What Is Burnout Syndrome & How Does It Affect Teams?

The World Health Organization recently updated and expanded their definition of burnout in their International Classification of Diseases. This phenomenon is described as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This definition classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon.

Workplace burnout has real consequences. According to a 2018 Gallup study, people who are experiencing burnout are 2.6 times more likely to be searching for a new job, have 13 percent less confidence in their work, and are 23 percent more likely to visit the emergency room. Respondents who reported feeling burned out were also less likely to feel capable of taking care of family and household responsibilities.

Experts in the field have drawn attention to the lack of clarity surrounding burnout, which has made it challenging to study and evaluate. But this re-classification is an important step in the right direction. A person’s health, family and personal life, and work can all be impacted by burnout. Clearly, if you or a teammate is experiencing burnout, it can affect the whole team’s morale, workload and engagement. Given these consequences, it’s important to take the signs of burnout syndrome in both yourself and your team seriously.

Symptoms of Burnout Syndrome

The WHO defines the occupational phenomenon of burnout as involving three primary symptoms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Negativity and cynicism at work and disinterest in work
  • Reduced professional output

In addition to these specific symptoms, there are other signs of burnout that you may observe as well:

  • Excessive stress
  • Frustration and irritation with coworkers and clients
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • New or worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Other physical symptoms like headaches, chest pain and stomach pain

Burnout can sometimes be difficult to recognize, especially in yourself. It might be helpful to think about what it looks like when you’re fulfilled and engaged in your work. Engaged employees are energetic, enthusiastic, and involved.

What Causes Burnout Syndrome?

Once you have recognized the symptoms of burnout in yourself or your team, the next step is to address potential causes of burnout. The WHO’s definition distinguishes burnout from other stressors that may be impacting work. The good news is that teams and organizations can address the causes of burnout with individual employees and on a cultural level. If you want your team operating at peak capacity and if you want to retain your best talent, taking steps to prevent burnout should be a key part of your strategy.

According to the 2018 Gallup study on employee burnout, the following are the five main causes of burnout:

Experiencing Unfairness at Work

A real or perceived unfairness in the way employees are treated can foster distrust. As a result, this makes work feel less meaningful.

Unclear Expectations

Unclear expectations are a very common problem in the workplace. Employees should understand what they need to do and how to get it done. Without that clarity, it can be difficult to feel motivated.

Feeling Overwhelmed By Workload

Feeling like you will never get all your work done, no matter how hard or how long you work, is demoralizing. This can cause employees to feel like they are constantly spinning their wheels and never accomplishing anything, leading to burnout.

Unrealistic Deadlines

Employees not given enough time to complete tasks often feel constantly rushed, like they’re always in fire-drill mode. In contrast, employees given enough time to finish their work are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout.

Feeling Unsupported

When employees feel unsupported by their managers and there is a lack of communication between management and the team, this can cause many of the other problems on this list.

Reversing Burnout Syndrome

Burnout is a symptom of greater problems at work, and those problems can be addressed by team leaders. Even if you’re working with limited resources, there are still many things you can do to address these root causes of burnout. Work closely with your team to set expectations, communicate openly about strategy and goals, and manage workloads.

If you’re experiencing burnout yourself, in addition to working with your own managers to address these causes, think about ways you can reduce exhaustion and stress. Take time off of work when possible, eat healthy foods and stay hydrated, and maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Don’t feel like burnout is inevitable or permanent. Teams can absolutely recover from burnout, and burnout syndrome can be prevented. While a larger cultural shift may be needed, by understanding the causes and symptoms of burnout, you’re better equipped to address these concerns with your team.

RallyBright Contributor Leslie Fannon Zhang is a Washington D.C.-area writer with a background in training, marketing, and sales.