Employee Burnout: How to Recognise It & Prevent It

Employee Burnout: How to Recognise It & Prevent It

The business world found itself grappling with an unforeseen silent epidemic that caught many off guard. A remarkable 62% of employees reported bearing the weight of burnout.

But how can you identify the signs of this occupational phenomenon, and, more importantly, what can you do to prevent it? This goes beyond being a good boss; it’s about laying a strong foundation for your business’s success.

To proactively address the widespread issue of workplace burnout within your team, we’ve compiled an overview of common causes and signs of burnout, along with practical tips to effectively manage it.

What Is Employee Burnout?

Employee burnout, characterized by chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, is a pervasive issue that takes a toll on both individuals and businesses.

Employee burnout goes beyond the challenges of a difficult day or intricate tasks; it manifests as a profound state of depletion and disconnection, accompanied by diminished feelings of accomplishment and a loss of personal identity. This issue significantly impacts productivity and the overall work environment. When employees experience burnout, they may find themselves overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and struggling to meet relentless demands. The once-loved aspects of their roles may lose appeal, leading to a decline in interest and motivation.

As a result, your business will be hurt. A 2022 report by Gallup and Workhuman reveals a staggering global cost of approximately $322 billion attributable to turnover and diminished productivity stemming from employee burnout. Notably, the expense linked to voluntary turnover resulting from burnout alone constitutes a substantial 15% to 20% of businesses’ annual payroll budgets.

Typical Signs and Symptoms Of Job Burnout - Brad Sugars

Typical Signs and Symptoms Of Job Burnout

Understanding the signs and symptoms of job burnout can equip you, as a business leader, to identify the issue early and take preventative measures.

Reduced Productivity

Reduced productivity stands out as one of the most apparent indicators of employees who suffer from burnout. You may notice that a typically high-performing employee begins to miss deadlines, experiences a decline in work quality, or struggles to maintain their previous level of output. Tasks that were once completed quickly and efficiently may now take longer. These changes might start subtly, but they become more pronounced over time. This decrease in productivity is seldom a conscious choice on the part of the employee; it often originates from the overwhelming exhaustion, frustration, and stress associated with burnout.

Lack of Motivation

Another clear sign that your employees are dealing with burnout is a noticeable decline in motivation. You may observe that employees who were once enthusiastic and engaged become detached or indifferent. Their passion and drive for their work seem to have fizzled out, replaced with a lack of interest in tasks they once found fulfilling. This is not just a temporary dip in enthusiasm; it’s a consistent lack of motivation that persists over a significant period. It can manifest as tardiness, absenteeism, or an overall disinterest in participating in team efforts or initiatives.

Increased Workplace Stress

Workplace stress is a critical indicator of burnout, often serving as the root cause of many symptoms. When employees experience burnout, they frequently exhibit signs of heightened stress levels. These signs can manifest as irritability, frustration, or even conflicts with coworkers. You may notice an increase in negative interactions, disagreements, or a shift in your employee’s general attitude. They might also display physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, stomach issues, or taking more sick leave than usual. Stressful working conditions, unrealistic expectations, or an imbalance between work and personal life can contribute to this heightened stress.


An increased frequency or duration of sick leave is often a clear red flag that an employee could be experiencing burnout. The chronic stress associated with burnout can weaken the immune system, leading to an increase in minor illnesses such as colds or flu or more serious health problems over time. This is not only detrimental to the individual’s health but also to the overall productivity and morale of your team. It’s important to note that frequent sickness could be a cry for help from an overwhelmed employee.

Making Mistakes

An increased frequency of mistakes or errors in their work is another telltale sign of employee burnout. When an employee is burned out, their ability to focus and pay attention to details can significantly diminish due to overwhelming fatigue and stress. This can lead to an uptick in errors, oversights, and poor decision-making, even in areas where they typically excel. It’s crucial to understand that these mistakes are not indicative of the employee’s abilities or potential but rather a sign of their mental and emotional state.

