Remote team burnout is a real problem that companies can no longer ignore. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized employee burnout as an occupational phenomenon which characterized by three things:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  3. reduced professional efficacy.

When we think of employee burnout, we tend to conclude that it’s about the people’s problems. But we’d be wrong. In the article for Harvard Business Review, Jennifer Moss stated that burnout is a problem with a workplace, not the employee. This means that it’s not necessarily the fault of the workers if they’re having issues. In fact, businesses have to create the right working environment that minimizes extreme anxieties and overwork. The responsibility of managing burnout has shifted from the individuals towards organizations and team leaders should take actions to build a burnout-free strategy. A good place to start is to break down the what, why and how.

What is Employees Burnout?

A CNBC Survey found over 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home. And this incursion is impacting both business productivity as well as the overall health of the workforce.

The term “burnout” originated in the 1970s by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, defined as the loss of motivation, growing sense of emotional depletion and cynicism. Until two years ago (in 2019) WHO described burn out as:

“A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burn out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Even though it is certainly possible for employees to feel burned out in other aspects of their lives, in terms of a medical diagnosis, burnout is a work problem. That is to say, employee burnout is a serious concern for team leaders/managers because a burned out employee means less productivity, less collaboration and less creativity.

We love how Lindsey Braman, a mental health illustrator, explains the burnout. From her, we learn that burnout won’t look like what we expect. It will tell us “I’m not good at this” and “I don’t even enjoy it”. The worst of all, it can cause people to abandon a career instead of seeking rest and support. It can at last dismantle one’s ambition, idealism and sense of worth.

what causes burnout?

Courtesy of Lindsay Braman

Courtesy of Lindsay Braman

Courtesy of Lindsay Braman

We can’t underestimate burnout as merely an emotional response to long hours or a challenging job. There is mounting scientific evidence that shows burnout is not just a state of mind but a condition that leaves its mark on the brain as well as the body.  And stress is not the only cause of burnout; stress alongside inadequate resources does. If the demands of a job outweigh the resources to cope, then burnout is likely. But keep in mind: the voice of burnout is not your voice and it’s strongly suggested to not make career decisions while we are feeling burned out.

How Remote Workers Can Recognize Burnout?

From performance to engagement, all studies show that remote workers are indeed more productive than their office counterparts. However, there are consequences for that extra productivity. Remote workers don’t get the chance to experience workplace bonding.

No commute, no office gossip, no coffee or lunch breaks with coworkers, no happy hour drinks after work and no human interaction which could be something good for the employees to take a break from work. This could be a terrible combination if employees are prone to burnout. They will end up pushing themselves harder than they should since there’s nobody around to notice that they could use a break.

We know that advanced technology is making remote teams more productive and efficient in collaborating with others but we also have to understand that the human body is not a machine.

“Routers, servers, fiber-optic cables, processors and RAM don’t experience burnout, but people do – Nermin Hajdarbegovic, Technical Editor”

It’s a green light that businesses are aware and talk openly about employee burnout so it’s easier to recognize the signs. One of the clearest symptoms of burnout is a major shift in behavior. Leaders take notes: it’s on you to be alert of these signs as you’re the one who knows the most about your employees.

According to Dr. Ballard who is the head of the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, these are some signs employee may be experiencing burnout:

  • Feel Tired All The Time 😴

A clear sign of burnout is when someone feels tired all the time, either emotionally, mentally or physically. It’s like your energy is drained and just being completely spent.

  • No Motivation For Work 😐

There’s a good chance someone is experiencing burnout if they no longer have that self motivation for their work or don’t feel enthusiastic about anything anymore. For example, it may be harder to get up to work. Instead, it seems better to use more sick time off than average.

  • Too Much Negativity 😡

While everybody experiences some negative emotions from time to time, it’s important to know when these are becoming unusual. If someone feels like what they’re doing doesn’t matter that much anymore, or you might notice that your employees might look more pessimistic than they used to, it could be a sign that they’ve reached a point of burnout.

  • Poor Job Performance 😞

Missing deadlines, low concentrations, stop sharing ideas, lack of excitement about accomplishments could be signs that someone is overwhelmed or overworked. Burnout tends to happen over an extended period of time, try to compare your employee job performance now to their performance in previous years. It helps you to find out the state of burnout they’re in, whether it’s mild or more chronic burnout.

  • Monotonous Work 😑

If employees are not getting training or developing, they have nothing to look forward to and may feel trapped.

  • High Turnover ⬆️

Other than costing companies millions, according to Gallup, high turnover is also a sign of burnout. If employee turnover is at higher rates than normal, it could indicate an underlying issue.

