Signs of burn-out in coworkers... what to do?

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Signs of burn-out in coworkers... what to do?

Postby Parker » Tue Oct 06, 2015 12:42 am

Hi all,

Any advice on what to do if you witness work stress (even possible burn-out) signs in a coworker? I'm talking looking visibly stressed out, in a bad mood all the time, not his usual self, not following up on tasks, extremely slow to respond to email.. All things that are out of character for this individual. This person has recently been under a lot of stress ever since a few senior individuals left. I have offered to have a meeting to help with some of his responsibilities but he hasn't taken me up on the offer yet. Anything else I can do or should I stay out of it? I'm worried he will quit if things don't change.
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Re: Signs of burn-out in coworkers... what to do?

Postby S. Brownstone » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:48 am

It could be for two reasons: work or personal.

If it's work, and since your offer to help has gone unheeded, you could try to assist with small tasks and let him know you've done them. This way he might open up to you and you could find a longer term strategy.

Also, it sounds silly but small things like buying him coffee or lunch might make a difference. There were times in previous jobs where I was so busy it would get to 3pm and I would realise I hadn't lunch because I had no time to even walk to the canteen. Co-workers that realised this before me and just put it on my desk were like angels to me.

If it's personal it's harder because he may not want to talk about it and you may not be able to help anyway, but at least if you can exclude this, you know what you are dealing with.
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Re: Signs of burn-out in coworkers... what to do?

Postby Dustin Levy » Tue Oct 06, 2015 6:19 am

Your offer to help with some of your coworkers responsibilities is a noble one, and a logical approach to solving the problem. The fact that this individual hasn't taken you up on the offer could mean that don’t have an accurate read on the situation. Let’s look at what you know and don’t know to be true. You know it’s true that some senior individuals have left. You know the coworker’s responsiveness has declined. You’re probably right that the coworker is stressed out. What you don’t know to be true is that the behaviors you’re seeing are the result of increased workload stemming from the departure of other individuals. That is an assumption, and though likely true, there may be more to it than that.

At the same time, your coworker may not understand your true intent for wanting to help. Given their state of mind, they may think you’re out to make them look bad, take credit for their work, or maybe you’re seeking a promotion for yourself at their expense.

The key point is that you’ve offered a solution to this individual (help with responsibilities) without understanding the depth of their problem. Instead of offering a solution to the individual, try listening and empathizing with them first. Then you can partner on effective solutions.

As an example, consider structuring a conversation in the following manner:

1. Make clear your intent and motivation for wanting to defuse any fears or suspicions
2. Confirm that the coworker is stressed out…don’t assume that you’ve read this accurately
3. Discuss the sources of the stress – and be prepared that some may not have anything to do with the workplace environment…this could get very personal
4. Discuss ideas to reduce this stress, and let the coworker drive the solutions, you are there to listen and facilitate ideas…you’ve been thinking that helping with responsibilities is the solution, but maybe it isn’t
5. Partner with the coworker on the implementing the best ideas, while suggesting help from others when neither of you have the tools to help

My only word of caution is that if this gets personal, you’re involved and have an obligation to stay involved. For all you know, this individual could be going through a divorce, sick family member, their own health problems, etc. If you’re not prepared to ride out those discussions, it’s better to step away now. Once they let you in, you can't abandon them.
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Re: Signs of burn-out in coworkers... what to do?

Postby PG » Thu Oct 08, 2015 3:58 am

This is a condition that seem to be looked upon very differently in different countries and also in different companies. Around here if this is work related the manager has a rather long reaching responsibility for rehabilitation and for making necessary adjustments to work duties etc. This means that giving the recomendation to talk with his/her manager would be appropriate especially if they have a good relationship.

Importantly I also know that in other countries/cultures this is viewed very differently and involving you manager might not be something that you want to do.
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