How to identify burnout
A guide for managers
How are people doing in your team? Do you feel that you have a good level of work engagement, a well-functioning work community, and a good work environment? They are key to maintaining good work ability. What if this is not the case for you, and instead you notice or suspect that someone or more than one member in your team is not feeling good. How should you act as a manager? What are you allowed to do?
This page provides information for managers about the early support model and about how to identify an employee in need of support. At the end, you will find an evaluation tool, which you can use to help you gauge the mental well-being of your team members.
Download the contents of this page as pdf:nä, since the page is long and contains valuable information for your use!
Early support model
The early support model seeks to prevent challenges of stress management and mental well-being. In other words, the aim is to prevent everyday challenges from escalating into crises.
When the early support model is widely used within an organization or company, it ensures that everyone in the workplace commits to the key elements of good work ability. However, sometimes an employee can become overwhelmed and exhausted before anyone in the workplace has a chance to notice the first signs of how they are feeling. Some factors that can contribute to these situations forming are a busy lifestyle, remote work, and how hard it can be to talk about challenging situations in life.
The one to notice and bring up that someone’s work ability needs support can be anyone, for example, it can be the employee, their manager or the manager of a different team, a co-worker, occupational safety, or occupational healthcare. Most often, solutions are found in the workplace in an early support conversation between the manager and the employee. If it’s found out in the conversation that the challenges of work or work ability the employee is facing are related to the employee’s health, the expertise of occupational health care will be utilized.
The employee has the right to make the initiative that their work ability is assessed, but the manager can also send the employee to the assessment, and occupational health care can invite someone to be assessed. In addition to the assessment, the aim naturally is to promote the employee’s work ability. Work ability and stress management of the employee can be promoted and supported in many different ways; if the problems the employee is facing are thought to be related to other than physical health-related factors (more on these further ahead).
Houston, do we have a problem?
What if there seem to be no problems related to the health, skills, or job description of an employee, or work community as a whole, but you still suspect or hear that an employee is not feeling well mentally? They are stressed, suffer from insomnia, feel that they have lost work engagement or the direction of their career? Unfortunate things that happen in personal life also affect well-being at work. On these matters, an employee may not say a word to their co-workers or manager.
As a manager, team leader, or line manager, you are not immune to work-related stress. As a manager, you must also take care of your mental well-being to be able to function effectively and support your team. Being a leader can be lonely at times, and you may not have anyone in your workplace to discuss and solve things that come up as equals.
Whether it is problems related to physical health or mental well-being, things shouldn’t be allowed to escalate so far that sick leave is already around the corner. The aim should be to detect and fix situations well before that. Occupational health care is the right way to go if it is a health-related issue that affects work ability. Occupational health care offers help also to mental well-being-related challenges, but there are lower-threshold services for early intervention, such as Auntie packages.
Do you recognize the following types and cases from your work community?
You find yourself being worried about Mary. Something is wrong, but what is it? Could she be having problems in her relationship, or perhaps she is struggling with a game addiction? How should I know when I don’t dare to ask.
John used to be so happy and jovial before, but now he is withdrawn, irritable and downright rude. Why?
Nina seems to be having difficulty concentrating, she is absent-minded and often forgets what we agreed on. What is going on in her life?
Nick spends far too much time at work, he often sends emails late at night and even on weekends. The workload he has should be appropriate, so why?
Jack nowadays seems to have lost his motivation, is indifferent and careless, and neglects his work. He’s not thinking about changing jobs, is he? Could it be better if he was thinking about it?
Why did I again have to point out to Emma the decline in her work performance and the poor quality of her work?
Based on what he has said, Johnny seems to be partying quite a lot, and hangover Monday mornings are starting to be no exception. Does he have problems with alcohol use?
Anna was late again. Soon it will be more of a rule than an exception. What is delaying her?
If you felt a sense of familiarity, maybe it’s time to start an early support discussion.
From stress to burnout
When an employee begins to feel inadequate, unable to cope with their workload and the expectations placed on them, stress levels begin to rise. Sometimes it is simply a matter of demands or conditions of the job, but it is also the employees’ abilities and characteristics that determine how well they manage in a stressful situation. A long-lasting stressful situation is always detrimental to well-being and resilience.
In most developed countries, occupational health and safety risks must be assessed based on legislation, for example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002) is the one in Finland. At worst, prolonged stress leads to burnout. People run out of resources to deal with stress and their life situation, and as a result, well-being at work collapses, occupational safety may be endangered, and health hazards may increase.
According to Duodecim, The Finnish Medical Society, “Working conditions associated with burnout are characterized by excessive demands at work (e.g., conflicting goals or constant time pressure) combined with limited resources (e.g., the flexibility of work or managerial support). Factors strongly linked to the development of burnout include: excessive workload, roles and responsibilities in conflict and unclear, limited opportunities to affect how you work (working hours for example), low social support, perceived injustice, and instability and unpredictability of work.”