  • Verbal Language 🗣

Notice for an increase in complaints and cynical remarks. Also, pay attention to how people respond if you brief them to take on additional work. Do they want to take on more work or just don’t know how to say “no”?

These are questions to ask to your employee if you notice some of the above signs:

  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

If the answers are mostly yes, your employee may experience job burnout.

The Root Causes of Burnout

From Gallup’s perspective on Employees Burnout, we learn that addressing the root causes of burnout can help team leaders to prevent the problems and create a culture where employees can do their best work with less risk of burnout.

  • Disorganized Workload

Organizing a heavy workload is difficult if there are unrealistic expectations and unclear priorities. And unfortunately , these poor management skills can quickly result in employee burnout. Even high-performing employees can feel hopeless when they’re struggling with a disorganized workload. Overwork can take many forms; sometimes it’s about the work hours while others are more affected by the quantity of the task or the difficulty of the work.

“The number of hours people work each week does matter, with burnout risk increasing greatly when employees exceed an average of 50hours per week and escalating more substantially at 60hours per week – Gallup”

On the other side, how employees experience workload has a stronger impact on burnout. For example, employees who perform in manageable workloads and also have job flexibility tend to work more hours each week than the average employee but still report higher wellbeing. In this case, team leaders have a crucial role in determining what employees can and can’t achieve, including being the advocates when the workload feels out of control.

To help balance team workload, set clear priorities and goals for team members at the start of the week. Get them to highlight at least one point of focus for that week and no more than three. It’s important to always be realistic. Some projects take longer than expected and it’s impossible for people to succeed at absolutely everything.

  • Poor Sense of Community

Community is the lifeblood of a successful organization and it’s only natural to want to be at a workplace that feels inspiring, positive and supportive. The happiest modern workplaces are the ones that offer employees opportunity to build community with their teammates. However, if

Companies are lacking a sense of community, they are more likely to see high turnover rates, low employee morale and employee burnout.

“People thrive in community and function best when they share praise, comfort, happiness, and humour with people they like and respect – Christina Maslach Social Psychologist”

When team leaders are promoting a sense of community in the workplace, it means they also take initial efforts to prevent employees burnout. We understand that the process may take time but to get the process started, team leaders must get to know their employees and lead by examples. Here’s the thing, you can’t expect to build community without an effort to get to know people. Remember that, communities exist because of people. Show that you care, especially at a time when people are feeling more disconnected.

  • Unclear Communication in The Workplace

Work can easily become difficult and frustrating when team leaders/managers don’t provide employees with the information they need to do their job effectively. It’s important for you as team leaders to explain your role, expectations, partnerships, processes and the impact of the employee’s work. When expectations and responsibility are not clear, employees can become frustrated and exhausted just by trying to figure out what their employer wants from them.

Great team leaders make a habit of discussing responsibilities, performance goals and priorities with their employees. And the most important part is they also collaborate with their team members to assure that expectations are clear and aligned with team goals. Furthermore, team leaders should proactively share information, ask questions, and encourage employees to share thoughts and feedback.

  • Unreasonable Time Pressure

Each employee handles time pressure differently. Employees who are fit for a role, tend to work more efficiently and perform better for longer periods. They also have more positive daily work experiences and handle stress well. In contrast, stress is more likely to happen if you ask employees to repeatedly do something they’re not good at. When these employees are faced with such responsibility, they might feel that there is unreasonable time pressure because they do not know how long it takes to deliver high quality work. Therefore, it is your responsibility as team leaders to ensure that your employee’s role expectations and performance standards are fair. Last but not least, when your team members are willing to work overtime or accomplish tasks under tight deadlines, recognize their efforts and show appreciation.

Best Practices to Avoid and Combat Burnout in Your Virtual Teams

By having a supportive and empathetic manager, a burned out employee can get the help they need and get back on the right track.

  • Listen to Them

Not only listening builds a broader sense of trust and community, it also shows respect for the people you work with. It indicates that you care about others and what they have to say. Listening is a powerful tool for improving relationships at work. When you are a good listener, people will tend to listen more carefully to you as well.

What to practice: Start a real conversation. Ask your employee how they’re feeling and involve them in your decision-making. This will make any burned out employee feel appreciated and it brings back their sense of self-worth. Encouraging openness and transparency will result in a culture of listening that ensures employees feel heard and matters.

  • Empower Employees to Take Relaxation Seriously

Here’s what you need to believe: employees who relax and take things purposely are less likely to experience burnout. In remote work settings, the line between professional and personal lives can get blurry. Sometimes our mind is always on work and it can be easy for us to lose sight of the need for relaxation. This is where team leaders should help employees realize that their peace and mental health are just as important as the valuable work they do.

