Burnout, Depression, Other Tell-Tale Signs Your Recruited Talents Need Help

The last thing you want your assignee or foreign talent to experience is burnout, particularly when this can also lead to a depression that can slowly stifle his performance, productivity, and motivation. The descent into this dark place which only a few people are strong enough to acknowledge happens insidiously, almost subtly. There are no warning signs until it is too late. Forget the Hollywood movies that show stressed-out professionals shooting up drugs or drinking up a storm because they cannot cope with the demands of the job.

Many professionals, expatriate or American, can still perform more than adequately, never betraying their inner turmoil, until they succumb to death. In this piercing New York Times piece, a wife of a high-powered Silicon Valley lawyer, recounts how she discovered her husband’s hidden life of drug abuse in his profession, now all too common for those coping under extreme pressure or depression.

For all intents and purposes, they are performing, and carry out their business with happy faces. Until a slight downward trend in the way they do their job starts to creep up. His closest friends also remark that he does not join them in after-office meetups and parties the way he used to. Then he makes a mistake — not irreparable, but still significant. And his superiors and yourself as his global mobility specialist realize that he has been losing focus slowly. That one slip-up is a culmination of all the pressure  and pain he has kept inside.

It is possible for people who are suffering from depression to not betray any symptoms overtly. Clinical psychologists would categorize them as high-performing because they still act and function like enthusiastic achievers. Still, they are suffering from depression, and not having it addressed can only lead to a bad end one day.

Many factors lead to both burnout and depression, and stress is a major factor. Thrive Global cites a major study pointing out that as of 2016, 40 percent of the U.S. and Canadian workforce acknowledge that they have been experiencing burnout.

Meanwhile, another report from The Huffington Post says that depressed employees in the U.S. resort to absenteeism — and as a result, cost corporate America about $51 billion in revenue loss in a single year.

Assignees face different stress factors that their perpetually domesticated colleagues do not assume. There is the adjustment to a foreign culture and a different cultural business etiquette. Not many of these assignees can develop strong connections or friendships with their new colleagues immediately, despite all your programs designed to foster inclusivity. As a result, their sense of alienation grows, and they never feel quite at home in their country of employment.  Another side effect of this alienation is that their self-confidence falters; and without an adequate support system, they will slide further into levels of insecurity and unhappiness. Finally, throw in unexpected and unwelcome developments like recent immigration laws that make it extremely difficult for him to feel stable in the U.S. — and you just might have a boiling pot that will soon explode. Worse, he just might simmer quietly and as his enthusiasm and passion for his job vanish, you will find yourself in the uncomfortable position of finding a replacement.

First, let’s differentiate burnout from depression. Burnout happens when an employee succumbs to the relentless stress he is exposed to at work — and he feels unable to claw out of it. The pressure literally causes him to lose an appetite for life. He does not seem to have the energy to accomplish his work. He stops socializing with his peers. He just wants to chill or be left alone. While a vacation might seem to address this, he himself feels that he cannot afford to be absent from work — and this triggers another bout of sadness which adds further to his low moods. The cycle begins again.

In an interview with a physician who has handled burnout cases among corporate types, the Daily Mail offers the following telltale signs that should alert you that your assignee might be suffering from burnout:

  • They have a hard time sleeping and they keep thinking about the things that they should have done that day. As a result, they report to work the next day feeling sluggish and tired.
  • They stare at their desk or their smart devices, taking what seems like forever to make decisions that they easily could have done in seconds just a year ago.
  • They have frayed tempers, are easily irritated, and snap at the smallest things.
  • They are losing motivation and are turning in low-quality work.
  • They don’t find happiness anymore in the usual things that formerly excited them.

If your assignee is developing these symptoms, don’t wait for him to hit rock bottom. Take him aside gently and have a private conversation. Burnout can be alleviated by taking a few days off from work. Encourage him to take  a break without having to open his email every single hour. Encourage him to reconnect with his family and friends — and to an assignee, that might mean a prolonged online chat with his family back home.

California Corporate Housing can help assignees connect with the right people who can help him cope and adapt to his new surroundings.

Clinical depression also exhibits most of the signs above, which is why people sometimes mistake one for the other. However, it is something that is more pervasive and which can not be lightened by a weekend getaway or a few days’ leave. The performance is showing marked deterioration and the behavior is becoming more negative, infecting his colleagues around him.

In this case, intervention would have to be required to diagnose whether the assignee is indeed suffering from clinical depression. The psychiatrist, after proper evaluation, would be able to recommend the necessary steps to address this mental condition. Human resources would have to partner with you to make this step toward healing successful.

In helping your assignee deal with this condition, always exude openness and trust. He needs someone to believe in him to help him walk out of this particular woods. It is difficult to admit that one is suffering from depression, and a non-judgmental, encouraging stance would go a long way toward helping him deal with his problem and overcoming it.