How to recognise worker burnout

09 June 2023

The various pressures and responsibilities faced by workers in the construction and transportation industries can lead to high levels of emotional stress.

Addressing burnout effectively could not only allow you to retain your workforce, but make you more attractive to future employees (Photo: Nataliya Vaitkevich)

As a result, the word burnout gets thrown around pretty loosely, often referring to the exhaustion and disillusionment with work that many of us experience at one time or another.

In construction, interacting with co-workers, superiors, subordinates, the general public and workers from other trades can be a daily requirement that can lead to disagreements or conflict. When work is slow, or workers face layoffs, stress can certainly increase.

Signs of construction burnout often manifest through emotional exhaustion, mental distancing from the job and overall ineffectiveness like a lack of focus on job-related duties as well as safety. Further, recent data suggests the top five contributors to construction burnout include: unfair treatment, too much work, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from managers and unreasonable time pressures.

In trucking, there are more than a few things that can lead to burnout – not least of which involve stress over pay, downtime, improper sleep and a general lifestyle that can grind on the individual as the years stack up. Signs that a trucker could be experiencing burnout can include: truck avoidance – a basic lack of focus or disinterest in getting in the truck and going to work; distance avoidance – during a run, burned-out drivers may take excessive breaks and avoid driving very far; and lag & drag – or extreme procrastination – where drivers start to spend more time in the truck stops, wasting time and avoiding getting on the road again.

Sweet spot

However the signs or causes of burnout for a particular worker shake out, it should be noted that, as companies across the construction and transportation industries struggle to find and-or maintain their workers, addressing burnout effectively could not only allow you to retain your workforce, but potentially make you more attractive to future employees.

If nothing else, burnout or the signs of burnout should serve as a canary in the coalmine of sorts – an early warning that something is going wrong more generally. And to build on the metaphor, successful leaders know when to heed the canary’s distress and investigate, while considering both the canary and the mine.

Across construction and transportation, burnout ultimately creates burdens both for the individual and the employer – and when companies can recognise it (and avoid it), productivity and performance only ever improves.

A great place to begin could be as simple as meeting your workers where they are and focusing on simple adjustments.

Prioritise wellbeing: Have conversations among your leadership about the employee experience and how it can be improved.

Open the conversation: equip your managers to understand burnout and talk about it with their teams. Create psychologically safe spaces and look for people who are willing to be vulnerable. Once the conversation gets started, it’s easier for others to voice what they’re feeling.

Find the sweet spot with stress: a controlled level of stress keeps employees engaged and drives productivity but too much leads to burnout. Work with your supervisors and managers and keep a finger on the stress pulse in your organisation.

At the end of the day, running a successful business – especially one where burnout can take root and spread – involves not just focusing on growth and success, but recognising and addressing how our workers are thriving, surviving – or otherwise – within that process.

If we’re going to hang our hats on the fact that we’re “only as good as our workers,” then we have to be conscious of whether or not we’re creating an environment for them to be their best.


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