5 Warning Signs of Employee Burnout & How To Prevent It

Business lady lying on desk with crumpled papers and task sheets

When you hire a new employee, the last thing on your mind is whether or not they will eventually burn out in their job. But, employee burnout is actually very common, and it’s continuing to rise. A new study¹ done in December 2020 found that 76% of employees were experiencing burnout. Employee burnout is stress that is related to the workplace that affects a person both mentally and physically. If untreated, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. While employees’ mental health may not be the first thing employers are thinking of, it should be.

Those who are experiencing burnout often perform worse at work, get less done, and have negatively impacted views of the company they worked for. Companies that have employees facing burnout will see less productivity amongst their employees, which can harm your company’s profits. So, how do you tell if your employees are experiencing burnout? And more importantly, how can you prevent new and past hires from experiencing it? It may not be as difficult as many think.

The Top Symptoms of Employee Burnout

Employee burnout can often be attributed to a lack of support at a person’s job, high periods of stress or frustration, a toxic workplace, and tight deadlines. It can be described as a person feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. Here are the warning signs to look out for with your employees:

1. Leaving work early/more absenteeism

Does it seem like your employees are constantly missing work? If you’ve noticed that one of your best employees is suddenly sick and missing work more often, chances are, they may be struggling with employee burnout or headed there quickly. When people feel emotionally and physically exhausted, they will miss more days at work. They may hope that a day off of work will leave them refreshed, but as more deadlines pile up, this usually has the opposite effect, and they end up leaving early and missing even more days than before.

2. Increased cynicism 

If you’re the boss, this one may be a bit harder to spot. Increased cynicism is often noted from coworkers when an employee is experiencing burnout. However, it may be possible to spot this with a simple conversation with the employee. If they seem to take your advice or feedback with a sarcastic attitude, chances are, they’re experiencing burnout, and you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Checking in with their managers or other coworkers on their team can help you to see whether the employee is struggling more than they’re letting on.

3. Taking feedback personally

Feedback can always be difficult to process. Those who are experiencing burnout are much more likely to take the feedback personally and get offended, even if it’s over something minor. Sometimes, the employees will blow the feedback out of proportion, or seem like they go from zero to a hundred over something small. They may feel like they can’t do anything right, get offended, and take the feedback as a personal attack.

4. Inability to concentrate

When stress occurs, it can be hard to concentrate. Those who are experiencing burnout will find it incredibly hard to concentrate. They will jump from project to project without seeming like they get anything done, and you may find these employees “goofing off” more than normal on things like social media. As burnout continues to get worse, they lose their passion for their job, and the inability to concentrate grows until they miss deadlines and have a hard time getting things done.

5. Decreased productivity

As burnout gets worse, you’ll be able to easily spot a decrease in an employee’s productivity. They will miss their deadlines, fail to get things done, and the company will suffer. However, employee burnout doesn’t just affect the company, but it also affects the person’s life. They will also be less productive in their own lives, which carries over from the exhaustion they feel at work. As this cyclical process continues, it gets bad enough that the employee will detach themselves emotionally from the company, and at that point, they will often look for a new position to try and breathe some life back into themselves. But, in reality, the problem is the burnout in general, and this can be fixed.

How to Prevent Burnout of Your Employees

If you care about your business and your company, it’s important to do everything in your power to prevent burnout. Not only will it make it so that your employees are happier and healthier people, but it will also make your company more productive and, in turn, more profitable. Chances are, it’s not just one employee, but rather whole departments and the majority of your company feeling burnout. With the life stressors of financial woes and post-pandemic life, employee burnout is at an all-time high. Here are a few things you can do to prevent employee burnout:

Talk to your employees

Whether you’re a manager, in HR, or the CEO of your company, you never know what’s truly going on with your employees unless you talk to them. And while they may not openly admit, or even realize, that they are experiencing burnout, they can explain how they are feeling. Maybe the work environment isn’t a positive one. Or, maybe the deadlines are a bit too strict and they’re having difficulty hitting them. If this is true, having regular reviews with your employees can help. Talk to them, get to know them, and foster an environment where they will feel comfortable opening up about issues they may be experiencing during the workday.

Stop micromanaging

Micromanaging your employees may make it so that you feel more is getting done, but a lot of stress comes along with micromanaging employees. If you’re hiring someone, you should trust them to do their job. You shouldn’t be looking over their shoulder or questioning every single move that they make. Empower them by putting your trust in them to do what they were hired to do. 

Reward your employees

One of the largest reasons for employee burnout is that many employees simply don’t feel appreciated. They may think that no one notices the work that they do, which can lead to resentment and stress. Rewarding your employees may seem silly, or you may think that employees shouldn’t need to be rewarded for simply doing their job. However, rewarding your workforce is more about showing them that you appreciate the work that they’re doing, and that you see everything they do for the company. These rewards can be as simple as free lunch, company swag, or even just telling the team that they are doing a good job.

Related: Unique Employee Recognition Ideas

Make health a priority

Employee wellness systems don’t have to be over the top or insanely expensive. Sometimes, just ensuring that people are taking care of themselves is enough. If you don’t have a wellness program, it may be time to implement one. You can do simple things to promote good mental health, like making sure there is enough light in the room, encouraging outside breaks, and ensuring employees are using up their vacation days each year. Or, you can work to promote physical health with things like monthly fitness challenges or group exercise logs. Healthier employees are happier employees, and this can help with burnout.

Related: Ways to Improve Employee Mental Health

Create a happy work environment

There are so many aspects that go into a happy and healthy work environment. Without these things, people will experience burnout much quicker. The first thing is to ensure that you have enough people working. If you are short-staffed, the people who are working for you will be overwhelmed and exhausted at every turn. This will only make employee burnout worse. By hiring an adequate number of people, work can be distributed evenly, decreasing the stress put on each individual. 

The next thing to create a happy work environment is ensuring that everyone gets along. There will always be differing ideas and viewpoints, but if you have an employee who is constantly rude, dismissive, or can’t get along with others, it may be time to reevaluate who you have hired and get rid of toxic individuals. Finally, be sure that you give your employees adequate time. They should have plenty of time to get their work done, and if you’re giving too tight of deadlines, stress and anxiety will increase.

Related: How to Reduce Stress in the Workplace

Employee Burnout is Real and Increasing

With employee burnout increasing, you want to be sure that your company is ahead of the curve and works to prevent it from happening. As soon as you see the signs of burnout in your employees, it’s time to step in and make some changes. If not, your company will suffer in productivity, profitability, and experience higher levels of turnover. Work with your HR team and managers to implement some great prevention strategies for burnout.

If you’re not quite sure where to start with your HR department, or you need help hiring more qualified individuals to prevent workplace burnout, 4 Corner Resources is here to help. We’re a full-service staffing company who can act as an extension of your HR department and help you recruit top talent to your company.

Contact us today to see how we can help!

Resources and Sources

  1. https://hrexecutive.com/burnout-is-continuing-to-rise-is-hr-doing-enough/#:~:text=A%20December%20study%20of%201%2C136,work%2C%20and%20reduced%20work%20performance.

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.