The Shocking Truth About Recognizing Remote Employees’ Burnout

Alessandro Montalto PhD
4 min readMay 24, 2021

And what you can really do to understand what’s going on and prevent a devastating wave of burnout.

Several companies asked me a very simple question “Ale, how can we recognize whether one of our remote employees is in burnout?”. And I would always give my shocking (in their eyes), uncomfortable and inconvenient (still, in their eyes) answer: you can’t.

I had two huge burnouts and a severe depression in my life. My friends could tell me that I was in burnout, that I needed to slow down and take care of myself as much as they wanted, but the reality was that I couldn’t see it. I thought I was simply passionate about my job and that I had to resign myself to having panic attacks and severe anxiety because that’s who I was.

Burnout is such a complex phenomenon that it’s very difficult to label. You simply can’t tell whether a person is in burnout or sad or depressed — usually a mix of a lot of emotions takes place — nor how far in the burnout she is. You can’t even know whether she is already recovering from it.

The truth is that you simply can’t know whether a person is in burnout because recognition requires she being willing to openly talk about her well-being and aware of the fact that she might have a burnout.

I observe my clients on the brink of burnout and not being aware of it. They experience their life from a completely different perspective, as it happened to me. Thus, it would be pointless for me to add another label to their backpack already full of labels and struggles.

It’s useless and counterproductive to label a healthy and functioning person, imagine how dangerous it is to impose the burnout label onto an already distressed person. But we like that, human being are meaning-making machines and we love trying to make sense of what goes on in our life. Managers, leaders and CEO’s are no exception to this natural rule.

They would love to recognize when their employees are in burnout and then fix the situation. What they struggle to understand is that when an employee is finally aware of his emotional and mental distress, it’s already too late.

The company dynamics are responsible for the burnout rise. Those dynamics, very complex by the way, are created by people and when the company culture gains momentum in a certain direction, it’s very difficult to make adjustments. It takes a collective effort to change a company culture.

It’s difficult, but not impossible. Here is what you need. You need to stop trying to figure out whether someone else is in burnout and ask yourself if you are in burnout and if you are adopting behaviours that will bring you closer and closer to burning out and disconnecting from the rest of the remote team.

So, let me get this straight. At this stage, leaders and CEO’s want to go through the painful process of first trying to understand if an employee is in burnout (and inexorably failing at it) in order to then being able to fix the problem.

It would be much more useful and productive to prevent burnout. How? By working on yourself first. That’s how you change a company culture, by giving the example, living what you preach. This is another uncomfortable and shocking truth that leaders aren’t willing to listen.

It’s easy to rely on a software…in the short run. But in the long run, that tool might even be a source of burnout instead of helping you prevent it.

In the end, what it really takes to create a great remote (hybrid and in-house as well) company culture is a nurturing, safe, accepting, non-judgemental, active listening, compassionate environment. To create such a vibrant and lively environment, you need people who are willing to work on their soft skills like communication, unplugging, being great team players, being visible and able to create an exceptional work-life integration.

Those are the pillars of remote work — not by chance they are the main sections of my video course — that need to be addressed and digested to set up the best company culture that suits your values.

I really wish you to fully realize that reality is built from inside out and not the other way around. If you want to establish great human relationships that will in turn create an amazing company culture, then you have to change first in the way you interact with yourself. All the rest will follow suit.

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Alessandro Montalto PhD

I mentor people to develop the required soft skills to become successful remote workers —