As a project manager, it is essential for the success of your work, as well as the health of your team and individual members, that everyone is performing at an optimal level. That is to say; you should continuously be on the lookout for red flags in their behavior. It is crucial that you understand the difference between stress and burnout, as they are not interchangeable terms.
What Is Burnout?
It is a psychological term that psychologist Herbert Freudenberger introduced with his Journal of Social Issues back in 1974. Burnout refers to prolonged and persistent fatigue in combination with a lack of enthusiasm and genuine interest both for work and outside affairs. Why is this dangerous? It affects productivity, relationships between the team, and has adverse effects on the overall mental health of the person suffering a burnout.
The 12 Stages of Burnout
Stage 1: Manic Motivation
You will recognize a team member has boarded the burnout train if they come across as too enthused when a new project/task arises. This is a person who cuts their lunch and doesn’t take breaks. So far, that is not too alarming. However, the problem comes when this individual relies on joining that new task or project as it would define their identity. They do not want to prove their worth to the team but to themselves.
Stage 2: Full-on Work Mode
Once they have the task/project, this person will frantically increase their effort. They will take on more tasks in an attempt to prove they are indispensable. This is usually the stage where other team members will spot the shift in behavior.
Stage 3: Work Is Life
Even when they are not at work, these people will be available to get urgent tasks done. If you ask them what they have planned for the weekend, they might even respond that time off is time wasted (on working on the project). It is crucial that you catch the person in those early stages, so no matter if you are using a mediocre or the best project management software out there for your daily tasks, it is best to restrict usage outside the company so the person can have no other choice but to engage in non-work activities.
Stage 4: “Displacement of Conflicts”
It is here that you might start noticing physical ailments in this person and they might even complain about it themselves. Insomnia, stomachaches, headaches, these are all concerning signs of exhaustion and burnouts.
Stage 5: Devaluation
You can clearly see this colleague is slowly losing interest in anything that is not related to the job.
Stage 6: They Show Some Claws
At this stage, you are most likely to hear that person criticize other team members for not doing their job correctly or not as efficiently as they are. Cynicism and dissatisfaction mark this stage.
Stage 7: Withdrawal from the Social Surrounding
Perhaps one of the most obvious stages to recognize, you will soon start noticing that your colleague still shows up to work each they but they are absent at the lunch table and during other breaks when the team gathers. It is usually here that people suffering from burnout will turn to their vices, be it alcohol or else.
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Stage 8: Avoidance
This is where withdrawal turns into complete avoidance. When asked how they are doing or whether there is something wrong, they will claim everything is good as usual.
Stage 9: Nothing Else Matters
These people truly struggle to relax and keep piling up one responsibility after the other no matter if it is about work or their private life.
Stage 10: Joylessness
Instead of trying to spend their free time engaging in joyful experiences, they find no appeal in that extra effort. They might slip into full-on substance abuse, gambling, overeating, lack of eating, and other negative behaviors.
Stage 11: Clinical Depression
Depression has officially taken over this individual. Even work is not enough to bring excitement and enthusiasm to your colleague. They are apathetic and agitated.
Stage12: The End of the Line
The person will either collapse physically or blow up mentally or both. If you catch them at this last stage, it is imperative to get them to seek professional help. There is no other way to resolve the situation if it comes to this.
The good news about burnout is that there is a lot you can do as a conscientious project manager to battle it. However, it all starts with recognizing your team needs such an intervention. The question of how to handle it is a story for another time.