An Intimate Portrait of Your Exhausted Employee: 6 Signs the Job is Killing Them
Every day, exhausted people walk into work at companies all over the world, including your own. Here’s how to spot those fatigued workers, so you can address the issue before it gets out of hand.
Every Monday morning, at 8 AM, Mike meets with his team in the “Southeast” conference room for weekly updates.
It’s Monday morning, 8 AM. Everyone is on time …except for Jonah. He arrives at 8:20.
“Sorry,” he says and closes the door behind him. His head casts a shadow on the projector screen as he walks past Mike to his seat. It looks like he’s tired again. The bags under his eyes are dark and heavy.
“Good morning, Jonah,” says Mike. “We’re ready for your update when you are.”
“Give me a minute.” Jonah’s aggravated tone is jarring. The room tightens up.
“I said I need a minute!” snaps Jonah. The room goes stiff. The only sound comes from Jonah’s bag as he shuffles through it. Finally, he stops. “I forgot the drive at home.”
Clearly, something’s wrong.
This isn’t Jonah. This isn’t the person Mike hired last summer.
Jonah’s hardworking, competent, dedicated. He hasn’t missed a day in six months. His work is thoughtful, creative, and effective. And he’s courteous—people love being on Jonah’s team.
But not lately.
Lately, something’s been wrong—and the signs point to one, simple explanation: Jonah’s exhausted.
6 Tell-Tale Warning Signs of Employee Exhaustion
Believe it or not, the onus is often on managers or HR to recognize when a team member’s work-life balance is off-kilter.
One might think that in order to get back on an even keel, employees would self-identify, raising their hands when they feel overloaded and overwhelmed. But some people are uncomfortable doing that.
Fear, complacency, lack of process: these are all factors that could keep an employee from seeking relief. That’s where leaders come in. A leader’s knowledge, awareness, and action can spell the difference between a desperate situation and getting back on track.
Here’s what Jonah’s manager likely saw (and overlooked) leading up to the Monday morning meeting:
“A leader’s awareness and action can spell the difference between a desperate situation and getting back on track”
1. Out-of-check emotions
At work, Jonah has always operated with the same professional, graceful composure that he displayed in his interview rounds. He was calm and consistent. He was good in an emergency.
So when his counterpart, Alexa, left for another job, Jonah took it in stride. He was handling the void …until he wasn’t.
Slowly but surely, a rudeness began to bubble up in him. Sometimes it would manifest itself as a dismissive comment or a snap reaction. Other times it was the tone he took; the look he gave; the look he didn’t give.
2. Consistent lateness
Jonah isn’t a robot. Sometimes he’s late. Once his tire blew out. Another time there was an accident on the 909.
But since losing Alexa, the late arrivals have piled up, and the reasons why have ceased to exist. Jonah was late to every Monday morning meeting last month.
3. A cluttered workspace
Jonah doesn’t clean the cups, pens, wrappers, and sheets of paper that litter his desk. He merely shifts them around, creating taller, wider piles.
It looks like he’s given up (and perception is reality).
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When Jonah forgets to update a presentation deck, the team can tell he’s embarrassed. It’s written on his face in sweat and pink blotches. He’s disappointed in himself; he knows he let the team down…
But that doesn’t fix anything. Jonah’s forgetfulness still affects other people—their time, their performance—in ways he can’t make up to them.
5. Disregard for the team at large
And even though Jonah is embarrassed by his lateness, forgetfulness, and moodiness, his colleagues don’t care. They don’t excuse it. And why should they?
Why should they care when his behavior persists day after day, week after week? That level of consistency speaks volumes. It says, “I don’t care enough.”
6. Productivity dips despite longer hours
Since Alexa’s exit, Jonah’s been staying later—and not only to offset coming in late. He’s trying to keep up.
And on the days he does leave on time, he still comes home and cracks the computer for an hour or two. Sometimes it stays open, shining on his face until he goes to bed. But little comes from his at-home efforts or, for that matter, his late office hours. The law of diminishing returns tears down Jonah’s productivity, leaving him less healthy, in mind and body.
It’s actually a typical paradox: the more you work, the less you get done. That’s because we only have so much focus to use up at one time. It’s a commodity you have to earn back with sleep, with exercise, with fun—with anything but more work.
Some people have been running late their entire lives. It’s a bad habit. Some would even say it’s a deep-rooted psychological issue. Point being, every late employee is not necessarily overworked and exhausted (even if they’re often tardy). And that goes for all the above signs: people develop flaws.
That said, if these issues come on suddenly, relentlessly, and all at once, then consider reviewing your employee’s workload. And ask simple yet implicit questions like, “Do you have too much on your plate?”
Start the conversation—and back up your concerns with the above indicators.
You can also go a step further, investing in workforce management software that helps you to prevent the issue altogether—before it has a chance to afflict your people and hurt your bottom line.
An ounce of prevention, after all, is worth a pound of cure.