Recognising Burnout in Others

In a remote environment, it can be difficult to identify the signs of burnout in other people. We rarely see one another and we rely on text to communicate. This means that we cannot use visual cues, speech intonation, or body language to pick up on when others are experiencing problems. As the company grows and it becomes more difficult for everyone in the company to know one another, it’s important that everyone has someone looking out for them.

If you are a manager, team lead, or project lead you should get to know team members’ online communication styles, working patterns, and regular output, so that you can identify if there is a change in any pattern. Equally, if you see any noticeable change in one of your peers you shouldn’t be afraid to raise it with them or their manager. It’s change that really matters: if someone is always uncommunicative or abrupt then it’s unlikely that they are burning out. But if someone has been communicating a lot and they stop then there may be a problem.

Warning signals for someone who is about to experience burnout or is already there include:

  • Lack of productivity and poor performance.
  • Detachment and isolation. They may communicate poorly, avoid company-wide activity and discussions, or stop communicating on a project. Pay attention to someone’s communication style: if this has suddenly changed then there may be a problem.
  • Change in communication style. A person who is chatty starts being quiet; a person who is quiet start over-communicating.
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unable to prioritise tasks. They may struggle to list out tasks that require attention and break them down into prioritised goals.
  • Overcommitting. They may commit to tasks that are too big to deal with in a time frame or that they don’t have all of the skills for.
  • Chronic procrastination. They may take on tasks with no real certainty of their value in order to keep busy.
  • Persistent absence from work. This could be lots of one-off absences, not showing up for meetings, or disappearing completely from work for a period.

What to do

If you think someone is burning out or has burnt out, there are a number of things you can do:

  • If you have a personal relationship with someone, talk to them yourself and see if you can give them any help.
  • If you are working with someone on a project, talk to your tech lead, your project manager, their team lead, or manager. Tell them any signs you have noticed and any impact that it has had.
  • If you notice it in someone outside your project team, talk to their manager, team lead, or the Director of People Operations.

By informing someone of what is going on, you’re helping to address the situation as quickly as possible. The person will not be in trouble and it will not affect their position in the company. What usually happens when someone burns out is that they take some time off and their work is re-allocated to someone else. After that we figure out a way for them to return to work that supports them getting better.