Poor Decision Making

Poor decision-making is a clear sign of employee burnout. It’s not uncommon for a typically confident and decisive employee to struggle with making decisions when under the strain of burnout. They may show signs of indecisiveness, make impulsive choices, or even avoid decision-making altogether. Sometimes, they might make decisions that are out of character or not in line with their usual judgment or the best interests of the company. It’s important to remember that this is not a reflection of their competence or intentions, but rather a symptom of the mental and emotional fatigue that comes with burnout.

Staff Turnover

Excessive staff turnover is a clear indication of widespread burnout within your organization. When burnout is left unaddressed, employees may feel compelled to seek better opportunities elsewhere, in search of a healthier work-life balance and more fulfilling roles. This not only results in the loss of talented individuals and institutional knowledge but also drives up recruitment and onboarding expenses for your business.

Most Common Causes of Workplace Burnout - Brad Sugars

8 Most Common Causes of Workplace Burnout

Let’s now take a look at the common causes of organizational burnout. Understanding these factors is the first step towards creating an environment that prevents burnout and fosters employee well-being.

1. Being Overworked

Experiencing constant overwork is one of the most common causes of employee burnout. When employees are consistently overloaded with tasks, working long hours, or constantly under high pressure, it quickly leads to exhaustion, both physically and mentally. In fact, as per the American Psychological Association Work and Wellbeing Survey, 3 in 5 workers reported experiencing negative mental and physical impacts due to work-related stress. This chronic exhaustion significantly impacts their productivity, creativity, and overall job satisfaction.

2. Unfairness at Work

Unfair treatment in the workplace is a common trigger for employee burnout. It can take various forms, like an uneven workload, favoritism, unequal pay or promotion opportunities, or a lack of recognition for hard work. These experiences can lead to resentment, demotivation, and ultimately burnout among team members. As a business coach, I recommend fostering a culture of fairness and transparency.

3. Not Enough Workload

Believe it or not, even insufficient workload can lead to employee burnout. When employees feel underutilized or undervalued, their motivation and morale can decline, ultimately resulting in burnout. The lack of challenges and growth opportunities can cause frustration and dissatisfaction, making the job feel monotonous and meaningless.

4. Roles and Responsibilities Unclear

Unclear roles and responsibilities can be a major cause of employee burnout. When employees are unsure about what is expected of them, it leads to confusion, frustration, and inefficiency. They might end up taking on too much or too little work, working on tasks that aren’t their responsibility, or struggling to prioritize effectively. This lack of clarity adds unnecessary stress and eventually leads to burnout.

5. Unclear Communication From Managers

Managers who fail to communicate clearly can significantly contribute to employee burnout. When messages are unclear or inconsistent, it creates uncertainty and insecurity among team members. This leads to confusion about job expectations, deadlines, and project goals, causing stress and frustration. Employees waste time and energy trying to decipher messages, and may even feel set up to fail, pushing them closer to burnout.

6. Compensation

Insufficient compensation can greatly contribute to employee burnout. When employees feel they are not being fairly compensated for their work, it can lead to reduced employee engagement, resentment, and ultimately, burnout. However, this does not necessarily mean that you need to offer the highest salaries in the industry. What matters more is that employees perceive their compensation – including wages, benefits, and perks – as fair and aligned with their roles, responsibilities, and contributions to the company.

7. Unrealistic Time Pressures

Unrealistic time pressures can have a significant impact on employees, causing high levels of stress and ultimately leading to burnout. These pressures can arise from various factors, such as tight project deadlines, frequent interruptions and disruptions, constant multitasking, or a lack of resources and support. When employees constantly feel like they’re racing against the clock and struggling to meet expectations, it significantly increases their stress levels and puts them at risk of burnout.

8. No Career Progression

A stagnant career path can greatly contribute to employee burnout. When employees feel trapped with no opportunity for growth or advancement, it can lead to frustration, disengagement, and eventually burnout. Offering chances for career progression goes beyond just promotions or salary increases. It’s about ensuring that employees are constantly learning, evolving, and developing in their roles. This can be achieved through on-the-job training, workshops, conferences, or further education.

10 Ways to Prevent Burnout at Workplace

Taking care of employee burnout isn’t just about recognizing and resolving its root causes. It’s about proactively establishing an environment where burnout is less likely to happen. It’s about building a workplace culture that appreciates and assists employees, equipping them with the necessary tools to handle stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Here are ten strategies that can assist in preventing burnout at work before it even begins.

