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Employee Burnout: How to Spot the Signs


Employee Burnout: How to Spot the Signs

If you aren’t aware, burnout in the workplace is a condition that the World Health Organisation (WHO) lay to blame resolutely at the feet of the employer.

Officially characterising it as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, typically, burnout occurs when someone’s physical or emotional reserves are spent. Often, the result of continued stress and dissatisfaction, burnout happens when the negative effects of pressure are amplified by a lack of support and resources, strict deadlines, and long hours.

Compounded by people’s unreasonable expectations of themselves or their personal lives, employee burnout can manifest in the workplace in many ways, from increased frustration and indifference to anger, withdrawal, reduced effectiveness, and even absenteeism.

While WHO see burnout as the consequence of mismanagement, in truth, outside factors like money worries, relationship issues and challenges in people’s home life can also play a significant role in what is a serious issue for both individual employees and the wider working environment.

Encouraging an open and supportive culture is vital, along with having a mental health policy in place but recognising the early signs and taking the appropriate action is the best way to prevent burnout.


Exhaustion – both physical and emotional, persistent fatigue and a lack of being able to concentrate after a good night’s sleep or time off are signs to keep an eye on.

Productivity Drops – a noticeable decline in motivation and performance, struggling to meet deadlines or making mistakes they wouldn’t normally make are red flags.

Detachment – people experiencing burnout might become increasingly cynical and detached from their work, colleagues, and the business as a whole.

Irritability – employees may become short-tempered, react strongly to minor stressors, and have difficulty maintaining composure in challenging situations.

Physical Symptoms – from headaches to stomach aches, a lack of sleep, and even susceptibility to illnesses can be indicative of burnout as chronic stress weakens the immune system.

Neglected Self-Care – employees might prioritise work over personal well-being, leading to the neglection of exercise, healthy eating, and spending time with loved ones.

Absenteeism – be attentive to people with more frequent sick days, personal days, or unexplained absences. Employees might feel the need to take time off to cope with their stress and exhaustion.

Being permanently “on” – with technology, people who find it increasingly difficult to disconnect from work and relax in their own time are worthy of observation.

If you notice any of these signs in your colleagues – or yourself – it’s essential to address them quickly. Having regular conversations about mental health and highlighting the support available is a good start.

Try to remember that this can be a hard topic for people to open up about. Removing the stigma and providing access to counselling can help employees to better understand and manage their condition. The NHS offers a free counselling service, as do several charities, including Mind, the mental health charity.

Burnout is a condition that is triggered by an individual’s work but it is their relationship with their work that leads to the illness. Understanding this is perhaps the most important piece of information I can share with you because your interventions should always focus on improving the relationship between an individual and their work.

Coupled with WHO’s definition, hopefully, we can identify and validate people’s symptoms as well as make sure the modern workplace can help them to make changes that will prevent burnout in the first place.


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