So far, we have talked about burnout, causes, symptoms, burnout in different life situations, and shared tips and advice. However, we have not addressed how to help someone with burnout. What is it like for someone who is close to you to see you go through this? Or how can your colleagues help you? Dealing with an employee burnout isn’t easy, especially when someone has never suffered it and doesn’t know what you’re going through and how it affects you.
I used to be like that. About 14 years ago, at a previous job, my boss had burnout and he took a sabbatical from work. He could not function anymore. At that time I had no idea what he was going through and why stress had affected him so badly that he was no longer able to work. I didn’t understand.
Fast forward to 2007, and my life began to get very stressful, not only at work, but also privately. It went on for years, until finally I broke down in 2016 and I was diagnosed with burnout. At that moment I understood what I didn’t understand in 2006.
We often let it go on and on without realizing what we’re doing to ourselves, until it is too late.
According to a Gallup poll, 23% of employees reported feeling burnout, often or always. 44% said that they felt burned out sometimes. In other words, two-thirds of workers experience burnout at the work place.
So, how can colleagues deal with it and how can they help you?
First of all, understand the causes of job burnout.
First I will discuss what managers can do and, after that, what a colleague can do to help if you have a co-worker who is going through burnout.
How can Managers Help?
- Managers are responsible for creating positive work environments by setting clear expectations and goals, simplifying cooperation, and making sure that employees feel supported.
- Listen to problems that are work-related. Listening to and understanding your employees shows that you are supporting them. It shows that you care, and for any employee it is important to know that their manager cares about them.
- Positive feedback and strength-based development. As a manager, you will get the best results if you identify the strengths of your employees. Let them do what they do best, and praise them. Strength-based development combined with enthusiasm and optimism reduces stress. Work is no longer seen as a burden but as a place of success.
- Give work a purpose. The job should be connected to the company’s mission, and the employee should know that this job is important, and most of all, why it is so. No one likes to work on something of which they don’t understand the purpose or importance. It makes the job look senseless. Everyone needs to have meaning in what they do.
- Encourage teamwork. When you work with a team you have a line of support. Co-workers often have a better understanding of the difficulties or stress factors and they can give advice or provide support. As a manager it is key to create an environment of teamwork and helping one another.
- Everyone’s opinion matters. Managers should pro-actively ask for employees’ opinions and ideas. When employees feel that their opinions count, it confirms their importance for the company. They feel included and will take more responsibility for their performance.
- Managers can experience burnout too. Like their employees, they are also exposed to workplace stressors and they often have many responsibilities. Like any other person, they also need to be heard, feel that their work matters, and be a part of the team. Like my boss did years ago, when you suffer burnout, the best thing to do is take time off work and assign a capable replacement. It may take weeks, months, or even a year. In the worst case scenario it can take several years to get better. For tips to heal from burnout, please see this article, How to Heal From Burnout.
How can Co-Workers Help?
- Let them know that you are there for them. If you have a colleague who is suffering burnout, ask them out for a cup of coffee or let them know that they can talk to you. If they say no, do not feel offended; at least, they know that they can count on you, and that makes a difference. Knowing that there is someone who is willing to listen can be a lifesaver.
- Invite your colleague for a walk outside. In this way you provide a distraction and some time away from the office.
- You can also talk to your manager – if he or she is not informed about the situation
- When you and your co-workers have an increased workload due to the fact that your colleague with burnout cannot perform 100% or is absent from work, make sure that the tasks are fairly divided with realistic deadlines. Do not expose yourself to the risk of burnout as well! If possible, talk to your manager about hiring a temporary help or extending the deadlines a little.
- Call your co-worker at home – if there is enough trust between you – and offer a listening ear or just call to check in how they are doing. Even if they do not want to talk, just knowing that someone cares makes all the difference.
- If a colleague does want to talk, do not judge him or her by certain reactions to difficult situations or actions they have taken. During burnout many lose control of themselves and may even forget to perform daily functions such as dialing a phone number. So, keep any judgment to yourself. Do not criticize them because they lost control of their temper or anything else they may have done. It will just make things worse.
When someone goes through burnout, they need support, and the one thing they absolutely must avoid is any sort of confrontation – and that includes criticism. If you feel that you must say something, then please provide positive criticism, but I recommend that you avoid it and tell them once they have healed.
Dealing with burnout is tough, but dealing with someone who has burnout can also be difficult. The latter is likely the reason why most people who have burnout distance themselves from others. Well, in my case, I did, I didn’t want anyone to see my symptoms.
We are all different, have dissimilar work situations and family relations. It all depends. Some have a very supportive family, and others don’t. Some do not want to be surrounded by people when they are going through burnout and others want their family and friends close. It depends on many factors, how you were raised, the support you have or have not known in your life, and so on.
All in all, though, I hope that these tips will help, regardless of the situation. In the end, we need help, whether we isolate ourselves or not. I have to repeat that knowing that there is someone out there who wants to listen or help is a lifesaver.
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