Matthew Urwin | Aug 25, 2022

Employee burnout refers to the extreme stress employees feel that can eventually lead to their departure. Not only that, but burnout has huge implications for your bottom line — decreased productivity, depleted morale and significant product delays all cost you money. 

Burnout spreads like wildfire; it can wipe out your team if you’re not careful. Your employees are your most important asset, especially in today’s uncertain times. Making sure they have the support they need to be successful should be your number one priority as their manager. 

To help you get ahead of a wide-scale workplace burnout problem on your team, we’ve outlined common signs and causes of burnout, as well as tips to keep it under control.

Table of Contents


What Is Employee Burnout?

Employee burnout — also known as workplace burnout — happens when an individual’s physical, emotional and mental resources are spent. It’s unlike the occasional stress everyone feels at their job when the pressure’s on and stakes are high; burnout is the loss of interest in and motivation to work. Think of it like a flame — when the wick’s burnt out, it’s done.

Employee Burnout Definition

Employee burnout is when someone loses motivation to continue performing their job due to physical and emotional fatigue. Burnout typically happens when an employee endures extended periods of workplace stress without time to rest and recover.

Burnout at work often happens as a result of being overworked or poorly treated, and it’s a pervasive problem. Not only does it lead to additional burnout among team members, but it can result in higher turnover and impact your company culture on a broad scale. One frustrated employee can instigate a culture of negativity that demotivates top performers and deters exceptional candidates from joining your team. 

Keeping your employees happy and motivated is essential to your team’s long-term success. Employee exits can be extremely costly — totaling one-third of the employee’s salary on average — and result in more departures from team members. In short, making a concerted effort to improve your employee retention rate and mitigate job burnout is more important than ever for tech leaders.

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5 Common Signs of Employee Burnout

Early intervention is key to getting ahead of employee burnout before the toxic cycle begins. In order to do that, however, you need to be familiar with the signs of burnout. Below are common indicators of employee burnout to watch out for within your team.

Signs of Burnout in the Workplace

General burnout symptoms include stressed body language, a disinterested attitude toward work-related activities and a decline in physical health. For example, a burnt-out employee may take days off from work more often and exhibit frustration when they’re in the office.


1. Disinterested or nervous body language

Over half of communication is nonverbal, so it’s vital that you pay attention to body language as much as you listen to your employees. Look out for cues of nervousness, disinterest or frustration, even when conducting video chats and phone calls remotely. If employees seem more irritable than usual, they’re probably testing the limits of their patience and you should talk to them immediately to avoid burnout.


2. Lack of involvement in social activities

If your employees stop participating in your company’s social gatherings, that could be a sign of workplace burnout. Culture initiatives and social events should be a fun, lighthearted way to help employees relax and connect with their colleagues. If employees feel like they don’t have the time for it due to responsibilities at work or simply aren’t interested in joining in on the fun, they likely are feeling stretched thin or disconnected from the team.


3. Frequent absenteeism

There’s a direct correlation between employee burnout and absenteeism. In fact, burnt-out employees are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day. If your employees are frequently missing work, it’s likely because they’re reaching their limits and need to take a break to prevent burnout.


4. More frequent illnesses

Another reason absenteeism is a clear sign of workplace burnout: chronic stress can cause larger health complications and lowers the body’s ability to fight off infection, which means people are more susceptible to illness. In fact, burnt-out employees are 23 percent more likely to land in an emergency room. Whether employees regularly need days off or are repeatedly out and too sick to work, there are likely deeper issues at play and burnout is on the horizon.

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5. Reduced productivity 

If an employee’s output starts to dip, it might be a sign of a maxed-out bandwidth and job burnout. Alternatively, it could mean they’re feeling unmotivated and are struggling to tackle their work with the same energy. However, be cognizant of the fact that some days, weeks and quarters will be better than others; employees won’t always put up the same numbers. Use productivity as a sign, but talk to your employees to better understand the situation — there may be other factors at play.


5 Common Causes of Employee Burnout

Once you’ve spotted the warning signs of burnout among your employees, you must take action. Quickly home in on the problem and address it immediately. Understanding the issue is key to successful problem-solving. Start by considering these five most common causes of burnout in the workplace.

Causes of Workplace Burnout

Workplace burnout can be caused by confusing or unrealistic goals, isolated conditions in remote work and an environment that discourages rest. The absence of manager support and proper recognition can also deflate workers and eventually result in job burnout.


1. Lack of manager support

As a manager, you have a significant impact on your direct reports: 67 percent of employees feel more engaged when they have a supportive manager. Additionally, team members that believe their manager has their back are 70 percent less likely to burn out on a regular basis. Knowing they have someone to turn to with questions and concerns gives employees a sense of security and can help them prevent burnout.


2. Unattainable or unclear goals

As we’ll discuss later on, working toward a goal that’s impossible to achieve will severely demotivate employees. Additionally, if employees don’t know what is expected of them or expectations are constantly being re-prioritized, they’ll struggle to develop a sense of ownership of their work, increasing the risk of experiencing burnout.


