You just went off the call with yet another person complaining about the team member. They’re irritable, take ages to respond to messages, and their work quality is not up to par anymore.
Before considering improvement plans or even termination, it’s worth finding out if the employee is burned out instead of being just disinterested or not fit for the job.
You may think it doesn’t make a difference to you as you have to take care of the team’s performance first. But that’s precisely the reason why you should know the answer.
1. You may avoid losing a great employee.
There’re many reasons for underperformance: from being unfit for the job to ill will, personal issues, health problems, to burnout.
Burned-out people want to perform well, but mounting stress and exhaustion make it hard or impossible. Therefore, without addressing their burnout, all action or improvement plans may not be effective. By adding pressure, they’ll only make the situation worse. The solution is to have a conversation first.
Burnout is not forever, and if they have a history of good performance, they may want to stay in the role where there can achieve again after some modifications. Also, if they need a break to recover, you may keep a great employee who’ll come back to you, as was treated with respect. Even if you decide to part ways with them or they choose to go, they’ll remember your professionalism and human approach, and that’ll help in their recovery.
2. Maybe you are the cause – prevent it from happening again.
Burnout may have its causes in a heavy workload or changes in personal life, but often it’s because of a manager’s behavior. Perhaps it’s your leadership style (e.g., micromanaging, problems with delegation), over or under communication, or ineffective project planning that causes problems. Knowing and understanding them will give you a chance to improve yourself as a leader and prevent losing more employees in the future.
You owe your team to facilitate their work instead of making it complicated. It’s humbling to admit that our behavior (often well-intended) may influence others in a harmful way, but this realization will help you. Being a leader can sometimes mean facing uncomfortable situations, feelings, and failures.
Swallowing the bitter pill can make you grow and become a more human and effective manager at the same time.
3. You’ll avoid team spirit deterioration.
Having an underperformer (whether it’s a burned-out person or not) is problematic for your team. They may be forced to pick up the slack and become discouraged and angry that nothing is done to change it. It may tempt you to make a decision fast.
At the same time, they’re observing your reaction.
Being professional and responsible still allows you to show a gentle approach to your employee by not assuming an ill will, but showing a willingness to hear them out before forming assumptions. Your team members seeing that you treat the underperformer fairly, By seeing firsthand that they’ll be able to count on it if they have a similar issue in the future, they will trust you more.
4. You can make changes that actually work instead of giving wellness perks that don’t make a difference.
It’s worth listening to the burned-out person very closely about what they have to say about the influence of the work environment on their state. If done well, it can be priceless to you and your company and become a catalyst for a team-wide discussion regarding their needs.
Usually, employees care more about having pleasant and productive working relationships than free fruits in the office kitchen, designer chairs, or Happy Hour on Zoom every Friday. Talking to them, you’ll know about easy and practical changes that you could implement fast, e.g., status checks that are less or more frequent or meeting-free afternoons a few times a week.
Also, if you encourage productive conversations about burnout, perhaps you’ll be able to spot its signs in your employees before it shows as a quality decrease. Or your team will actively signal the needed changes in the work system which will prevent the performance drop and bad atmosphere in the first place.
5. You can improve team performance too.
The fact that just one of the employees shows significant signs of burnout doesn’t mean that the rest is free of it. Burnout comes in many stages, and not all are clearly visible. Also, the fact that your people aren’t burned out yet doesn’t mean that they work in an optimal environment.
Implementing the changes mentioned above can not only help with their well-being but also facilitate teamwork and bring them more satisfaction.
6. It’ll help you feel more human.
Knowing the reasons for the underperformance of your employee will give you a chance to gain understanding and empathy. That will help you process the situation and overcome your feelings of resentment, disappointment, or stress created by this doubtlessly challenging event.
As a manager, you’re susceptible to burnout as well, and taking care of your own mental state is as important as taking care of your team.
Note: The article was originally published on Entrepreneur: Are Your Employees Burned Out? 6 Reasons Why You Should Know the Answer as a Manager (entrepreneur.com)