When we think of burnout, we tend to imagine a devastating event that happens one day but the truth is, burnout creeps up on us and for leaders especially, it’s important to know what it looks like and how they can help so that the person experiencing the symptoms doesn’t have the full-on breakdown.

When I was burning out, I couldn’t see that something was wrong. It felt like something was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it. That may have been because of the lack of information and awareness of it when it happened to me but even so, I fell hard and I didn’t know what to do.

Typically, the symptoms of someone who is burning out don’t appear devastating to begin with. They are still performing at high levels at work. They work late, they give their everything to tasks, they are passionate, they never say no – all in all, they look as though they are functioning just fine. And then, they might start getting short with you/colleagues, they avoid confrontation, they start coming in late, they work through their breaks, they start having dysfunctional relationships at work, they are tired all the time, they let themselves go. These symptoms are just some of the ways that burnout manifests and it’s important for leadership teams to know what the signs are to try and help the situation.

An article by Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. in Psychology Today sights the following as the core symptoms of burnout:

  1. Chronic fatigue. In the early stages, you may feel a lack of energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel a sense of dread about what lies ahead on any given day.

  2. Insomnia. In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal; as exhausted as you are, you can’t sleep.

  3. Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention. Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can’t get your work done and everything begins to pile up.

  4. Physical symptoms. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches (all of which should be medically assessed).

  5. Increased illness. Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.

  6. Loss of appetite. In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may lose your appetite altogether and begin to lose a significant amount of weight.

  7. Anxiety. Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes with your ability to work productively and may cause problems in your personal life.

  8. Depression. In the early stages, you may feel mildly sad and occasionally hopeless, and you may experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped and severely depressed and think the world would be better off without you. (If your depression is to this point, you should seek professional help immediately.)

  9. Anger. At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace. (If anger gets to the point where it turns to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, seek immediate professional assistance.)

One of the most effective and important things a leader can do is to show compassion. If any or all of these symptoms seem to be occurring with anyone in their team, you need to reach out to that person, (off-site) and connect with them on a human basis. Let them know, they can talk to you, assure them that their job is not at risk, assure them that whatever they need (within reason) you can and will help them with.

When someone is experiencing burnout, it often leads to depressive symptoms and you never know where the person is with their mental health often, until it’s too late. To help with this, understand that the person burning out feels unsupported, they feel alone. No matter how social or outgoing that person is, if they are throwing all of their efforts and time into work, something is fundamentally going wrong in their lives and as they spend so much of their time at work, it does fall onto those that are responsible for them in work to show their support. You could literally save a life.

To learn more about mental wellbeing at work and how leadership teams can help support their teams, please schedule a call with me here.


Self Care 101 Podcast Puja K McClymont NLP Life Coach

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