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With employee well-being firmly at the top of the corporate agenda, it’s up to you–the leader–to ensure your people are happy, healthy, and thriving. Elevated stress levels for long periods of time can quickly build up and increase the risk of burnout, so it’s critical to take action long before reaching this point.

Employee burnout is on the rise. A 2022 McKinsey Health survey of 15,000 workers across a number of countries found that a quarter of employees experienced burnout symptoms. In many instances, statistics are even higher–76% of respondents in a Mental Health America and FlexiJobs study agreed that chronic workplace stress can create mental health issues, with 75% of these experiencing burnout. 

Significantly, other research shows that just one in five (21%) of workers can have open, productive conversations with leaders about solutions to their burnout. 

So, how can you be more aware of chronic stress and spot the early signs of constant stress and risk factors before it leads to burnout?


Good vs Bad Stress

Whether we like it or not, stress is a part of everyday life within our personal lives and professional lives. A little bit of stress is good for us, keeping us on our toes and helping us perform our daily tasks to the best of our abilities. It’s typically short-term, employees look at tasks and projects as manageable, and good stress enhances individual performance. Too much stress, on the other hand, can affect our daily functioning, resulting in increased anxiety, a lack of concentration, mental exhaustion, and physical symptoms that affect our physical health. While large projects and heavy workloads are overwhelming, in a state of bad stress, even the little things start to affect us and make us feel paralyzed–procrastination starts and affects an employee’s overall performance. This type of constant stress leads to burnout.

Stress has a domino effect, too. If mismanaged or left unaddressed, it will spread to others, decreasing team and employee morale, increasing conflict, and impacting the entire dynamic of the team.


Spot the Signs of Stress

The good news is that you can help ensure your employees manage their stress levels appropriately by paying attention to their:

  • Career well-being: Are your employees motivated and excited by what they are doing? Do their job duties align with their motivational needs?
  • Social well-being: Are your employees getting along and working well as a team? Do they understand one another, and is workplace or personality conflict limited? 
  • Physical well-being: Do your employees have the energy to do their job effectively, or are they on the verge of burnout? Are they frequently missing work or calling out sick?

According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Wellbeing survey, 26% of workers noted a lack of interest, motivation, or energy, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and 44% noted high levels of physical fatigue. Everyone reacts differently to prolonged periods of stress, so symptoms and coping styles vary.  What one employee needs may put another into stress mode. Let’s look at an example.

Michael has a need for time to reflect on his responsibilities and activities. He wants to think things through while looking at all possibilities or consequences before making a decision. If Michael’s manager does not recognize his need and puts pressure on him to constantly make quick decisions, Michael will easily enter (and remain) in his stress mode.

Now Lauren on the other hand, is the complete opposite. She generally does not need a lot of time to process information before she makes a decision. Because she is action-oriented, she wants to make quick decisions and prefers to see issues in terms of black and white. If Lauren’s manager requires her to constantly deal with uncertainty and ambiguity in her decision-making, Lauren will find herself in a constant state of stress.

Looking at Michael, you’d never know he has a need for a reflective approach. And, looking at Lauren, you’d never know she needs to make quick decisions to feel productive. This is why it’s so important to understand and meet your employees’ needs. If you don’t, they’ll continue to be stressed–and on the path to being a burnt-out employee. 

As a general rule, keep a look out for indicators of employee burnout as tell-tale warning signs of potential burnout in your employees so that you’re able to step in before it’s too late:

  • Reduced performance: Has their efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of work deteriorated?
  • Reduced productivity: Are your employees showing signs of procrastination, frustration, or perhaps losing their sense of purpose? Has conflict within the team increased?
  • Withdrawal: Are energy levels depleted? Do your employees look exhausted, or are their levels of engagement decreased, or have they become disconnected from work?


Proactive Steps to Address Employee Well-being

As a leader, it’s critical to understand the common signs and stress triggers for your team members and take steps to address and support employee mental and physical well-being, but also help them get their needs met. In this way, you’ll help them manage their stress better, improve employee engagement and experience, maintain the entire team cohesion, and engage in employee burnout prevention. 

At Birkman, we know that stress reactions are a window to our needs, and it’s when these needs go unmet that stress starts to fester. Birkman Signature helps leaders identify what each employee needs to perform at their optimal level, ways to recognize when employees are stressed, and how best to get them back to their behavioral sweet spot. Connect with one of our experts to learn more.

Find out how to recognize the signs and take preventative measures to combat employee burnout by reading our top tips here.

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