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Employee Burnout: How To Spot It And Prevent It

Details: Written by Kate Hutchinson |

It’s labelled an epidemic of the modern workplace, but what is employee burnout, what causes it, and can it be prevented? A recent study revealed that nearly one-quarter of people in the workforce experience burnout ‘very often’ or ‘always’, with an additional 44% saying they feel burnt out ‘sometimes’. In short, this means that two-thirds of your employees could feel burnt out on the job. As an employer or manager, you can help spot the early signs of burnout and prevent it.

This blog will explore the what, why and how of managing employee burnout within your business and will take no longer than 8 minutes to read.

What is the meaning of feeling burnt out?

In 2019, ‘burnout’ was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’, characterised by:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • An increased mental distance at work, feelings of negativity and/or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Stress vs burnout are two very different things and the two must be understood with clarity by employers as separate states with separate signs and symptoms.

Psychology Today suggests that stress is defined by a temporary feeling of struggling to cope with pressures, which in turn then leads to burnout-an altogether separate state.

Once burnout takes hold, the individual risks getting stuck in a cyclical state of negative emotions and withdrawal.

What are the causes of burnout in the workplace?

There is no singular cause for employee burnout.

Many assume that employee burnout is caused by working long hours and generally not ‘switching off’ after work, but quite often there is much more to it.

“Each person has their own unique ‘burnout cocktail’. It’s never just one thing that brings on burnout, but the outcome is always the same – a person who is struggling to juggle everything, to the point where mental and physical health suffers,” says Dr Sonia Hutton-Taylor, co-founder of Burnout Geese, an organisation that offers learning materials and support on burnout.

The following are some but not all of the potential causes associated with employee burnout:

  • Difficulty in managing stress
  • Poor leadership from managers
  • Lack of control over workload or deadlines
  • Concerns around job security
  • Perfectionism

Let’s take a closer look at these possible causes of workplace burnout……

Difficulty in managing stress

A common characteristic of workplace burnout is stress, with a staggering 1 in 5 employees telling the charity Mind that they feel unable to manage stress and pressure in the workplace.

Poor leadership from managers

HR Magazine revealed that 23% of employees cited poor leadership as the main source of employee burnout in the workplace, with ‘work overload’ coming in second place with 19%. A common side effect of poor leadership is employees feeling undervalued or underappreciated at work, which can aggravate feelings of burnout.

Lack of control over workload or deadlines

Mayo Clinic have suggested that the inability to control to influence decisions regarding workload, schedule and even email wording can negatively impact a worker’s well-being.

Concerns around job security

Prolonged job instability has been linked to a variety of negative health conditions, including workplace burnout. According to Indeed, employees who experience job instability may suffer from emotional exhaustion, lack trust and tend to focus on the problems rather than the solutions.


This may seem like an obvious one to some, but employees who are considered perfectionists are more prone to burnout. Personality typing expert Truity has highlighted in detail that some personality types have ‘characteristics that increase the odds of burnout’.

Tell-tale signs of burnout and how to spot burnout in employees

As an employer or employee, you can help spot the tell-tale signs of burnout in a colleague. Spotting the signs of burnout at work and where necessary, sign-posting to other resources can help prevent further distress and maintain well-being in the workplace.

By recognising the signs and symptoms early, managers can help protect the individual's mental health as well as uphold a positive and empathetic workplace culture.

Some of the possible mental and physical symptoms of burnout in the workplace include:

  • Disillusionment/loss of meaning
  • Mental and physical fatigue and exhaustion
  • Moodiness, impatience, and being short-tempered
  • Loss of motivation and a reduced interest in commitments
  • Inability to meet obligations
  • Lowered immunity to illness
  • Emotional detachment from previous involvements
  • Feeling efforts are unappreciated
  • Withdrawal from coworkers and social situations
  • Hopelessness, and a helpless and depressed outlook
  • Job absenteeism and inefficiency
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Foggy thinking and trouble concentrating

All of the above symptoms can be physically and emotionally draining on any individual with a significant impact on overall work performance. Surveys show that 60% of work absenteeism is attributed to stress and stress-related burnout. Not only will this impact the individual, but it could also impact the wider business and other team members.

Further research has proven that when employees feel like they have autonomy over their work-life balance and feel capable of managing a heavy workload the symptoms of stress and burnout are minimised.

So what can you do?

How to prevent burnout in the workplace

Burnout doesn’t fix itself, so it’s essential to take active steps in addressing the underlying problems before they escalate. How managers choose to run their teams and the culture they encourage within the workplace are just a few starting points for critical inward reflection.

Whilst it may seem daunting to be responsible for the well-being of an entire team, there are some quick actions you can take immediately to help tackle burnout in your workforce.

6 quick actions you can take today to help prevent burnout

  1. Assign and train a mental health first aider
  2. It is anticipated that 1 in 6 workers will experience depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress at any one time. Mental Health First Aid Training is an effective way of maintaining well-being in the workplace. Since March 2020, mental health charity- Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) has trained over 132,000 people in their mental health first aid course. 77,000 of those who completed their training went on to qualify as mental health first aiders across 20,000 UK businesses.
  1. Identify stress factors
  2. As a manager or employer, you can actively help remove and mitigate potential stressors such as unrealistic deadlines, unclear objectives and workflow interruptions. Individually, these stressors might not seem like a huge issue but over a long time. they can lead to burnout. And since our mind doesn’t always separate stressors or where they’re coming from, stress from work may pile on top of challenges in different parts of an employee’s life.
  1. Be a positive role model
  2. We understand that everybody has ‘off days’, we are all human after all, but as an employer or manager, you can help set the tone for the rest of the team. Those in senior leadership roles must demonstrate the values they want to see from their employees. Want to encourage a healthy work-life balance in your team? Don’t send that email past 5 pm- it can wait. If your email really can't wait until Monday, make sure your team knows that is not expected of them and that it is an out-of-the-ordinary circumstance.
  1. Schedule regular 121s with your team
  2. Communication is everything! By having frequent 121s with your team, you have an opportunity to understand what they need to succeed, as well as the chance to address any potential stressors in their infancy. Discuss progress against goals as well as anything else they want to talk about. Is your calendar all booked out? Why not try a survey to get a quick impression of how your team is doing?
  1. Signpost to support
  2. You’re not expected to be an expert in all things burnout. What you can do is ensure that the individual is made aware of and has access to a plethora of support from experts in the field. If you’re not sure what services are available, reach out to your HR team who can ensure you are equipped with all the resources available to you. From online time management courses to well-being tips to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and access to medical expertise, there are steps your employees can take to help take control of their well-being.
  1. Encourage regular breaks
  2. It’s a simple one! Encourage your team to take regular ‘brain breaks’. It’s important to be compassionate and trust your team members to take 5 minutes away when they need to. Micro-breaks, lunchtime breaks and longer breaks have all been shown to have a positive relationship with well-being and productivity. Time away from a desk or screen can do wonders for our mental health, and creativity and is a surefire way to press reset for an afternoon of productive work in the best mindset.

How The Skills Network can help with burnout prevention and workplace well-being

The Skills Network can offer your business a plethora of mental health online courses that can be delivered for free via AEB or SFC funding.

Online mental health courses include:

  • Level 2 Certificate in Mental Health First Aid and Well-being Advocacy
  • Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Advocacy in the Workplace
  • Mental Health Awareness CPD
  • Level 2 Awareness of Mental Health Problems
Find out more about our own health and well-being initiatives here at The Skills Network.