1. Treat Employee Mental Health and Well-Being as a Strategic Priority

Combating burnout in your organization starts with prioritizing the mental health and well-being of employees. It’s not just an HR issue; it’s a strategic priority that affects every aspect of your business. From productivity and performance to employee retention and brand reputation, employee well-being is crucial.

Create a supportive work environment where mental health is openly discussed and destigmatized. Offer resources and support services like counseling or mental health training programs. Encourage employees to take breaks, utilize their vacation time, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

2. Effectively Address Toxic Behaviors

Toxic behaviors in the workplace, like bullying, micromanagement, favoritism, or workplace politics, can have a significant impact on employee stress and burnout. They create a hostile work environment that hampers productivity and morale, eroding the team’s unity and trust. As a leader, it’s crucial to address these behaviors promptly and effectively.

Start by fostering a culture of respect where every employee, regardless of position, acts professionally and treats others with dignity. Clearly define policies on toxic behavior and the consequences it carries. Encourage open communication and provide safe channels for employees to voice their concerns without fear of retaliation. Regular training programs on workplace etiquette, diversity, and inclusion can also be highly beneficial in preventing or reducing burnout.

3. Appreciate & Recognize Often

Recognizing and appreciating employees’ efforts on a regular basis is vital in preventing burnout. When employees feel valued and recognized for their contributions, they become more engaged, productive, and less susceptible to burnout. As a business coach, I strongly recommend implementing appreciation and recognition programs that celebrate both individual and team achievements. This can be as simple as sending a heartfelt “thank you” email, giving shout-outs during team meetings, or organizing formal recognition events.

It’s also important to personalize your appreciation to reflect each individual’s efforts and make it meaningful to them. By doing so, you not only boost morale and motivation but also foster a positive workplace culture where employees feel their hard work is acknowledged and valued.

4. Create a Positive, Fun Work Environment

Creating a positive and enjoyable work environment is crucial for preventing employee burnout. A workspace that fosters laughter, creativity, and camaraderie not only boosts productivity but also enhances employee well-being. Incorporating elements of fun into the daily routine, such as setting up a games corner or organizing themed dress-up days, team-building activities, and internal competitions, can make a significant difference.

Additionally, providing flexibility in work hours and workspace can contribute to a less stressful and more enjoyable environment. Encouraging open communication, and collaboration, and maintaining a positive atmosphere during team interactions are also key factors in cultivating a humanized and thriving workplace.

5. Make Work-Life Balance Real

Creating a healthy work-life balance is crucial to overcome burnout. It’s more than just a buzzword; it requires genuine effort from leaders to make it a reality. This entails establishing boundaries to ensure that work doesn’t invade employees’ personal lives. Encourage your team to step away from their desks, take breaks, and disconnect from work after hours.

Whenever possible, offer flexible work options like remote working or flexible hours to accommodate personal commitments. Respect your employees’ time off and avoid contacting them outside of work hours unless absolutely necessary. Furthermore, lead by example and demonstrate work-life balance yourself to inspire your team to do the same.

6. Enable Individual Growth

Personal growth is a powerful antidote to burnout. When employees feel they are constantly learning, growing, and developing professionally, they are more likely to stay motivated, engaged, and find satisfaction in their work. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to create opportunities for individual growth. This can be done in several ways: offering educational workshops, seminars, or tuition reimbursement for relevant courses; providing a clear career growth and progression plan; setting challenging yet achievable goals; and providing regular feedback and constructive criticism. Encourage autonomy, allowing employees to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities.

7. Put An End To Multitasking

Contrary to what many believe, multitasking does not necessarily lead to increased productivity. In fact, it can result in burnout. Multitasking overwhelms employees, causing stress and undermining the quality of their work. Instead of promoting multitasking, it is better to encourage focused work. Implement strategies that allow employees to concentrate on one task at a time, fostering a culture of deep work. This includes setting clear expectations, minimizing interruptions, and providing sufficient time to complete tasks. Tools like time blocking, task batching, or the Pomodoro Technique can be helpful in this regard.

