Employee burnout: what is it and how to predict it?

Written by Bryan Smith

December 2, 2019


Part one of our three part series on reducing and eliminating employee burnout in your company.

As you scroll through social media today, take a look around and see the myriad of posts with the #hustleordie mindset that we see day in and day out. #Bossbabe, #gohardorgohome etc. are memes for a generational workforce built on the 9–9 workday and main lining Gary Vaynerchuk.

On one hand, it’s great that our team members are pushing each other to chase after their own success. On the other hand, we live an environment where we must always be working.

  • The phone never turns off
  • The emails keep flowing
  • And the grind never stops.

But all of this is prompting some pretty large discussions about why this mindset exists and ultimately if it is healthy long term for our team members.

Where is that fine line between hustle and burnout?

How hard can we #grind before we 💣💥?

And is this mindset a recipe for disaster?

So what’s the difference between true burnout and simply #loveyourworklife?

According to social scientists, there are three key symptoms that characterize the condition: exhaustion, feeling cynical and a sense of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment.

And they may not even be the most serious affect. For instance, a 2016 study showed strong links between burnout and depression symptoms, while burnout has also been shown to increase inflammation markers.

While burnout has traditionally been linked with low job engagement, research shows that it’s becoming more and more common among those who are highly engaged with their work — that’s to say, people who genuinely like their jobs and #hustlehard or they mistakenly think that is the only way to advance or maintain the job they love. Another myth is that it requires decades in the workplace before you burnout. A recent McKinsey study revealed that some people are burning out at work as early as their 20s.

So if burnout is happening to younger and younger employees, to people that love their job and has become almost a culture within itself, how do we as managers predict burnout?

Let’s take a look at how professional sport organizations manage burnout and fatigue in top tier athletes.

In professional sport, we looked at overtraining — a physiological response to increased physical and emotional stress in sport — as something that was measurable and predictable. We theorized that by understanding trends in both mental and physical well being, we could predict burnout or injury before it happens.

We used tools such as wellness questionersheart rate variability monitoringblood tests, among other tech to compile data on our athletes. Combining this information with research and on the field performance we were able to make assumptions of an athletes current state of well being and then provide modalities to drive recovery!

It was not uncommon for athletes to be prescribed sauna baths, float tanks and massage as tools to aide recovery. These modalities would be used in conjunction with sports psychology, meditation and journaling to help the athletes state of mind.

Both the athlete and the coach understood that to perform at a high level, they needed to feel their absolute best.

We all shared the same belief that the health of our athletes was the responsibility of the entire organization. It was our job to provide a strategy to improve the athlete, but also, win in a professional sports setting. Recovery and health management was part of that winning strategy.

Do you have a winning recovery strategy?

Gaining a better understanding of the health and happiness of our team helps everyone. We become more empathic leaders in the processes we use to manager our people, while at the same time, we better understand the “cost” of growing and scaling an organization. Winning cultures know that their employees are an organizations main growth lever, and creating an environment where people can thrive is paramount. Helping our employees reduce the chance of burnout can both reduce time missed, decrease the risk of depression and increase productivity.

Much like my experience in professional sport, is was managements responsibility to understand the mindset and overall motivation of the team. It was our job to decide the level of effort at practice, know when to dial it back and when to just call it a day. Much like it is your responsibility to schedule a team building event or call a half day if the team needs it.

So let me ask you?

  • Do you know if your team is fatigued?
  • Are you aware of the cost of the last product release and those 18 hour days?
  • Do you think that your team is growing at the highest possible rate?
  • And even if you did, what would you do about it?

Burnout and fatigue are very subjective things and can present themselves differently in each person. While one individual might become irritable and somewhat withdrawn, the other person might decide to change roles or leave the organization entirely.

In the next article we will discuss ways we can use data to better understand the state of our team, and how we can use this data to reduce the chance and hopefully eliminate employee burnout altogether.

Related Articles

How to pick a wellness benefit your employees will love.

How to pick a wellness benefit your employees will love.

    It’s a big commitment to pay for (and manage!) a company wellness program. But as a small or large company, offering a wellness benefit is one of the biggest perks you have when it comes to attracting and hiring talent, employee productivity, and retention.  That...

How much does a wellness benefit cost?

How much does a wellness benefit cost?

      A wellness benefit or perk can have a significant impact on where people decide to work these days. So it comes as no surprise that over 70% of all companies offer some sort of employee wellness benefit today. Cost is a huge consideration when deciding...