Recognizing Employee Burnout

By now, it’s beyond cliché to say that 2020 has been a tough year. From a global pandemic to a tense election season, the year has offered no shortage of wearying headlines. Now, as we head into the final few weeks of the year, many of us are feeling fatigued, frustrated, or simply drained. For HR leaders and team supervisors, it’s critical to realize that your employees are very likely battling with burnout.

Of course, burnout is a very real possibility even under ideal circumstances. The 9-5 grind can take its toll, and sooner or later even the most cheerful and energetic employees may show signs that they’re tired and stressed. Leaders who are attentive to the signs of burnout may be able to help their employees gain a better sense of balance, restoring their mental health and even making necessary changes to the company culture.

But in 2020, it’s especially challenging to notice those signs of burnout. That’s because so many employees are working remotely, which means leaders and managers don’t have as much facetime to gauge their exhaustion. Certainly, there are some telltale signs of burnout, evident even in remote work settings: For example, leaders can look for employees who participate less during virtual meetings, who are slower to respond to emails or texts, or whose quality of work deteriorates. In some cases, employees may even offer direct feedback, making it clear that they’re feeling tired or burned out. Take this feedback seriously!

Managing Workplace Burnout During the COVID Era

Though it may be difficult to see the signs of burnout, it’s crucial to be vigilant: Burnout can sap employee morale, productivity, and work quality, and it can ultimately impoverish your team.

As you look for the signs of employee burnout, there are also a few simple steps you can take to better manage burnout among team members. Consider these suggestions:

  • Give employees meaningful work to do. Nothing exacerbates burnout like busywork. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable: There are tedious tasks that someone on your team has to complete. Whenever possible, though, try to connect team members with projects that actually mean something. Also, take the time to stress to your employees why their work matters. Remind them of the difference it makes in the lives of your clients and customers.
  • Provide some mental health breaks. Whether it’s one day out of every month or just an hour every Friday afternoon, provide employees with some time they can use for self-care, or simply to get away from their computer. This is a great way of demonstrating your commitment to a culture of mental wellbeing.
  • Be mindful of boundaries. Don’t let the remote work environment blur lines between the personal and professional. It’s unreasonable to expect employees to show up to work an hour earlier or stay an hour later, simply because they happen to be working from home. And it’s unhealthy to send emails or assign work after-hours or on the weekends.
  • Stay positive. This may sound simple, even simplistic… but during a stressful or chaotic season, intentional positivity goes a long way. Be extra committed to acknowledging good work when you see it and expressing gratitude to your team members for their important contributions.
  • Seek feedback. The HR team may also use employee surveys to gather feedback and gauge the mood among employees. Not only can this provide some insight into current burnout levels, but it also shows employees that you care about what they’re feeling. That in itself can help stave off feelings of discontentedness.

Get HR Solutions from WhiteWater Consulting

If you have any questions about how your HR team can identify and respond to employee burnout, we’d love to chat with you one-on-one. Contact WhiteWater Consulting at your next opportunity.

How HR Can Support Working Parents

Being a parent is deeply rewarding, but it’s hardly without stress. Likewise, even the most satisfying and pleasurable of careers can bring their share of anxiety. Combine the two ventures and things can really seem hairy. Simply put, working parents undergo unique levels of stress, and over time that stress can impact their mental and physical health, their work-life balance, their productivity, and their job satisfaction.

The good news is, there are plenty of ways in which companies can assist working parents… and many of those ways begin in the HR department.

Supporting Working Parents

Consider just a few quick tips and strategies.

1) Develop a family-friendly environment.

Don’t make your employees feel like their kids are burdens or afterthoughts. Instead, create a company culture in which families are prioritized, and kids are regarded as part of your extended team. Some specific ways you can do that include:

  • Have some workplace parties or events throughout the year that are designed to be inclusive of the whole family.
  • Have a take-your-child-to-work day.
  • Encourage managers and leaders to ask employees about their kids.
  • Offer some flexibility to employees who want to use school vacations/holidays to spend time with their family.
  • Make sure you hold company social events at different times; working parents may not be able to make happy hour, so maybe have the occasional team breakfast or lunch.