8. Promote Sustainable Work

Creating a sustainable work environment is all about finding the right balance between productivity and wellbeing. It serves as an antidote to the “always on” culture in which employees are likely to experience burnout. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to foster an atmosphere where employees can deliver quality work without compromising their health or personal lives.

How can this be achieved? Start by setting realistic expectations and providing adequate resources for task completion. Ensure that employees aren’t consistently working beyond regular hours. Encourage them to work smarter, not harder, focusing on results rather than the number of hours worked. Consider adopting project management tools and workflows that streamline tasks and improve efficiency.

9. Clear Communication

Effective communication plays a vital role in reducing employee burnout rates. When expectations are unclear, it can lead to stress, anxiety, and excessive workloads, all of which contribute to burnout. As a business owner, it’s crucial to consistently and clearly communicate objectives, goals, and expectations. This includes not only outlining what needs to be achieved, but also providing guidance on how and when tasks should be completed. Additionally, it’s important to keep your team informed of any changes and ensure they know who to approach for assistance or clarification. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions can foster open communication and create a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns.

10. Holding Leaders Accountable

Preventing employee burnout requires an effective strategy: holding leaders accountable. As a business owner, you serve as the prime example for your team, influencing workplace culture with your actions and attitudes. It’s crucial to lead by example by genuinely respecting work-life balance, fostering a positive working environment, and embodying sustainable work practices. If leaders fail to practice what they preach, it not only undermines initiatives but can also breed resentment and cynicism, contributing to burnout. Regularly reviewing your leadership practices and seeking feedback from your team ensures you uphold the standards you’ve set.

Recover From Burnout

How to Recover From Burnout?

Recovering from burnout is a process that requires time, patience, and consistent effort. It begins with acknowledging the burnout symptoms and recognizing that changes are necessary. Here are some strategies to help in this journey:

1. Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care is an essential part of recovery from burnout. This involves taking care of your physical health by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and ensuring adequate sleep. But it also includes activities that nourish your mental and emotional health, such as meditation, yoga, or pursuing a hobby.

2. Seek Support

Burnout may often feel isolating. Don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted friends, family, or professional counselors. Sharing your feelings with others can provide a fresh perspective and much-needed emotional support.

3. Set Boundaries

Setting clear boundaries between work and personal time can help reduce the burnout risk. This means physically and mentally disconnecting from work during your off-hours. Consider turning off work-related notifications after hours and designating specific times for checking and responding to work emails.

4. Re-evaluate Your Goals

Burnout can be a sign that your current work situation isn’t fulfilling or aligned with your personal goals. Consider what truly matters to you and whether your current job or career path is helping you achieve those goals.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves being fully engaged in the present moment, which can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Consider incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine, such as mindful breathing exercises or meditation.

6. Take a Break

Sometimes, the best way to recover from burnout is to take a complete break from work. If possible, consider taking a vacation or a leave of absence to recharge and gain a fresh perspective.


How does burnout vary by industry?

Burnout does vary by industry due to different workplace cultures, demands, and stresses. High-stress industries like healthcare, law enforcement, finance, and technology often report high levels of burnout. These fields often involve long work hours, high levels of responsibility, and intense pressure to perform. Conversely, industries with more regular work hours and less emergency-driven tasks might experience lower levels of burnout. However, it’s important to note that burnout can happen in any industry – it’s not limited to these high-stress fields. Understanding the unique challenges and stressors in your industry can help in the design of effective strategies to reduce burnout.

Is work burnout recognized by the World Health Organization?

Employee burnout is a serious issue and is indeed recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2019, the WHO officially recognized burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). They describe it as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. The WHO’s recognition of burnout underscores the importance of addressing this issue and promotes awareness and action on the global scale.

How long does occupational burnout last?

Occupational burnout can vary greatly in duration, depending largely on the individual and their circumstances. For some, it may last a few weeks or months, while for others it can extend over several years. The duration is often dependent on numerous factors such as the individual’s personal resilience, the nature and intensity of the stressors, and the effectiveness of the interventions applied. It’s important to remember that recovery from burnout is a process that requires time, patience, and often, professional help. If you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, it’s crucial to seek support and take proactive steps toward recovery.

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