Managing employee burnout

By Gabe Scorgie

9 min read

Managing employee burnout
Illustration by Maya Ramadhina

There are days when you’ve just had enough—of your boss, your work, your commute, your co-workers, you name it. If it has to do with your job, you’re just done. I’ve had those days, and I bet you have too. 

But on the days you feel like that, does that mean you’ve reached that stage known as employee burnout?

No. But the more often those days pile up on one another, the greater the chances you’ll be up close and personal with burnout. 

Definition of employee burnout 

Before digging any deeper, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. 

Unlike the occasional days mentioned above, employee burnout is chronic, meaning it’s long-lasting and constantly reoccurring. It’s a state of both physical and emotional exhaustion that is the result of prolonged and excessive stress from one or more work-related factors.

Since every individual is unique, burnout can manifest itself in different ways. It’s typically a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms but depending on the person, one aspect may present more or less than the other. So, for example, it could be manifest physically through fatigue, emotionally through cynicism, or behaviorally through detachment.

The importance of addressing employee burnout

While it may—and that’s a big may—be okay to tell someone who’s simply having a bad day to get over it, that’s never okay if a person is legitimately dealing with burnout.

Addressing employee burnout should be a priority for the person dealing with it, and the organization they work for. And for several reasons, it’s critically important that it be dealt with as soon as possible.

Here are some reasons why:

Employee well-being: Every employer should be concerned with the well-being of their employees. 

Job performance: If the above isn’t enough of an incentive, the eventual toll burnout will take on a person’s physical and mental health will impact their job performance, leading to an overall decreased quality in their work.

Team dynamics: Burnout can have a ripple effect on the team. Someone suffering from burnout can be less cooperative, more irritable, and generally less interested in being helpful to their colleagues. All of this can lead to increased conflict and a toxic work environment.

Employee retention: Burnout can drive someone to leave their job. Organizations with high turnover face increased costs in terms of recruitment, training, and institutional knowledge. It makes more sense for them to address burnout in an effort to retain their valuable talent.

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Causes of employee burnout

What one person thrives on may be destructive to another, so the causes of employee burnout can be unique. Additionally, it’s not always just one thing that leads to burnout. It can be a combination of factors.

Having said that, here are some common job-related contributing factors:

Excessive workload: An unmanageable amount of work or unrealistic expectations regarding job performance. An example of this could be long workdays, excessive overtime, or an endless stream of high-pressure tasks.

Unclear job expectations: If the roles and responsibilities of an employee’s job aren’t properly defined from the start or if they’re constantly changing, they could begin to feel uncertain about what’s expected of them. This could naturally lead to stress and anxiety.

Work-life imbalance: Maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life is imperative. More emphasis on work without enough time for relaxation and personal pursuits is often a significant cause of burnout.

Job insecurity: When a person is concerned about losing their job for whatever reason, this can create a constant state of anxiety and stress.

Workplace culture: A toxic workplace will take its toll. Someone who has to deal with bullying, discrimination, or harassment may eventually face mental health issues and increased risk of burnout.

But personal factors can be the cause behind burnout as well. This could include:

  • A lack of self-care
  • A tendency to over commit
  • Cognitive factors such as negative thinking patterns
  • Expecting too much of oneself 
  • Inflexibility
  • Perfectionism
  • Personality traits such as being highly neurotic or having low resilience
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, emotional eating, or avoidance
  • Workaholism

Signs of employee burnout

Again, every individual is unique. So the signs of employee burnout may differ from one person to the next. Regardless, there are clues to watch out for.

Here are some common physical symptoms, but please note that these could be symptoms of other health problems as well:

Headaches: This would include frequent and severe headaches such as tension headaches or migraines

Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, lack of restorative sleep — REM or deep sleep — or any type of insomnia in general could be a symptom

Cardiovascular issues: Most of us know that long-term stress can contribute to a variety of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and an elevated risk of heart disease

Changes in appetite: Some people overeat when they’re stressed while others may lose their appetite entirely

There are some emotional symptoms to be aware of as well:

Increased irritability: Burnout — or the road to it — can cause employees to be more easily frustrated, short tempered, and impatient

Persistent anxiety: Ongoing feelings of worry, apprehension, and restlessness can show up both at work and at home

A decrease in motivation: A loss of motivation and enthusiasm or a general lack of interest in their job may be a sign of employee burnout

Feelings of helplessness: Burnout can lead someone to believing there’s nothing they can do to change their circumstances, leaving them feeling helpless and hopeless regarding their situation

Of course, there are behavioral symptoms of employee burnout as well:

Procrastination: Avoiding or delaying tasks that they now find overwhelming or emotionally draining can become a coping mechanism

Increased absenteeism or tardiness: Someone who’s burned out could be absent from work more often or they’re more frequently late for work or meetings

More frequent conflict: Someone who’s had their very last nerve frazzled will be more irritable and less tolerant, leading to increased conflict in the workplace

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Consequences of employee burnout

Employee burnout is going to affect the individual and the organization they work for. The consequences and implications for both can be quite serious.

