3 warning signs of team burnout and how to fix it

Burnout hurts not only employees but also customers – and it's a team leader's job to address it. Here's how to spot the signs and fix the underlying issues
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A recent study by Gallup found that 23 percent of employees surveyed felt burned out most of the time, while an additional 44 percent said they felt burned out sometimes. Recently, the World Health Organization officially named burnout an occupational phenomenon and syndrome.

Stats for the tech industry are even worse. A 2018 survey by Blind, a social workplace app for tech employees, asked more than 11,000 users a single question: “Are you currently suffering from job burnout?” More than 57 percent of respondents answered “yes.” This is not OK.

More than half of tech employees are suffering from burnout. This is not OK.

Burnout is bad for business. It can lead to high turnover rates and a lack of innovation, which are expensive and take away valuable time from your business. Moreover, having healthy employees – physically, mentally, professionally, spiritually – is good for business and teamwork.

[ Read also: Teaching an elephant to dance - a free eBook on leading teams through the six stages of digital transformation. ]

As a leader, you should take action before burnout impacts your team. Leaders are responsible for 70 percent of workplace engagement, according to workplace management expert Ben Wigert. The difference between a burned-out team and an engaged one is in the hands of the business leader.

Signs of team burnout

But what does burnout look like? And what can you do about it? A burned-out team will usually exhibit three signs, according to Muse:

  • a decrease in work quality
  • an increase in complaining
  • disengagement

As a leader, how will you spot these signs? And what can you do to prevent burnout in your team? Here are some tips:

1. A decrease in work quality

Missing key deadlines, handling clients poorly, and substandard work are all signs of a team in need of a break or some help. If typically consistent employees start dropping the ball, it’s time to investigate.

How to fix it

From a budgeting perspective, a decrease in work quality means unhappy clients and a decrease in cash flow. Delivering a high-quality product to your clients should always be a top priority. If you notice a decrease in the standard of your team’s work, look first to their workload. You may have given your team an unmanageable amount of work.

Giving your employees too much work is tempting. But not being able to complete tasks will wreck your employees’ confidence in their ability to get the job done to standard. In some cases, it may prevent the task from being done at all. Speak with your team about their workload, and try to come up with manageable solutions, such as:

  • Employing additional help with very large projects
  • Establishing a longer “lead time,” allowing employees more time to complete tasks

If these tactics don’t work, consider scaling back the workload. More work means nothing if it is of low quality.

[ Do you make thoughtful decisions? Read also: 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide. ]

2. Complaining and poor client interaction

A team suffering from burnout complains about not being able to finish projects on time or puts off communicating with clients on a regular basis.

How to fix it

When a team is complaining, the first thing that leaders should do is consider whether they are working to their strengths. Employees who are feeling burnout have 13 percent lower confidence in their performance and are half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager, according to the Gallup survey.

For many employees, simply "feeling" that they are good at a task makes them more efficient.

Managers and team leaders should consider the strengths of these apparently unhappy employees and try to give them tasks that they’ll truly enjoy completing. If no tasks come to mind, ask the employee (or employees) what part of their job they enjoy the most; reassign tasks accordingly. For many employees, simply “feeling” that they are good at a task makes them more efficient, meaning that assigning more of a specific type of work makes your budget go further with each employee.

[ How does your EQ stack up? Read also: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ]

3. Disengagement

By the same token, teams coming to work unexcited and disengaged (when they were previously coming to work ready to tackle any task) could be suffering from burnout. A disconnected employee or team makes themselves an island, so you’ll see them at their desks, making their contributions to the business disjointedly, which can cost your business thousands of dollars.

How to fix it

If your team is disengaged, they won’t be innovative. Lack of innovation usually comes down to budget. Budget constraints have long been the stumbling block to truly agile organizations. Look at ways to reduce your budget inputs and maximize outputs, such as:

  • Outsource non-essential tasks to remote employees.
  • Alter employee healthcare packages, or offer other lifestyle benefits. 
  • Offer unpaid vacation to non-essential staff.
  • Replace the company retreat with a company innovation day, encouraging team members to bring their best ideas to the table.

Burnout is bad for business. But with careful leadership, it’s possible to turn things around.

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst. ]

Kassie Rangel is the senior director of IT for HealthMarkets, one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the United States.