The Signs of Employee Burnout and How You Can Help
20 February 2023
We’ve heard the term “burnout” more times than we can count. But why? And what can we do about it?
In this post, we'll look at the signs to help you decide if the people you work with need a little extra attention or care to stay motivated and productive and share some suggestions on how you can help.
Employee stress is at an all-time high
Employee stress is at all-time highs, which is especially troubling given the previous high was at the start of the global pandemic.
Taking a step back, this consistent, rising, and now peaking state of stress is concerning but not altogether unexpected. Since the beginning of COVID, we have dealt with a global pandemic and lifestyle disruption. Now, we are navigating different stressors stemming from the dynamics of hybrid work, concerns of job security, never-ending workloads, and external factors like family pressures or even political or social current events.
As we continue to navigate what life throws at us, one key factor that makes stress worse is lack of sleep.
Before COVID, 68% of Americans struggled to sleep each week. Studies now estimate that number is 86%. Even more troubling, from an internal survey of Chorus community members, work stress was the number one factor disrupting people's sleep.
And regardless if you have a team of ten or thousands, the signs of employee distress can weigh heavily on company morale.
So, how can you tell if you and your teams are feeling the pressure? Here are some key signs to look for:
- Lack of engagement: With quiet quitting on the rise, don't assume this is a fad — try to understand what may be contributing to your employees feeling resigned and disinterested, as this may be a sign they are overwhelmed.
- Low productivity: Don't mistake low productivity for lack of motivation—it could signify that your staff is spread too thin and struggling to complete tasks effectively.
- Rising tension: Pay attention to any tensions or conflicts in your workplace, as these could indicate employees feeling the strain.
- Negative feedback: When employees start responding negatively or snapping at customers or colleagues, it could indicate they need an outlet for their stress.
- High absenteeism: If people are taking more days off than usual, consider the possibility that they might be too burned out to come in.
If any of these signs seem familiar to you, it's time to take action—before things become unmanageable.
How sleep makes burnout worse
You may think that sleep can offset the effects of stress, but it can actually work the other way around. When your employees don’t get enough sleep, their body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol, which exacerbates physical and psychological symptoms of stress.
To date, most companies have focused on support related to exercise and time off, and while some of the more forward-thinking organizations prioritized mental health through access to therapy, we see through these national statistics that more is needed.
Thankfully, with the rise in research on Sleep Leadership and the ability of sleep programs to control healthcare costs and improve productivity, more employers are now supporting their teams’ sleep.
Companies like Asana, Zappos, and Aetna are focusing on sleep as a critical foundation to improve workplace outcomes.
How to Recognize Signs of Employee Fatigue
Chances are, you have noticed some changes in your employees’ attitudes and behaviors – but are you aware of what causes these signs of fatigue? When employees are feeling overwhelmed, they tend to manifest that in their behavior.
Changes to their work
You may notice a change in the typical work of your employees. For example, they might start forgetting seemingly small tasks or make attention-to-detail mistakes. For higher-order projects or where a manager is affected, you may notice them being less influential, less collaborative, and even less equipped with creative solutions.
Communication patterns with colleagues and supervisors can also be a strong signal of fatigue and stress. For example, folks could become more negative in conversations or have difficulty staying engaged during productive discussions. As you can imagine, these implications stretch across all company projects and interactions, thereby potentially having massive effects.
When it comes to emotional responses, you may see increased levels of anxiety or tension among the team, or notice when someone becomes easily frustrated or angry. Even reactions to simple tasks like answering emails or phone calls can turn more negative when sleep-deprived or spread thin.
Short and long-term, you may also notice signs of physical health deterioration. Sleep-deprived folks become more prone to illness, and sleep deprivation often comes with unhealthy changes in eating / drinking / smoking habits. Employees with sleep challenges may also rely on pharmaceuticals and medical treatment more frequently, which, together with increased illness and other health challenges, are why sleep-deprived employees have higher healthcare costs than their well-rested counterparts. Thankfully, sleep programs like Chorus have been shown to reduce annual healthcare costs by $1,700 per employee.
Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits
Getting quality sleep is essential to managing employee stress and work effectiveness. Poor sleep habits can not only lead to physical and mental fatigue but can also contribute to organizational implications like lack of engagement, collaboration, and poor leadership.
If you've noticed any of your team members are often exhausted during the day, it's a sign they may feel sluggish due to stress-related issues and need extra support to cope.
Here are some simple tips you and your managers can implement to help employees establish healthy sleep habits: \
- Lead by example. Instructing your teams to get more sleep will mean little if you're regularly pinging after midnight.
- Ask teammates if they identify as a "morning lark" or "night owl." Morning larks typically do their best work earlier in the morning and get tired later in the day. Night owls prefer later in the day and are not at their best early in the morning.
- Avoid early morning or late evening meetings for folks who do their best work at different times of the day.
- Invest in sleep improvement apps or your organization. There are lots of “sleep trackers” on the market, but instead, look for specific features to get the most out of your investment. Research shows that when you only track sleep and don't offer areas for improvement, you don’t improve sleep. Instead, provide your employees with sleep improvement apps that both track their sleep patterns and teach them how to improve their sleep.
For more advice on how to promote better sleep in the workplace, see our forthcoming playbook: "Better sleep means better leaders: A research-backed playbook," created in partnership with The Work Innovation Lab by Asana.
The Benefits of Implementing Wellbeing Initiatives
The effects of high burnout and fatigue levels on your employees aren’t to be ignored—which is why it’s essential to make changes as soon as possible. One of the most effective ways to do that is by implementing wellbeing initiatives throughout your organization.
Studies show that 70% of employees who enroll in these programs see such programs as proof their organization values them. Employees participating in employer health programs also report higher job satisfaction and retention.
Plus, incorporating sleep into your wellness program is another tool to help employees clock the sleep they need to enjoy and do their best work.
In summary, employee wellbeing is not something to be taken lightly. Fatigue and burnout can have serious long-term consequences, including mental health issues, physical health issues, and decreased job performance. Therefore, it's essential to equip managers with the training, resources, and support they need to recognize and address stress in their team as soon as possible.
🧩 If you're an HR or business leader interested in learning more about supporting your organization in this way, please reach out!