How your organization can identify employee burnout and take action


Burnout. You’ve probably heard the term, and perhaps you’ve even experienced it. Although it’s commonly discussed, burnout is surprisingly difficult to define – and even more challenging to recognize. Experts don’t always agree on the precise definition of burnout. However, when it comes to employee burnout, most concur with the World Health Organization’s assessment that employee burnout is an “occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Burnout leaves employees disengaged, unmotivated, and performing poorly. More seriously, burnout takes a toll on people’s physical and mental well-being. Understanding burnout’s contributing factors, recognizing the signs of burnout, and taking steps to alleviate it, are critical for maintaining a healthy work environment.

What causes burnout?

Understanding what causes burnout can help organizations better meet their employees’ needs. Employee burnout can result from various factors, including:

Work overload 
  • Anxiety arises when employees have more tasks and responsibilities than they can handle, or their job role allows.
Lack of control
  • An inability to influence workplace decisions – such as your schedule, assignments or workload – can lead to job burnout, as could a lack of necessary resources.
Insufficient recognition
  • Inadequate rewards systems, whether financial, institutional or social, increases employees’ vulnerability to burnout because it devalues their contributions.
Poor communication
  • When communication channels aren’t in place, decisions get made without considering the impact they will have on everyone in the company.
Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
  • Bad management or difficult colleagues can wreak havoc on an organization as well as its employees’ mental health.
Lack of support
  • Feeling isolated at work not only causes stress but can also make employees feel like they have no outlet or connections within the workplace.
Work-life imbalance
  • If work takes up too much of an employee’s time, they don’t have the energy to spend time with family and friends, which can quickly lead to burnout.

What are the signs?

The first step to managing burnout is to recognize the symptoms and begin treating them right away. The early indicators of burnout look different for different people. Here are some signs of employee burnout:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depression
  • Irritability and becoming angry with others quickly
  • Withdrawal and avoiding going to work
  • Loss of compassion or lack of emotion
  • Physical illness

What can be done?

Employees are often reluctant to ask for help due to the stigma associated with doing so. Many believe that seeking help is – or will be perceived to be – a sign they can’t handle their responsibilities. This belief can increase anxiety and lead to further stress and isolation. To help employees who are dealing with stress, employers should maintain an open-door policy and encourage employees to ask for help when they need it. Here are some additional steps organizations can take to help employees who are or are in danger of, experiencing burnout:

  • Check in with employees periodically to gauge their workload and stress levels.
  • Take your employees’ perspectives into account when making decisions that will directly affect them.
  • Ensure employees have the resources to adequately perform at work.
  • Give employees the recognition they deserve.
  • Foster open communication.
  • Incorporate burnout education into staff training to help facilitate a supportive culture.
  • Encourage work-life balance by focusing on productivity over hours.
  • Offer flexible and remote working options.


Burnout can impair employees’ emotional well-being and can deter their ability to effectively perform their jobs. By recognizing the signs of burnout, encouraging employees to ask for help, and providing the support and resources to foster work-life balance, employers can positively impact their employees’ overall mental health.

Wendy Christiansen

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