The Highly-Personal Nature of Burnout on Teams

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Burnout has become such a phenomenon, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified it as a legitimate medical syndrome.1 But the thing with personal burnout is, just like wildfire, it can spread. 

No, it’s not contagious. 

However, without proper management, one overworked employee’s tasks can fall into the lap of another overworked employee. And without proper support from the rest of the team, the substitute teammate can also fall victim to burnout (good ol’ hustle culture at work).

So, this raises a really interesting question: if one remote team member is facing personal burnout, does that impact the team dynamic? 

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When One Member Burns, Do the Others?

While the mental health of one team member should never be held against the strength of the team and vice versa, that’s not always how the cookie crumbles. When one team member takes a step back, it can raise concern that the remaining workload can overwhelm the rest of the team.

This is where effective leadership must come into play. 

Though it’s ultimately an employee’s responsibility to care for their mental health, realistically, it’s a manager’s responsibility to set realistic expectations and have the hindsight to predict a manageable workload. 

“I highly recommend the book Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen for any manager,” Melissa McClung, Licensed Professional Counselor, said.2 “Employees need coaching, evaluation, and appreciation. Each serves a different psychological need.” 

Female manager with glasses smiling and waving at direct report through video conference

Managers, founders, and leadership teams must understand where each team member shines and what motivates them. 

In many regards, the best managers are like coaches, helping each employee reach their best potential through work that allows them to showcase their talent. Remote team managers should place employees in roles where they can do their best work and should have the hindsight to predict trouble when returned work is sloppy, uninspired, or simply unlike the employee in question.

If a team member needs to take a step back for their health, it’s a manager’s responsibility to understand how to then properly distribute the workload. No team member should ever feel as though they need to shoulder an unbearable workload or personal burnout, no matter what type of “rockstar remote worker” status they’ve reached. A manager should understand when workloads can be reassessed and reassigned. 

Additional Impacts on the Team and Company As a Whole

So, if one team member burns out, does it fry the whole team? In short, no, it should not. Effective leadership should prevent a trickle down of stress and exhaustion by setting realistic expectations and having the flexibility to reassess when necessary. 

Unfortunately, not every remote worker has an emotionally intelligent manager by their side. When personal burnout is not properly addressed, it perpetuates the toxicity of hustle culture. If mental and physical exhaustion, extreme stress, or a negative attitude towards the workplace are all swept under the rug, it sends a message to fellow team members that their wellness is simply not important.

Without proper attention to why burn out occurred or what may have gone wrong on behalf of the employer, other employees can fall victim to the same circumstances which caused the original case of burnout. This essentially creates a domino-effect, in which employees can continuously burnout due to the inaction of management.

Dissatisfied employee feeling personal burnout on team call

With more employees feeling dissatisfied or stressed out at work, chances are, overall company productivity will decrease. A reduction in productivity can significantly impact company margins. Soon, a company can have a bunch of employees quitting, a lot more that are unhappy, lackluster output, and a reduced bottom line.

It’s not just expensive, but also incredibly time-consuming to hire and train new employees. Not to mention, if you don’t address the original conditions that lead to a bunch of employees burning out and quitting in the first place, it’s like filling up a leaky bucket. The situation will continue to repeat itself and employees will continue to be dissatisfied. 

In the era of consumer-generated content when a business’s online reputation has never meant more, dissatisfied employees are essentially dynamite. Negative reviews can come pouring in on sites like GlassDoor or Indeed, and followings on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social sites can decrease in tandem. Employee dissatisfaction can ultimately tank the entire business.

The lesson here? When remote employees are burnt out: Listen. Assess. And act.

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  1. World Health Organization. “QD85 Burnout.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, Sept. 2020, icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en.
  2. McClung, Melissa. “Professional Career Consultation.” Life By Design Careers, 2019, lbdcareers.com/.

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By Remote Work Tribe