Have you noticed any recent changes in your coworkers? Perhaps they aren’t as present as they used to be, or they’ve been unusually forgetful, moody, or tired. Maybe they’re racking up repeated absences. These things are not unusual, but they can also be signs that something is wrong.
Burnout can happen to any employee in any company–even in the best work environments. At Reaktor, we pride ourselves on our working culture. But that doesn’t mean that our teams don’t experience occasional bouts of exhaustion. In fact, one of us was recently diagnosed with burnout. As a result, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how our team members can help each other out, particularly in situations where we tend to overstrain ourselves.
Teammates are usually the first to notice the signs of a coworker burning out. They are also the ones who can offer the most immediate help and prevent the problem from escalating further. Based on our experience, burnout tends to occur when someone in your team encounters at least one of these five circumstances. Here are the things to look out for.
1. When people are forced to adopt a different working style
We all learn and operate in different ways: Some people enjoy constant collaboration, while others need time to work on their own. When people are forced to adopt a working style that they’re not accustomed to, it can deplete their energy and cause problems in the team.
We learned this recently when we adopted one primary way of working for our team of 15. This suited some of us, but others reported a drain on energy. So we decided to have an open discussion and made adjustments that took into account people’s preferences. When a new team member joins us, we conduct a check-in to see whether we need to change our approach. This way, we won’t be forcing anyone to adopt a method that’s not conducive to their productivity.
2. Big changes within a team, project, or company direction
From the arrival of a new team member to a change in the broader direction of the organization, significant changes can leave people confused, lost, or disillusioned if they feel like they’re not on the same page as everyone else.
We’ve discovered that while we’re not always open about how we feel at work, it’s often the very thing that affects how well we perform. We once noticed that a particular project became a drain for a specific team. The members gathered in a room, and on two separate Post-its, they wrote down what that project entailed and how they felt about each element. They then compared the two by sticking up the Post-its next to one another, asking questions like, “If everything is going fine with this part of the project, then why do I always feel so anxious working on it?”
This process helped the team identify the main sources of their negative feelings. From there, they were able to implement targeted changes that eased their situation and allowed them to work smarter.
3. Facing prolonged and never-ending pressure
Sometimes, a team faces seemingly endless deadlines. This puts a strain on even the best group or individual. We’ve learned to look out for those times when people say, “Oh, it’ll get better after this week!” In most instances, it never does.
When you notice this happening, the best thing to do is to check on your teammates. If they are overwhelmed, a helpful question to ask might be, “What would need to change for us all to feel better?” Asking this question in itself can be a form of helping, and if you find that you’re not really in a place to provide support, you can encourage them to talk to someone who can help.
4. Having too much work on their plates
When we bite off more than we can chew, we’re prone to lose steam sooner or later. We find that this tends to happen when someone moves into a new role in which the team is unable to provide a lot of support, or when an employee takes on too many side projects when they already have their hands full.
If you notice someone in your team is in this situation, gently direct them to someone in the organization who has the expertise in whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish. That person might be able to help ease their workload or provide guidance on how to complete the work in less time.
5. They’re stressed about problems outside work
It can be hard to detect issues outside of work, but powerful feelings affect our focus. The size of the problem doesn’t matter–we’ve found that being open and honest about what we’re going through can be a relief in itself. That’s why it’s crucial to have regular check-ins with your teammates, because otherwise you might not know that anything is wrong in the first place. Respect how much they are willing to share, and don’t press for details if you feel like they wouldn’t be comfortable doing so.
In our experience, it’s always better to check in with someone at an early stage than wait for things to get worse. They might not tell you much, but it’s always better to offer help at the outset. In the end, they’ll usually appreciate your concern.
Work is a huge part of our lives, and while some level of stress is inevitable, we should all strive to be healthy and happy in the office. After all, burnout harms your productivity.
Tiina Salo leads Reaktor’s HUG team that handles the firm’s HR and supports the company’s employees with any struggles they might have. Marju Kettunen is a designer at Reaktor, and is actively involved in developing organizational measures to combat burnout.