According to recent research in Harvard Business Review, 3 to 5 percent of employees are responsible for nearly one-third of value-added collaborations in the average corporation. As high performers repeatedly prove their capabilities and desire to help, they become the ones chosen for top company projects.
Another study, led by Ning Li of the University of Iowa, reveals how valuable these single “extra milers” can be for a company. A team member exhibiting the highest frequency of extra-role behaviors in a team can, according to Li’s research, “influence team process and, ultimately, team effectiveness beyond the influences of all the other members.”
But inevitably, there comes a time when these top performers find themselves on the fast track to burnout. It can lead to personal dissatisfaction, decreased productivity and errors that could hurt the company.
Keep an eye out for these six signs of burnout:
1. They aren’t “sparkling” as much.
Look for “sparkle.” In other words, look for contagious enthusiasm. You can measure sparkle, more or less, by how enthusiastic employees are when they talk about their work, what they’re proud of and why they want to work where they do.
When disposed to burnout, that initial sparkle someone might have for new ideas and team collaboration can get buried. Leaders who see this enthusiasm consistently dwindling should immediately address their workload and make the necessary changes.
2. They’re disengaged.
An HBR study, “In Demand, yet Disengaged,” finds that across 20 organizations, people deemed by their peers to be the best information sources and best collaborators actually have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores. If your team members seem less engaged than normal, it might point to more than boredom.
3. They’re quieter than normal.
Top collaborators tend to be top communicators, so if the typical dialogue seems to be diminishing, it could be a sign they’re feeling overwhelmed. If your top performers are beginning to say yes or no to projects with no further interaction—if they are being short with you—it’s a sign you need to be having a conversation about underlying workload issues.
4. They’re doing too much.
If one person on your team is accomplishing 18 tasks each week while another is only accomplishing four, there’s a good chance the high performer won’t be able to maintain his or her cadence (and you should probably ask yourself why the low performer isn’t meeting a higher standard). With the trend toward work becoming more open and transparent, it’s easier for managers to spot obvious discrepancies.
5. They check out early.
Don’t read too much into the small changes, but big changes, such as not paying attention or taking notes in meetings, or consistently showing up late, might be a sign of burnout. It’s important to not just watch for these changes, but also give employees their space. Sometimes an extra vacation or flexible schedule can help employees avoid burnout before it occurs.
6. They’re “running on empty.”
Pay attention to your intuition about high performers who might be showing signs of burnout—even in their appearance. It’s more about being in tune with how your team usually acts so you can see if that changes. If there are obvious inconsistencies in their appearance, schedule or work patterns, they might be running on empty and close to calling it quits.
In a perfect world, tasks are evenly distributed and people know and work within their personal limitations. But the real world is rarely that simple, especially with the demand for cross-functional work on the rise. This means the number of instances when workers are pulled in multiple directions has increased and high performers are routinely expected to perform not only for their own supervisor, but in conjunction with other supervisors and teams.
When teams are collaborating effectively, and know what their top priorities should be and why, organizations can prevent the fatigue and stress that eventually leads to burnout and turnover. The key to solving this burnout conundrum is in the supervisor-team relationship.
Don’t wait to spot signs of burnout. Regularly sync with your team to understand when and why their workloads feel heavy. Teach your team how to work on the right things, collaborate effectively and work well cross-functionally to empower self-improvement across the board. Not only will this prevent burnout in the long run, but it becomes the key to unlocking the true potential of high performers.