2) Support new moms.

New moms, in particular, need plenty of support from the HR team. Specifically, consider doing the following:

  • Allow moms to bring their newborns to work as needed; or allow them to work remotely when possible.
  • Make sure you have a private and comfortable lactation room, and that new moms have enough scheduling flexibility to nurse or pump.

3) Consider family-friendly benefits.

There are a lot of creative ways in which your benefits packages can support working moms and dads. Some examples include:

  • Offer assistance with IVF or other fertility treatments.
  • Provide education about 529 college savings accounts.
  • Share college guidance resources with parents as their kids get a bit older.
  • Consider anything you can do to subsidize childcare.

4) Provide scheduling flexibility.

Surveys show that, for most working parents, the most precious resource of all is time. Here’s a simple way your HR team can support moms and dads: Be flexible in your scheduling, allowing employees to come in early or late as needed in order to work around soccer games, piano recitals, school pickup, etc.

5) Provide paid maternity and paternity leave.

Along with flexibility, the other things moms and dads want is time to adjust to newborns. This is an area where your benefits packages can make a world of difference: Offering paid leave to moms and to dads can be a powerful way to support working parents.

6) Lead by example.

Finally, remember that policies are pretty meaningless if there isn’t also a healthy workplace culture. For example, offering flexible hours doesn’t mean much if your workplace also encourages people to burn the midnight oil. Make sure HR leaders and other executives set a healthy example: Work normal, balanced hours; don’t stay too late; and don’t send after-hours emails.

These are just a few of the steps your HR team can take to support the needs of working parents. If you have any questions about how you can create a truly family-friendly work culture, reach out to WhiteWater Consulting. We’d love to chat!

How the Pandemic Can Make Your Team Stronger

It’s often remarked that adversity breeds resilience, creativity, and character. This holds true not only for individuals, but for teams and organizations, as well. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought its fair share of adversity, including disruptions to productivity; shake-ups to team dynamics; ongoing mental health concerns, including anxiety about contracting the disease; and beyond. Yet many teams have already seen how the “new normal” may in fact make them stronger, more productive, and more innovative than ever before.

How about you? Have you found that the pandemic has caused you to jettison old habits or dated practices that were holding you back? Has your team developed some new rhythms and processes that allow you to work more efficiently, to deliver superior products, or to be more supportive of each other in the workplace?

In truth, there are many ways in which the pandemic might make your team stronger. Let’s take a closer look at just a few of them.

How COVID-19 is Strengthening Teams

1) Increased agility.

With more and more employees working remotely, and with a high level of uncertainty even in the most stable of work environments, many teams have learned to be more agile, nimbler on their feet. For example, rather than having lengthy in-person meetings, companies are adopting shorter check-ins over Zoom. Rather than plan all their projects for the next 12 months, teams are focusing more on one- or two-month “sprints,” prioritizing tasks according to urgency. This increased agility is something many teams will benefit from even if/when we return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normal.

2) Greater collaboration.

You might assume that the shift toward mostly remote work environments would cause teams to become more siloed. Actually, a lot of the businesses we’ve worked with have expressed the opposite: Their employees feel more freedom than ever before to collaborate across departments, finding it easy and comfortable to do so in quick Skype chats or Zoom breakout sessions. This propensity toward collaboration is definitely something for teams to hold onto.

3) More empathy and understanding.

Have you had the experience of one of your children wandering into the middle of a big Zoom meeting, or a howling dog disrupting a conference call? Here’s the thing: Most of us have been there. We’re all just trying to do the best we can, making the most of this strange new work environment. And as such, most of us are more willing than ever to extend grace and compassion to the folks we work with.

4) Trust and accountability.

Many team leaders have wrestled with these issues; if everyone is working remotely, how can standards of accountability be enforced? The good news is that most employees really seem to have figured out how to stay on-task autonomously. They know that they’re accountable for the effort they put in, and that failure to do their job can impact the whole team in an adverse way. Also note that leaders and managers are getting better and better at clearly articulating team goals and individual expectations.

