5 Signs Your Employee is Facing Burnout (& How to Help)


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Written by Michele Litzky

If an employee regularly works through lunch and stays well past dark, she may seem dedicated to the work – but she could also be on the path to severe career burnout. The kind that – if untreated – can lead to stress, subpar work, and ultimately an exit from the company.

You spend hours upon hours training employees to be their best so they stay and excel with your team – not to leave due to anxiety. Given that public relations is a notoriously high-stress industry, even the strongest, smartest employees can reach the point of burnout.

In my experience, the difference between employees who recover from burnout and those that don’t is  a strong, empathetic manager. However, with a full workload – not to mention team mentorship, new business, and internal meetings – PR managers are pulled in all sorts of directions. Few have time to sit back and evaluate whether an employee’s feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.

Here’s the good news: monitoring burnout doesn’t have to be a time suck. If you watch out for these five signs (and follow the subsequent solutions) you can become the strong, empathetic, and ultimately successful manager your team needs you to be.

1. Staying later than late at her desk

Yes, we all have those days we’re in the office later than expected, but if your employee is spending day after day closing down the office, something’s up.

How to fix it: First, watch your employee’s social habits. Is she mingling the day away? In a larger agency, it’s easy to chat all day with coworkers, knowing the work can get finished after hours. This doesn’t mean she’s burnt out, but you should still recommend less social time and more desk time to ensure she works within hours (and to keep others from getting distracted).

In my experience, the difference between employees who recover from burnout and those that don’t is  a strong, empathetic manager.

If your employee’s not socializing, look at her plate. Have you been delegating too much work? If so, slowly start to take some projects back to see how her work-life balance improves. Another option? Look at your own work-life balance. If you’re staying in the office late every day, your employee may think that’s the standard. To truly set a work-life balance example, you need to walk the walk.

2. A dip in quality of work

If a “rock star” employee is failing to provide the creative thinking or smart writing she’s known for, it’s time to check in. Starting out, my mentor gave me great advice: Some days, you just don’t have 100 percent to give. Everyone’s entitled to a bad day or even a week. It happens. But, if you’re used to someone whose A-game is 150 percent – and they’re now turning in sloppy work, being argumentative, or just not themselves – burnout may be to blame.

How to fix it:

Start with a tender approach; if your employee’s down in the dumps, there’s no need to kick her further. Ask how he’s feeling about work and work-life balance. If she doesn’t open up at this point, gently mention her recent work struggles, and ask if there’s anything you can do to alleviate her stress. At this point, it’s on her to tell the truth. If she says it’s fine, leave it. If it remains not fine (and the work continues to suffer) weeks later, it’s time for a more serious talk.

If you’re noticing subpar work across agency teams, it could be that employees have just worked on their businesses too long. In 2016, we moved businesses around to give staffers new projects to try, and the outcome has been overwhelmingly positive – both from a work and career growth standpoint.

3. It’s written on her face

Eyes can tell you a lot about an employee, especially when it comes to burnout. If your employee’s giving worried looks as you ask her to take on a project, or she has dark circles time and again, she’s more stressed than you realize. It’s definitely time to talk.

My mentor gave me great advice: Some days, you just don’t have 100 percent to give.

How to fix it:

First, rescind the project you assigned and get back to basics. Ask what she’s working on, what’s stressing her out, and what challenges she’s facing – some you may not even realize. If under-eye circles are also becoming a staple, dig deeper to see if it’s work – or home – drama keeping her up at night. Either way, let her know you’re there to support her, and while it may end up with you taking on some extra work, it’s worth it in the long-run if you help this star employee get back to her usual, successful self.

4. Everything appears…muted

Have you noticed your employee’s bubbly personality has lost its fizz? This is one of the saddest burnout signs. You hire an employee partly for her personality – it’s that spark that attracted you to her in the first place! – but with piles of work and endless to-do lists, it’s easy for an employee to tense up, focus solely on work, and forget the fun.

How to fix it: There are a number of options here. As mentioned before, open conversations are always a good idea, but if you’re finding that doesn’t work, try a different approach. Invite her out for a happy hour drink or take her to lunch to get out of the office. The work will always be there, so remind her that taking an hour break at lunch or leaving on time for a drink with friends doesn’t mean the world will end. In fact, it’ll start looking much brighter!

5. Unusual attitude issues

Sometimes employees respond to major stress by getting snippy to you or fellow employees. While sure, everyone handles stress differently, this reaction is no good – and needs to be fixed quickly.

How to fix it:

If you notice your employee’s attitude issues last more than one week, it’s time to get stern. Stop her in a moment of snippiness and ask her why she’s stressed, noting this reaction at hand is a clear sign something’s wrong (and the attitude is not acceptable). While she may divulge work stresses or inability to prioritize, you’re not finished with the conversation until you tell her to cut the snippiness, both now and moving forward. This type of reaction won’t go away on its own, and, while tough, it’s up to you – the manager – to be vocal in fixing it.

Growing into the manager role is both cumbersome and exciting. While you undoubtedly have a full plate of team and client responsibilities, remember that you’re no longer judged on individual accomplishments. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and it’s the manager’s duty to ensure all team members are nothing short of (happy) rock stars.

About Michele

Michele Litzky founded LPR in 1988 with just one client, Matchbox Toys. Today, she’s grown the agency to nearly 25 employees with a full client roster, ranging in categories from toys and baby gear to lifestyle brands and social good campaigns. Her family has grown, too. In addition to three nieces, Rachel, Alison and Samantha, her grandchildren, Emma, Jack and Henry are the newest jewels in her crown.