Watch Out for These Employee Burnout Signs

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Nov 16, 2022
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The American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Wellbeing Survey concluded that nearly three-in-five employees experienced burnout. The good news is, employee burnout is preventable, especially if employers are aware of its causes and the signs to watch out for. 

This is part two of a four-part series where we will dive into the basics of what you, as an employer, need to know about employee burnout, including an introduction to employee burnout, employee burnout signs, strategies for prevention and how it affects remote workers. If you suspect one of your employees is suffering from burnout, download or print this list of 11 questions to ask >>

Now, let's take a look at the causes and signs of employee burnout. 

Table of Contents

1. What Leads to Employee Burnout?

2. Which Employees Are at High Risk for Burnout?

3. How to Identify Early Stages of Employee Burnout

4. Employee Relations Expert: Axcet HR Solutions

Employee Burnout 101

What Leads to Employee Burnout?

You might recall from our last post, Employee Burnout 101, that employee burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic, unsuccessfully managed workplace stress. Some characteristics are exhaustion, cynicism surrounding one’s job and reduced efficiency at work. While the causes of employee burnout are nuanced, they can come from a variety of root issues. 

The Mayo Clinic recently identified some of the most critical factors that can lead to a feeling of burnout: 

  • A lack of work-life balance

    If an employee has a heavy workload and you notice that they’re putting in more hours than usual on the job, it’s a good time to ask them how they’re feeling, and if they feel like they’ve lost some of their work-life balance. 
  • Little to no support system

    Employees need support both at home and in their workplaces. If you notice that an employee doesn’t seem to have a group of coworkers at work that they can turn to, they may be at a higher risk for burnout. 
  • A lack of control over their own tasks 

    Many employees, especially post-pandemic, have some influence over when and where they work. While not all roles are eligible for remote or hybrid work, the concept of allowing employees a measure of control over their workdays can apply to in-person tasks as well. 

    If an employee has no input as to which assignments they cover and when they complete them, they could begin to feel frustrated, micromanaged, and eventually, burned out. 
  • No clear promotion in sight 

    While some managers may think that burnout is a problem only for those at the top, pay special attention to your employees in entry-level roles who may be yearning for more. 

    If there is no clear opportunity for advanced responsibilities or a promise of a future promotion in sight, employees may begin to feel as if they are in a dead-end job—leading to burnout. 
  • Unreasonable timelines 

    Some roles will always have time restraints due to the nature of the industry or function of the job (such as healthcare workers and first responders). In most roles, however, deadlines can be flexible. 

    When employees are struggling with timelines imposed by managers, it may be that their managers aren’t completely familiar with how long quality work takes to be completed. If an employee feels rushed, they’re more likely to burn out in the long run. 

how to prevent an employee who didn't get the promotion from quitting

Which Employees Are High Risk for Burnout? 

The good news is that burnout isn’t inevitable; the bad news is that it is at times ubiquitous. That’s why, when managers and human resources professionals consider the question of which employee groups are at the highest risk for burnout, there are several ways to arrive at an “answer.” 

Unfortunately, there is no one way to be sure that we know exactly who to keep a sharp eye on. Specific industries and roles tend to be high-stress, involve long hours, and demand a heavy shift toward work on the work-life balance spectrum. At the same time, some research suggests that certain personality traits predispose individuals in any industry toward burnout. 

Overall, post-pandemic research leaves us with some key items to keep in mind: 

  • High-stress industries

According to the 2021 Work and Wellbeing survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), three in five employees are experiencing negative effects of stress at work, such as depleted motivation and energy and emotional and physical exhaustion. The study found that teachers, healthcare workers and those in other caretaking professions were among those who suffered the most from burnout.

The study warns that managers should also be aware of the unique stressors faced by those in public-facing roles, who must handle mounting issues with increasingly irritable clients and customers. 

  • Predisposition to burnout 

Ultimately, burnout is a solvable problem that can be managed through a variety of workplace awareness and intervention techniques. Might some employees, however, be at risk just because of their personalities?

Some research suggests this may be the case. A study of female nurses conducted in 2019, while perhaps limited in its application to other industries, might give managers insight as to what to look out for in their own employees. 

The study found that neuroticism (sometimes characterized by perfectionism, anxiety, and self-consciousness) had a strong positive correlation with burnout. Extraversion and agreeableness, however, held a negative correlation. If a takeaway is available, it may be that managers should check in frequently on their workaholic, introverted employees. 

burnout at work five burnout busters

How to Identify Early Stages of Employee Burnout

When it comes to employee burnout, knowing the outward signs of a mounting issue is key to keeping your employees happy and around for the long haul. Here are some common signs of a budding burnout problem: 

  • Taking more sick days, vacation days or other PTO leave than normal.

  • Employees who were previously showing interest in growing and improving, but have ceased communication regarding performance and future goals with their manager. 

  • Employees who seem unconfident in their outcomes and abilities. According to the Harvard Business Review, this may be a sign of internal passive burnout, the hardest type of burnout to notice. 

  • Signs of despondency, even subtle. These may manifest as a resigned tone and depressive body language, such as frequent sighs or head shaking. 

  • A lack of attention to routine rules can indicate either being rushed or no longer caring about internal processes at the company. 

Still unsure if one of your employees is suffering from burnout? Check out this expert guide with 11 questions to ask your employees to determine if they are suffering from burnout >>

how to determine if an employee is burned out

Axcet HR Solutions: Employee Relations Experts

Interested in shifting your workplace culture to address and prevent employee burnout, but unsure of where to start? Axcet HR Solutions is here to help. Our employee relations experts will work with your organization to help you identify pitfalls, pain points, and strategies for future success. Schedule a time to speak with our experienced team today >>

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