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In this article, I will teach you all you need to know about managing exhausted employees, from the legalities of getting involved to all the forward planning.

Recent statistics show that one in two employees struggle with burnout at work, and it’s not really hard to see why. In light of recent uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the cost of living crisis, the wave of resulting stress and pressure this has brought with it will have taken an inevitable toll on the health and well-being of many of the world’s workers.

This, coupled with the transition towards remote working and the various periods of furlough and lockdown, will have led many people to feel an added pressure in the workplace, affecting them both mentally and physically. What exactly can you do as an employer to help any members of staff already exhibiting these signs? And what should you do if the situation doesn’t improve? 

Who Should Get Involved — HR or the Manager? 

This is a tricky question to answer, as it really depends on the exact situation involved. Not everyone feels comfortable talking openly about their mental health. While some employees may be happy to talk to you about how they’re feeling, others may feel a lot more uncomfortable about the idea. 

Therefore, it’s important to respect the boundaries of your staff by making it clear to them what your company’s mental health procedures are should they need any help. If, for example, they should speak to someone in HR, make it clear to them who that person is and what they need to do. Don’t simply take it upon yourself as their manager to address the situation head-on. 

Mental health is a very sensitive matter which HR teams are trained to deal with. So, while you can state your concerns over any poor work-related performances, you should reserve judgment and avoid involving yourself in any potential non-work-related personal issues they might be currently dealing with.  

If, however, the issue has been going on for a while, set up a work-related meeting with the employee to re-establish your expectations of them, set realistic targets and provide constructive feedback. That way, the employee will have a much clearer idea of where they currently stand and be given a platform to come forward for extra help.

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How To Communicate with Burnt-Out Staff

When you spot an employee displaying signs of burnout or another mental health disorder, it’s important to tread with caution before discussing anything directly with them. After all, struggling with a mental health issue will often leave employees feeling particularly vulnerable and potentially unwilling to discuss their feelings with you as their employer. But that’s not to say you can’t help. 

The key thing is to avoid being judgmental, invasive or emotional when you communicate with them. Your role as a leader is to inspire confidence and create a safe space for employees to come to you with any issues they might be having without fear of being judged or stigmatized. Therefore, rather than singling out burnt-out employees for one-on-one conversations about their issues, consider educating the entire workforce about the importance of mental health instead. 

That way, you’ll not only be able to avoid any potential legal issues in the future, but you’ll also subtly encourage the struggling member of staff to come to you, allowing you to take ownership of the situation alongside a trained HR representative. 

Should Mental or Physical Health-Related Conversations Be Handled Separately or as Part of a Performance Review?

Again, this question is tricky to answer for two key reasons. First, it really depends on the situation involved. And second, some managers may actually only recognize an employee is underperforming during a performance review. 

That said, however, conversations about mental or physical health shouldn’t just be reserved for these situations; if you recognize an employee is either mentally or physically burnt-out, the sooner you can intervene, the better. Therefore, you shouldn’t actively wait for a performance review before handling the situation. Instead, you should keep in regular contact with the employee during one-to-one sessions and offer extra training and incentives to encourage them to appreciate the value of their input. 

As their leader, you should also educate yourself on how to identify the first signs of career-related burnout and underperformance. That way, you’ll not only be able to act a lot more quickly, but you could also help prevent the issue from manifesting into something worse, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia or chronic fatigue syndrome. 

In Summary

While it may be perfectly understandable that you need to prioritize the needs of your business, you also have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of your staff. Therefore, by taking the time to act in a calm, considerate and sensitive manner when dealing with underperformance, your staff will appreciate your support and will likely improve their work ethic a lot more quickly than if they were to be confronted or stigmatized for it. 

We’re all human, after all. And it’s important to remember that when dealing with sensitive matters like burnout.

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