The house of cards, which was unstable to begin with, then comes crashing down.
Companies and managers can have an impact
Each individual has a range of options to help them avoid suffering stress or a burnout. However, companies and individual managers also have a major influence on the risk of burnout among their employees.
What can be done at company level?
Sensitize managers to the problems of stress and burnout, train them in the early detection of symptoms and in how to address them
- Break the burnout taboo
- Define an internal contact person for employees who are feeling lost, or provide external coaching services
- Provide guidance based on a set of values: employees need to know where the company is heading and how. This allows them to prioritize their goals and pursue them efficiently
- Maintain a corporate culture in which people are valued
- Offer training and development opportunities – not only about business topics but also, for instance, on strategies for coping with stress
What can individual managers do to reduce the risk of burnout among their employees?
- Lead by example: Don’t practice or encourage a culture of ‘presenteeism’ and of always being available, maintain a good work/life balance of your own, don’t expect employees to respond to e-mails in the evening or at weekends – and make this rule abundantly clear
- Optimize workflows
- Give employees clear objectives and roles
- Delegate decision-making authority and involve employees – they should feel that they can make things happen and have an impact
- Encourage personal growth – people who feel as if they are ‘stuck in a rut’ often develop stress symptoms
- Avoid using fear and pressure as tools to boost performance
- Instead, show appreciation and make sure any criticism is delivered in a constructive manner – avoid treating employees with ‘kid gloves’ and address difficulties clearly and honestly
- Maintain regular, open communication with employees and be approachable
- Take rest and relaxation seriously: Employees need breaks, free weekends and vacations to remain fully productive
© Claudia Kraaz