5) Increased candor.

One additional way in which teams are getting stronger is in increased candor. In small group Zoom calls and one-on-one Skype meetings, employees feel empowered to offer honest feedback, including constructive criticism they may not have voiced in a more traditional work setting. This is great news for leaders and managers, who can use this candid feedback to build their businesses better than ever.

These are just a few ways in which we see teams getting stronger, tougher, more flexible, and more productive. We hope to see many of these trends continue well into the future.

Any questions? We’d love to talk with you. Reach out to WhiteWater Consulting at your next convenience.

Understanding Mental Health Problems in the Workplace

Studies indicate that a significant portion of the workforce struggles with mental health concerns; pre-COVID research showed the number eclipsed 20 percent, and it’s undoubtedly grown as the pandemic has increased rates of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Such high figures may come as a surprise to many. The reason for this is simple: There remains a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues, particularly in the workplace. As such, many employees choose to suffer in silence rather than reveal their diagnoses.

This stigma presents a significant problem for workers, who may refuse to seek treatment because they fear that doing so could imperil their employment status. It presents a problem for mental healthcare providers, too, who are often faced with the uncomfortable scenario of counseling patients on how to address their problems in the workplace without breaking their secrecy.

The bottom line is that many mental health concerns are unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated. By raising awareness and increasing understanding, however, employees and employers alike can begin to remove stigma and create workplaces that are safe and welcoming.

Common Mental Health Problems

A good place to begin is with a simple review of common mental health problems, and the impact they can have in the workplace.


Research suggests that close to seven percent of U.S. adults suffer from depression. The question is, what does depression look like in the workplace? Though it is often associated with a low or “depressed,” mood, this condition can manifest differently in the work setting. Common signs of depression include restlessness, nervousness, and irritability. In addition, employees who have depression may be listless, lethargic, withdrawn, and unproductive. Depression can also result in an obsession with aches, pains, and minor physical discomforts.

On average, employees with depression report the equivalent of 27 lost workdays each year… nine sick days, and 18 days reflecting lost productivity. Similarly, research shows that employees with depression are more likely to lose their jobs, or to change jobs often.

Again, a big part of the problem is stigma, which keeps employees from seeking the care they need; fewer than half of employees with depression actually get adequate clinical intervention, according to a Harvard report.

Bipolar Disorder

Individuals who have bipolar disorder tend to cycle between a very high, energetic mood (mania) and a low, listless mood (depression.)

The impact on the workplace can be significant and wide-ranging. An employee in mania may break rules, act rashly, or exhibit reckless judgment. And an employee in the depressive stage may show some of the same symptoms we mentioned in the previous section.

About six million American adults have bipolar disorder, according to one study. According to researchers, employees with bipolar disorder may take as many as 28 workdays each year, and lose another 35 in missed productivity.

Again, stigma keeps many individuals from seeking the care they need; about two thirds of those with bipolar receive treatment, but few get the level of care they really need to keep their symptoms under control.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can manifest in a number of different ways, including difficulty concentrating; fatigue; restlessness; and worry. Employees with this condition may have a lot of insecurity about their role in the workplace and seek constant reassurance.

More than six percent of Americans deal with anxiety disorders, and it often takes up to 10 years for these problems to be recognized and diagnosed.

And, anxiety disorders often lead to other mental and physical health symptoms, ranging from insomnia to gastrointestinal problems. As such, employees with anxiety disorders are likely to take a lot of sick days or suffer from low productivity in general.

Investing in Employee Wellbeing

As we have mentioned in the past, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made mental health issues more pronounced; if ever there was a time for employers and HR leaders to create safe, healthy workplaces, it’s now.

A good place to begin is with basic education: Make sure you’re aware of the common mental health disorders and their effect on the workplace. And begin doing everything in your power to break down stigma and encourage employees to seek proper care.

With any questions, reach out to WhiteWater Consulting today.