Running on Empty – Burnout Series Part 4: Proactively assessing the risk of burnout


From our previous articles you know what burnout is, and you know what causes it, but how do you spot it or the risk of it around you? In this article, we discuss how leaders, employers and employees can spot objective signs of burnout and how employers and leaders can move to address burnout in the workplace.


How to spot burnout as a leader
Part of being a leader is being in-tune with how your team is going. As well as looking for the signs, leaders should also be listening out for employees making them aware of burnout, whether that is due to workplace or personal factors. We appreciate these conversations often aren’t easy. For advice around your employment law obligations when having these discussions, get in touch with the team at Black Door Law. 
Assessing and addressing burnout using organisational toolsIn our previous articles, we discussed numerous responses to burnout that were more reactive than proactive. However, there are options for tackling the root of the problem, when leaders are aware burnout is happening.


Role design

The way a role is designed may be a root cause of burnout. Our first tip for employers is to look over the structure of the organisation, then do a deep dive into each role to determine whether it is sized appropriately. Ask yourself how many responsibilities any one person or team is expected to fulfil and whether there is a potential to spread this workload. An appropriately-sized role can mitigate stress and exhaustion from overwork.


Performance assessment and supports

A slip or steady decline in productivity or performance in an otherwise engaged team member often gives burnout away.


While many employers are great at identifying a change in performance and communicating their expectations of improvement, they also have an obligation to meaningfully support employees in meeting these expectations.


Look at whether staff are empowered to perform their roles, whether they have training opportunities and whether there is a regular feedback loop (for example, performance reviews or one-to-one check-ins). Empowering employees to achieve the best outcomes combats reduced professional efficacy, which is a symptom of burnout.


Monitoring changes and impacts

Our suggestion is continue monitoring working patterns and the results of measures put in place to combat burnout.

Not only will this give a good reading of whether minimum employment obligations are being met, but also a sense of whether the organisation’s values are aligned with its workforce.


Values conflict has been cited as cause of burnout or work-related cynicism.

Some different ways to measure engagement are:

  • Anonymous engagement surveys – these are a good way to identify stressors in the work environment and get an idea of values-alignment.
  • Sick leave and working patterns, including trends emerging from timesheets or information around when employees are active and connected to the network.
  • Changes in the number of complaints or employment relationship problems raised, and the manner in which these are being resolved (we appreciate not everyone will have access to this information).
  • Staff turnover rates – we recommend undertaking structured exit interviews and digging deeper into the feedback received, particularly if turnover rates are increasing.


When to start thinking about burnout as an employee

Believe it or not your ability to identify workplaces where there is a possibility of burnout starts with job advertisements. These could include phrases such as:

  • We have a work hard, play hard culture
  • Your hard work will be rewarded
  • You will be ‘highly motivated’

If you do not identify a risk of overwork at this stage and you go to an interview, think about the questions you are being asked and consider asking some of the following questions:

  • What is your policy around working outside contracted hours?
  • What does flexibility look like in your environment?
  • What are your expectations regarding responding to emails outside of office hours?
  • In the event I am on leave, how are stakeholder relationships managed?


What are the signs of burnout in the workplace?

The signs of burnout are not always physical and therefore not always easy to identify in our teammates and colleagues – particularly when working remotely. Objective signs and trends to look out for include people who:

  • withdraw from the workplace physically – for example: coming in late, leaving early and taking more leave than usual;
  • turn up but don’t “fire up”, meaning they withdraw from the workplace psychologically, and their performance or productivity slips; and/or
  • are less engaged in the social aspects of work, or even exhibit anti-social behaviour.

Contact Caro or Sorina for advice around options for responding to workplace burnout.


Disclaimer: This information is intended as general legal information and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a specific issue and wish to discuss it get in contact with the Black Door Law team.