Mental Health in the Office: How to Avoid Employee Burnout

4 min read

Historically, mental health in general has been largely ignored. However, in the last couple of decades, the focus has shifted. Many people are acutely aware of their mental health and take measures to preserve it. As work life can be one of the primary stressors, employers are also taking note of their employees’ mental health and taking steps to avoid any degeneration or burnout. 

Michael Douglas provided a perfect example of what the extreme of this might look like in Falling Down. If the proper mental health facilities had been available to Michael at the time, he probably wouldn’t have gone on his rampage. Not every stressed-out employee is going to end up being pursued by the police, of course, but it’s important for both employers and employees to make mental wellbeing a priority in the workplace. So here’s how to avoid employee burnout. 

via Giphy: What’s wrong, Mike, is that you didn’t have adequate mental health support in your workplace.

The Importance of Good Mental Health

How do you stay mentally healthy at work? It’s not the easiest question to answer. Jobs consume much of our waking lives (and for a lot of people, much of their un-waking lives as well). But the importance of striking a good work/life balance cannot be understated. Facilitating employees’ mental health is not only a moral responsibility for a manager, but a practical one too. When your employees are happy in themselves, they perform better. They’re far more useful to you than tired, overworked, and miserable employees.

Poor mental health can take many forms, and sometimes it can be hard to notice when someone is slipping, even to the person themselves. The general term for poor performance and personal problems stemming from stress at work is employee burnout. It’s likely you’ve heard this term before, but what exactly is it?

What Is Employee Burnout?

Burnout strikes employees when they have exhausted their physical or mental strengths, or both. This usually occurs at the end of a long period of time, as stresses and frustrations build up incrementally. Sometimes, the cause can be the work environment, but other times it can be more a personal thing, where people fail to meet predefined expectations of themselves. 

The thing that finally triggers true burnout can be something small; in Michael’s case, it was that the air conditioning in his car was busted. This might seem like a small issue, but when it’s on top of many other things, it produces a snowball effect. Burnout can strike at any time, and can have several tangible results, including indifference towards work, exhaustion, absenteeism, and constant irritability.

What Are the Five Stages of Burnout?

Employees suffering from burnout can be costly as well as demoralizing for the rest of your team. Knowing when to recognize burnout is key to avoiding it. Although it manifests differently in everyone, there are five loose stages that have been observed in a large number of cases.

Stage 1

When we first take on a task, we usually experience high levels of enthusiasm and fulfilment, and consequently, productivity. But in the first phase of burnout, an employee may start to feel the first twinges of stress, acting as a precursor of what’s to come. Keeping these feelings at bay at this point will allow the employee to continuously enjoy their job.

Stage 2

In the second phase, the stress starts becoming more prevalent, and people may find that some days are far more difficult than others. Pessimism might also start to set in, affecting an employee’s life outside of work. 

Stage 3

The third phase is marked with a definitive change in stress levels, as the condition becomes chronic. Now, every day will seem like a challenge, and optimism and work fulfilment will be crashing towards zero. 

Stage 4

The fourth stage can be described as entering burnout itself; this is where symptoms become critical, and this stage is often what people talk about when they reference burnout. It’s the stage you want yourself and your employees to avoid at all costs.

Stage 5

The fifth stage is the habitual burnout. This occurs when the burnout becomes so wrapped up in a person’s life that it starts to define them. Professional intervention is critical at this stage.

via Giphy: People don’t burn out in the same dramatic manner as cars, but the effects can be just as debilitating.

How to Avoid Employee Burnout in the Office

Fortunately, there are a number of measures you can take to avoid your employees reaching that final, critical stage. The first useful thing you can do is monitor the workload of each of your employees, to ensure they’re keeping on schedule and managing their assigned tasks.

In Productive, you get regular reports about your employees (like Actual utilization by people),which enable you to keep track of each individual person. If someone starts slipping behind, these reports should allow you to catch any danger signals before it becomes a full-blown problem.

A lack of appreciation and recognition can be a mitigating factor when it comes to burnout. Don’t forget to praise your employees if they’ve done a good job, or commend them on their work ethic if you notice them keeping up a high standard.

Streamlining projects can also help reduce frustration among your workforce. In Productive you can get a clear overview of ongoing projects and cut out any middle-management, or needless layers of approval. This will help your employees feel like they’re achieving goals quicker, and not getting bogged down in repetition. 

Finally, consider physical variables. If there are any changes to the workplace environment that will help your employees maintain focus and optimism, bear them in mind. Also, encourage your team to take their annual leave at regular intervals. 

Lastly, don’t hire Michael Douglas. 

Sign up to our newsletter
Keep up to date with Productive updates and features