First of all, let’s address the impact on an individual. To name a few:

Physical health: Burnout will take its toll on someone’s health. It can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a compromised immune system, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue, and more.

Mental health: There’s a close link between burnout and mental health issues. It can either worsen issues that are already underlying or be the cause of conditions such as anxiety, depression, persistent feelings of hopelessness, and even suicidal ideation.

Decreased job performance: If your mental and physical health are impacted, your job performance isn’t far behind. Productivity can decrease, more mistakes are bound to happen, deadlines are missed, and it can become a struggle just to meet the responsibilities of assigned duties and tasks.

Now for the possible impact on an organization:

Decreased productivity: If job performance is impacted at the individual level, it follows that this will directly impact organizational productivity. This could be due to reduced work output, missed deadlines, and more.

Increased healthcare costs: Depending on the company’s health care plan, employee burnout could mean the costs associated with medical consultations, treatments, and insurance claims.

Safety concerns: If the problem is in an industry that is safety sensitive or conscious, burnout can compromise safety standards, leading to an increase in the risk of accidents and injuries.

Prevention and treatment of employee burnout


We’ve talked about the causes, the signs and symptoms, and the cost and consequences of employee burnout. So what can individuals and organizations do to stop it from happening in the first place, or treated if it does happen?

From an organizational standpoint, preventing burnout will require a proactive approach. Here are some strategies:

Promote a work-life balance: Employees should be encouraged to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This could include setting clear expectations about work hours and supporting flexible arrangements where possible.

Supportive leadership: Train your managers and supervisors on how to recognize and address burnout. Encourage them to be empathetic, approachable, and the type of supportive leader who leads by example.

Offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): If possible, provide access to the EAPs that offer confidential counseling and support for any employee who may be dealing with personal or work-related challenges.

Encourage open communication: Foster the type of culture that encourages open and honest communication. This creates an atmosphere work employees feel comfortable discussing anything that concerns or stresses them.

When it comes to treatment strategies, consider these:

Flexible work arrangements: If you have an employee dealing with burnout, consider allowing them to at least temporarily adjust their work hours and responsibilities so they can reduce stress.

Stress reduction programs: There are a variety of stress reduction programs, such as mindfulness training or yoga classes that could be implemented to help employees manage their stress and build resilience.

Peer support: Consider establishing a peer support network or mentorship program that will allow an employee to connect with colleagues who have experienced and overcome burnout themselves.

Of course, the burden of prevention and treatment doesn’t land entirely on the organization. Individuals need to do their part as well. Here are some prevention strategies:

Self-awareness: All of us should be taking the time to regularly assess our own well-being and stress levels. It’s important that as individuals we can recognize the signs of burnout, such as persistent fatigue, irritability, and reduced motivation.

Prioritize self-care: Make self-care a priority. You can do this by participating in activities that promote both physical and mental well-being which could include exercise, a variety of relaxation techniques, hobbies, or just time spent with friends and family.

Time management: Managing your time wisely is a great way to reduce the chances of feeling overwhelmed. If necessary, implement to-do-lists and time-blocking.

If you’ve gone past the stage of prevention and are in need of treatment strategies, consider these:

Seek Professional Help: It may come to the point where you’re not capable of dealing with burnout without professional care. If so, seek the assistance you need from a therapist or counselor who specializes in stress management and burnout.

Allow time for recovery: It may be necessary to take time off work so you can rest and recover. This kind of break can be much needed and will allow you the time necessary to regain your physical and emotional strength.

Consider a work transition: If necessary, think about developing a plan for transitioning to a different role, department, or maybe even another organization that may better align with not only your career but your well-being goals as well.


Addressing the employee burnout is imperative for both individuals and organizations. It can have detrimental effects on an employee’s physical and mental well-being leading to chronic stress, health issues, decreased job performance, and maybe even job dissatisfaction.

On the organizational front, burnout can result in decreased productivity, high turnover rates, and maybe even a negative workplace reputation — all things that could make it difficult for an organization to attract top talent and remain competitive. Not to mention the potential increase in healthcare costs and recruitment expenses.

Organizations that take a proactive approach toward employee burnout can do so by fostering a healthier, more productive, and more responsible work environment that can benefit all involved.


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Gabe Scorgie

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