When managing high performers, it’s easy to miss the signs of burnout until it’s too late. You’re busy and you can rely on them because they always deliver – until they don’t.
Feelings of burnout are an inevitable part of life and we all experience times where we become mildly burnt out. However, when stressful conditions are prolonged, a mild burnout can build to become moderate or severe.
Recent research has begun identifying different types of burnout that develop from different sorts of pressures. The three main types of burnout that have been identified are overload burnout, under-challenged burnout, and neglect burnout.
So, what does this mean for you and your high performers?
When dealing with high performers, they’ll most likely suffer from overload burnout.
Overload burnout is what it sounds like – it’s when someone has been overloaded with work for too long. This form of burnout tends to show up in highly dedicated employees who care about their role. They want to succeed and prove themselves. These are great qualities to have in an employee and it’s worth it to ensure their eagerness to please doesn’t cause overloading.
Signs of overload burnout in high performers.
They’re struggling with emotional regulation
If an employee is becoming quicker to anger or tears, they are struggling to manage their emotional regulation. People who are burning out have less capacity to manage emotions and start displaying oversized reactions. Things that would not have fazed them previously start to become stressful, and their ability to read social situations decreases. In cases of severe burnout, people’s personalities can even seem to change.
They’re firing on all cylinders… all the time.
High performers often end up dealing with overload with a solution mindset, taking on more responsibility and work as a result. They might be verbalizing that they’re stressed and overwhelmed but continue to take on work, not decrease their workload. When a problem arises, their first response is “I’ll just do it”, because that feels easier.
While it seems like delegating and unloading would be the obvious path forward for a person becoming overloaded, high performers who are burning out often end up creating and hoarding work for themselves. This is a maladaptive response to stress and it’s important to address it.
Working overtime is their new normal.
They’re working longer hours – without an end in sight. Making deadlines and being a team player sometimes means working beyond your regular hours. This can be a good thing, but if it stops being the exception and becomes the rule, the likelihood for burnout increases. Work/life balance is an important part of not only staying healthy, but also productive. The goal should be to have effective time management, not long hours.
Ways to address overload burnout in high achievers.
Start with a conversation.
The first step in managing burnout is to discuss your concerns with your high performer. If you think you’re seeing signs of burnout, bring your concerns to them. If you start trying to decrease their workload without collaborative understanding, it can come across as punitive.
High achievers are ambitious and crave success, so decreasing their load needs to be done with some delicacy. To prevent disillusionment, you need to have an open dialogue about why you are limiting the work they take on. Outline your concerns and ensure they understand that your goal is to continue supporting and growing their career in a sustainable way.
Start delegating to others.
Have you been relying on your high performer and underutilizing other team members? Leaning exclusively on your high performance isn’t just hard on them – your other team members also pay a price. Consistently looking over others for a select group will cause feelings of dissolution and demoralization among those who aren’t the chosen ones.
Start giving your other team members a chance – they’ll probably surprise you. While your high performer may do the work quicker or a bit better, their skill level is not needed for everything. Save their energy for when you really need it and build the skills of others on the less critical tasks and projects.
Be clear on priorities.
Take time each week to check in with your high performer about priority items. If you assign an urgent piece of work to them, take the time to make sure they understand what should be put on the back burner.
If your employee is struggling with burnout, they’ll likely be struggling to prioritize. When we feel overwhelmed, everything starts to look important. Understanding expectations is critical for time management, and effective time management helps curb feelings of burnout.
Encourage time off.
When someone is burning out, they need time off. Encourage them to take a few long weekends or plan a staycation. If you notice they’ve been working late all week, suggest that they leave early on Friday.
Also, think twice about sending emails and texts outside of work hours or on days off. Sure, this is necessary sometimes, but if you’re serious about reducing burnout symptoms in your team, creating and respecting clear work/life boundaries will go a long way.
Invest in professional development.
You’re here because you’ve identified a high performer and you’re worried they’re burning out. Professional development through coaching could be a good option for your employee. They are talented and driven, and with a coach, they can work on healthy strategies to ensure their longevity with your organization.
The fact of the matter is you will see signs of burnout in your team. Collectively we’ve been through a time of prolonged stress – the pandemic. Burnout has always been an issue in the workplace, but the pressures of the last few years have pushed the issue to a crisis level for many organizations.
You can increase retention, productivity, and job satisfaction by understanding what burnout looks like, its causes, and how to treat it. If you’re interested in empowering your company’s leadership with knowledge about burnout, reach out and let us know. Our Countering the Effects of Long-Term Stress is a comprehensive course that goes into detail on about managing burnout in teams.
And if you’re interested in engaging a coach for one of your high performers, you can find more details here.
We’re here to help – your greatness awaits.