The four secret signs of stress and burnout you might be missing

Does your workplace suffer from incidental burnout and pressure? Are you spotting those that are chameleon-like — stressed and on the verge of burnout, but not necessarily showing it?

The stressed-out employee often paints a vivid and all-too-familiar picture — coffee in hand, bags under the eyes, first in for the day and the last to leave, maybe drinking a little too much in the evenings and nursing a sore head the next day, yet working at a pace that almost seems superhuman. 

You admire their dedication and commitment, and generally, they’re your star performers, however, ‘keeping up at a firecracker pace’ can only be sustainable for a short period of time before the more subtle cracks start to appear. 

However, there’s another breed of employee that is a little more difficult to spot and becoming more and more evident in the workplace. 

In fact, are there ‘secretly stressed-out employees’ (let’s call them SSE’s for short) hiding in your organisation? There may be more than you think. 

They appear cool, calm, and collected. 

They can handle any stressful situation with maturity, emotional rationale, and ease. 

They ‘glide’ into work with elegance and ease, and leave on time with their work completed for the day at a more-than-capable standard. 

They laugh and make easy, friendly conversation with colleagues.

However, underneath the surface, they’re like a duck underwater — calm and graceful on the surface, but their little legs paddling like crazy underneath the current to stay afloat. 

Stress leads to burnout. Burnout leads to serious mental health issues. Here are four signs a ‘secretly stressed employee’ might be under more pressure than you know it. 

SIGN #1: “Dave’s been in hospital the last week, but don’t worry, he’s fine!”

A common stressor can be big things happening at home, however life’s big things are swiftly swept under the carpet or dismissed by the SSE. 

A secretly-stressed employee may have a tendency to share a bit about what might be going on, but quickly brush it aside or minimise it with a “It’s no big deal”, “It’s fine… just a little cold”, “He’s okay, he’ll bounce back in no time!”

Although there may be some stressful events happening in the life of an SSE, they may not feel comfortable sharing these personal things in the workplace, so although they may be feeling stressed, they’ll do everything they can to try and hide it. 

SIGN #2: Raising small issues instead of something bigger that’s affecting them

“Do you have a quick two minutes to chat about next week’s meeting minutes?” the smoothe SSE casually raises with his boss or manager (that’s you!). 

“Ha! Funny thing,” they laugh.

“I cannot for the life of me figure out these new printer settings to print out copies of all of the minutes for people. Are you able to assist me? Sorry to bother you with this.”

An ask for help on something smaller that they are usually very capable of handling may be a sign your SSE is initiating a bid for connection and a chat about something bigger that may be affecting them. 

Pay attention to what they’re actually asking you, in disguise.

SIGN #3: Dismissing recognition and focusing on areas of improvement

Your SSE has recently turned in a fantastic piece of work and you want to acknowledge the efforts they’ve put in. 

“Oh no, I think I missed the point on section 41 and overall, I could have done better,” she responds.

Although self-reflection and a healthy drive to continuously grow and learn can be a really positive thing (and a mitigator for stress), the SSE is continuously self-analysing their work and criticising every tiny detail. 

A perfectionist in disguise, this ongoing low-level hum of self-criticism can be damaging and turn into chronic stress within an employee. 

SIGN #4: Rocking up to work sick or under the weather

Unlike the common signs of stressed-out employees, where absenteeism and sick days are often rife, the SSE may feel obligated to come to work, even when they are sick or unwell. 

Does your SSE never take off a day when they probably should? If a staff member is coming to work while sick, it may be a sign they feel they cannot take time off work, for fear of falling behind or being perceived as not working hard enough. 

Do you see any of these signs in some of your staff? It may be the time to have a conversation and check-in to see how they’re really coping. 

Want to find out more ways to alleviate stress and build a culture of thriving, not surviving? Learn more about our 90 Day Culture Accelerator and Six Week Management Acceleration program, or download our free ‘Mental Health Toolkit’ below. 

A comprehensive selection of guides, checklists and tools you can use as a manager or business owner to:

✔ Support optimum wellbeing during challenging times

✔ Quickly identify the warning signs of poor mental health in your team

✔ Empower team members to develop their own self-care plans

✔ Guide and encourage team members to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing, with interactive exercises based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) methods

-Access Here-