What to practice: The effective way to promote time off is to help employees build systems that don’t rely on them having to be there every day, they are more likely to be away. The reason many employees don’t like to take time off is because they don’t feel confident they can leave without things going to rack and ruin.

Let Employees Give Feedback

Good leaders don’t just give feedback but ask for it too. When employees are consistently receiving the feedback, they don’t really get to practice talking to their team leaders or each other with sincerity. Not only does it enriches the work relationship, letting employees give feedback also gives them an opportunity to realise that their honest feedback is useful and constructive.

What to practice: The moment your employee provides feedback can be a good time for you to learn why they’re burned out. In doing so, you will know what to do to reduce the burnout. Plus, employees who get asked for feedback appreciate their leaders are open to growth and change.

Revisit Your Tasks Delegation

When you’re identifying employee burnout, always contemplate the possibility that it may be something they cannot correct by themselves. You might actually have to rework your task assignments so that your employees are not buried under a pile of work. This way, you’re not just focusing on how the employee can change but to what you can change as well.

What to practice: Consider to take out the tasks that are not recorded in their official job description. Work with the employee to find ways to redistribute tasks that are pushing the employees to burnout.

Host Virtual Team Building Experience

Virtual team building experience that contains the essence of fun and laughter keeps your virtual team connected. The important part is that it strengthens the work friendships by doing something that is not work related together as a team. By hosting team building experience, you can help drained employees reconnect with friends and even relight their old motivation.

What to practice: You can customize the experience to be more impactful for your team members by infusing the fun with some thematic events that encourage creativity and collaboration. We recommend our engaging growth workshops that create a learning culture to grow together with your team.

Promote Work Life Balance

Lots of time, team leaders expect persistent top performance from their employees on levels that are not work-life balance friendly. The bottom line is,employees deserve time off, especially the ones who have achievable workloads. To minimize the chances of burnout, it’s important  for team leaders to incorporate work-life balance into your company culture.

What to practice: One of the most effective ways to promote healthy work-life balance is to actually teach your employees about it. Offer a webinar on what work-life balance is, why it’s important and different things they can do to achieve it, Educating your employees about work-life balance will give them the tools they need to help themselves.

Set the Standard for Open Communication

If you know your employees on a personal level, it will be easier for you to see when they’re struggling. But this rarely works out well if you don’t set a standard for open communication in your remote culture. Most of the time, employees may feel intimidated or uncomfortable approaching team leaders/managers with personal or work-related problems. In this case, team leaders can proactively set the standards for open communications with your team members.

What to practice: To avoid missing signs of employee burnout, set aside time either weekly or monthly to bond with team members. You might also carry out open-door policy, where employees can drop in and speak with you about whatever is on their mind.

Help Employees Focus on Strengths

Each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses. But when employees do what they do best, they are happier and more engaged. That’s why it’s important to ensure that employees are in roles that magnify their strengths. Contrary, when the employee’s strengths and their role is a mismatch, they become disengaged, less productive and more prone to burnout.

What to practice: Help your employees identify their strengths. One of the easiest ways to tell how and when a person shines simply by looking at their past experiences.

Improving Workplace Wellness

Workplace wellness has altered the way companies think about their business. It refers to maintaining a work environment conducive to the health and well being of all employees and others within it. Surely, there is also an idea that employees themselves can cultivate workplace wellness in their own right. For instance, developing a healthy diet and crucial wellness habits such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation. However, workplace wellness is still needed as the workplace is almost like a second home for most of us. The work environment should be a place where employees can feel comfortable, valued and taken care of. If work is over-demanding, only stress and no “breathing space”, this can lead to  burnout issues.

What to practice: Get some feedback from your employees before you come up with a wellness program plan that works for you and your employees. After implementing your wellness program, ask for feedback and listen to what’s good and what needs to be improved.

Closing Thoughts

Burnout is a real thing to be aware of and talk openly so that we can identify the signs and causes. The best practice to combat burnout is prevention. And the great prevention strategy for burnout is building engagement. Employees who are engaged with their work are better able to cope with the challenges they encounter and thus are more likely to recover from stress.

When employees are supported by empathetic leaders, solid team and healthy work environment, they perform well over the long term. This is beneficial for employees who enjoy healthier, happier lives. And it’s valuable for organizations that seek sustained, long-term productivity, retention and growth. Make wellbeing part of your culture.

How can we help?

At RandomDots, we have been creating fun virtual team building events to overcome employee burnout and build a sense of belonging within corporate teams. From live virtual travel to internal learning communities, we’d love to discuss the perfect solution for your team.

Simply schedule a call below 👇.

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