I was sitting in a busy downtown coffee shop with Kyle (not his real name) not long ago. Over his cafe’ breve he told me of his ongoing frustration with his work situation and how it seemed to be impacting every area of his life; his sleep, his health, his marriage, his parenting, his sense of being, and his friendships.
Over the course of our conversation, three times Kyle used the word, “burnout” when describing his work. Despite saying he enjoyed the field he was working in, Kyle felt the day to day realities of his job were “killing him”.
And judging by the exhausted look in his baggy eyes, I’m sure he felt “burned out.”
Kyle isn’t alone. Many people face frustration, anxiety, and fatigue in the workplace. But far too often and, fortunately in Kyle’s case, the term is used prematurely.
Feeling “burned out” and truly being “burned out” are two entirely different things. As a leader, it’s important you can recognize which type of burnout your employees are experiencing and what you can do about it.
How you help an employee who is feeling “burned out” is different than one that is actually “burned out”.
How to recognize two types of “Burnout”
When you start seeing an employee begin consistently showing up late for work, their energy levels dip, they become less engaged, or they begin missing deadlines more regularly, they may be experiencing burnout.
Especially when this is out of character for the employee and you’re not sure what has caused this change. It may be time to sit down with them to determine if they are experiencing burnout, and which type they are experiencing.
1. Feeling “Burned Out”
Your employee is displaying many of the symptoms of burnout – loss of enthusiasm, lack of motivation, little sense of accomplishment, irritability, cynicism, fatigue, increased sick days.
You have a one-on-one meeting and describe their change in behavior and mood. They respond to the traditional remedies of rest, reward or reassignment. Returning from a vacation reinvigorated, replenished and reenergized.
In this case they were only feeling “burned out”. In other words, they are on a collision course with burnout, but not there yet. They just needed to refresh themselves to avoid fully burning out.
But when these remedies fail and a person does become burned out, a permanent, irrevocable change occurs.
2. Being “Burned Out”
This occurs when traditional remedies of rest, reward, or reassignment fail. Your employee has become “burned out”, and a permanent, irrevocable change has occurred.
And this permanent change will have drastic effects on their professional and personal life.
For example, if a criminal trial lawyer truly burns out she will never go in to a courtroom again. She may continue to practice law but will go in a different direction: corporate, family, patent, real estate or any other but not criminal trial before a judge and jury.
She will have been transformed by the burnout to the point that judges, fellow attorneys, and even juries will see that she is no longer capable of trying much less winning any case, ever again.
Addressing employee “Burnout”
When your employee is truly “burned out” they may believe they just need to try harder and that the feeling will pass. And your initial reaction may be to believe they just need a vacation, an incentive, or a transfer to cure the problem.
But when the traditional methods of rest, reward and reassignment don’t bring about a return to enthusiasm, engagement and enjoyment with in six months… burnout very likely has occurred (unless it is being brought on by a clinical or biological cause. In which case you should encourage them to seek care from a medical practitioner or professional).
If medical causes have been ruled out, you and your employee need to come to terms with the fact they no longer can provide a lasting benefit to that particular role, to themselves, or the organization.
They simply must find a new role, a new field, or a new career.
The most caring and proactive thing you as a leader can do for your employee and your company is help them find a new place to land and recruit a replacement.
Your employee’s heart and skills may stay intact but the flame of enthusiasm for their previous role has been extinguished and it won’t be relit. Ever. There is no fuel, no spark, no oxygen for the old fire. The embers are ashes. The fire has gone out… for good, and it cannot be rekindled.
What if you’re the one who is “Burned Out”?
It can be easier to recognize an employee who is experiencing burnout than seeing it in yourself.
You can fall prey to the same trap of believing you just need to work harder and the feeling will pass. Or you just need to make it to that next big vacation, and when you return everything will be fine.
But what happens when you return from vacation and you still can’t muster the energy like you once had?
If this describes you, or you are starting to feel this way, there is hope. While the long-term misalignment between a person’s heart, talent, core values, thinking, wiring or purpose and their current role, job or career field is frustrating, demotivating and exhausting it does not have to be permanent.
A simple, yet intensive, two-day process of discovery, alignment and break-through is available. Our innovative LifePlan process will give you, or your employee, a very real and lasting sense of clarity, purpose and direction to empower you to thrive where once you were burning out.
The LifePlan is not therapy, career counseling, or some kind of hocus-pocus, it is two days of gaining invaluable perspective from your own experiences, desires, talents, dreams, goals, aspirations to ultimately help you see your own sense of purpose and developing a plan to live it out.
Learn more about the LifePlan Process here and start living out instead of burning out.