This article from National Health Service UK provides further information on signs and symptoms of burnout: https://people.nhs.uk/executivesuite/support-in-difficult-times/stress-and-burnout/
Identifying and preventing burnout
Could a member of your team be suffering from burnout? Can you spot them?
They might be one of these types:
- They set the bar high and strive for perfection and success. Everything possible has certainly been done. All the t’s are crossed and all the i’s are dotted.
- They are very committed to their work and the company. They sometimes send emails at weird hours, and their hand is first to rise if a volunteer is needed.
- They think along the line of: “Who is going to take care of the work if it’s not me?” Sense of duty at its peak.
- Their motto is “impossible is done right away, miracles take a little more time”. And they do seek to perform miracles, even when conditions are dire and the likelihood of success is minimal.
- When a problem arises in the work community (and why would it not – see previous points), the person’s ability to resolve conflicts is limited.
What does being burnout look and feel like in the workplace?
- You feel tired, it’s visible to others, and is not due to any short demanding period at work, but it is constant. Rest does not help, and you feel like you need some time even right after a holiday. You are frequently sick with either flu or stomach aches, and you have head and neck aches seemingly at all times.
- A “whatever” attitude is becoming more common, cynical and bitter comments and general complaining as well. Work feels meaningless. You get the feeling of injustice in your work like your work and skills are not appreciated.
- Social contacts in the workplace decrease. It’s hard to be social with burnout, and you often avoid going to the coffee room and situations where you have to socialize with your colleagues.
- It is hard to concentrate when suffering from burnout, you make more mistakes and you’re quick to snap at your co-workers. You start to forget things and new information just doesn’t sink in. Accidents at work can also be the result of burnout.
- It can feel like no matter how much you put your head down and work, you don’t get results. Or at least it seems that you are not achieving the same results your co-workers are. With burnout, you begin to question your skills and can develop a feeling of inadequacy and inability.
Symptoms can also be signs of more severe depression or other illnesses. If discussion and the availability of low threshold aid do not help, you should promptly contact health care.
How can the situation be prevented or dealt with?
One-to-one, development discussion, corridor discussion, walking meeting, coffee moment – whatever it may be, the main thing is that you talk to your team members regularly. Evaluate together how work is going and how it can be improved.
It is important that the company is using the early support model. It lists alarm signs and instructions for what to do in situations where an employee’s work ability is threatened. Early intervention is, for example, Auntie’s low-threshold psychological conversational support. It is a great option without worries about getting an initial diagnosis or about getting a record in personal health care records.
Workplace well-being can be one of your areas of expertise. Actively work with your HR department, occupational health and safety, and occupational health care to maintain and promote mental well-being at your workplace.
Early support discussion
The early support model seeks to prevent the challenges of coping with work and mental well-being. In other words, the aim is to prevent everyday challenges from escalating into crises. The early support model aims to prevent severe burnout at an early stage.
The early support discussion should be held in a place without disruptions or interruptions, and you need to reserve sufficient time for it. When starting the discussion, it is good to first go through why you are now discussing and what has led to this situation, unless the initiative comes from the employee.
Together with the employee, you discuss the motivations, values and attitudes that influence the meaningfulness of work the most. Is the work appropriately challenging, too challenging or not challenging enough? In addition to these, it is important to consider the connection between work and other life, as well as how that connection should look like. In the workplace, it is the manager’s job is to discuss the employee’s work ability. Sometimes, if the situation is challenging and an employee is running low on mental resources, it may be better to seek the expertise of professionals. The discussion needs to be summarized in writing. First, you list the issues that came up and the actions you agree on to take. Agree on which matter is the responsibility of the manager and which of the employee. Agree on when to revisit the matter and agree on concretely what responsibilities both parties will take on.
Evaluation form for the need for early support
In our downloadable guide “How to identify burnout” is an evaluation form which can be used as a support to managerial tasks or together with a team member in the discussions. The form can be used to consider what symptoms of burnout are observable and with whom the early support discussion should be had. The early support model aims at an early stage to prevent burnout from developing. If the situation has already progressed so far that the discussion cannot help, the person should be directed to occupational health care.
Remember that the tool is for you to support your employees’ resilience and well-being. The assessment made with the tool is subjective and only describes the current situation. Information related to the person’s resilience and well-being must always be kept confidential.
Download a guide with an evaluation form for early support discussion needs.
Auntie – When the going gets tough
Auntie is a low-threshold mental well-being service. Auntie provides support for employees suffering from stress, overachieving or lost motivation. Measurable results can be achieved with conceptualised, quick-to-start service packages that are based on online sessions with an Auntie professional. If Auntie would be benificial for your organisation, please contact us or ask your HR department to do so!