3. Remote work isolation

When personal and professional lives are so closely intertwined as they often are when working from home, employees struggle to unplug and avoid burnout. It’s easy to get sucked back into assignments and responsibilities when you’re just a few feet from your office. This can lead to longer work hours and additional stress. On top of that, remote employees are more susceptible to feeling disconnected from their managers and teammates. As a result, they may experience unnecessary pressure to perform well and consequently overwork themselves.


4. Lack of recognition 

Acknowledging and celebrating achievements plays an important role in employee engagement. In fact, 43 percent of employees say that feeling appreciated by the company increases their confidence at work. Failing to recognize employees will lead them to feel undervalued and unmotivated, simultaneously increasing their risk of workplace burnout.

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5. Excessive job demands

Employees may simply be doing too much. If it’s all-systems-go all of the time, they’re going to quickly burn out. At a certain point, a high-demand workload starts to feel like a marathon without a finish line in sight. Employees need to be able to catch their breath before jumping back into their work in order to prevent burnout.


10 Tips to Avoid Employee Burnout

During periods of uncertainty, employees are more likely to experience stress at work, which can lead to burnout. It’s vital that managers regularly check in on their direct reports and ensure they’re getting the support they need, both as employees and as individuals. High-impact roles that often work in silos, like tech roles, require additional supervision to manage employee engagement and avoid burnout. Below are 10 tips tech leaders can use to avoid employee burnout.

Tips to Avoid Burnout

Businesses can prevent burnout among teams by prioritizing wellness and mental health. This means encouraging feedback, setting manageable goals, making time for restful and fun activities and automating tasks to lighten workloads, among other initiatives.


1. Give Frequent and Actionable Feedback 

Give and collect feedback during regular one-on-ones with your direct reports to avoid burnout in the workplace. This helps build a stronger manager-employee relationship and provides individuals with a private opportunity to discuss challenges they’re facing. For remote employees, use a video conferencing platform so you can still speak face-to-face. 

Provide employees with feedback they can use to improve in their role. Both constructive criticism and praise have a positive impact on engagement. In fact, 69 percent of employees say they would work harder if they received more recognition for their efforts, and 24 percent would consider looking for work elsewhere if they received inadequate feedback from their managers.

Also, ask team members for feedback; listen to their concerns and brainstorm ways to improve communication and enhance their employee experience. More than half of employees who leave their jobs say their manager or organization could have stepped in to prevent such a decision. As a result, it’s crucial managers ask their team members for their input and take action accordingly to help mitigate voluntary turnover.


2. Prioritize wellness and mental health

The physical and emotional toll of employee burnout costs roughly $125 to 190 billion in health care expenditures each year in the U.S. It’s difficult to maintain work-life balance in a digital world where we’re always plugged in, but it’s even harder for remote employees whose home life and office overlap. 

Encourage your direct reports to take time for themselves as needed. Remember that each individual is unique and will require different forms of support to stay physically and mentally healthy. Allow your team to take advantage of the wellness opportunities offered in your employee benefits package as a way to boost your company culture and prevent burnout.


3. Normalize Taking Breaks

Some employees will be hesitant to unplug out of fear of missing an update or falling behind. Implement different activities into your team’s routine that offer a mental break from the grind. 

For example, before your first meeting of the day, get your entire team together for a virtual meditation session. This could include goal setting for the day, repeating a mantra or practicing guided breathing exercises. 

Incorporating wellness activities into the workday ensures employees know it’s OK to take time to recharge. Acting critical of their need to do so is not conducive to a healthy and supportive work environment, and can actually cost your organization money — 60 percent of employees would take a pay cut to work for an empathetic employer that recognizes the consequences of job burnout.


4. Set and maintain realistic expectations 

Nothing will demotivate and disengage an employee faster than unattainable goals. Feeling like they’re chasing after a moving target and constantly missing the mark will shatter an employee’s self-confidence and potentially lead to workplace burnout. Goals should be both progressive and flexible; you shouldn’t expect a new hire to perform at the level of a two-year-tenured employee. 

Furthermore, you may come across bumps in the process that require you to shift your approach entirely. If that’s the case, employees should not be beholden to outdated or overly aggressive goals. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets should be adjusted as needed and especially as the employee progresses in their role.


5. Improve your onboarding process

Your onboarding process is an employee’s first real introduction to your company, and a strong onboarding sequence sets employees on the path to success. According to a Glassdoor survey, employees are 18 times more likely to feel a commitment to their company if the onboarding process meets their expectations, and 49 percent of employees are then able to contribute during their first week. 

It’s a manager’s job to give employees the tools they need to thrive in their role, and that means clearly outlining their responsibilities and objectives. If employees know what’s expected of them, they’re more likely to take pride and invest in their work while setting boundaries to avoid burnout. Additionally, introduce new employees to members of your team and help them understand your type of organizational culture. Doing so will allow them to build a connection with other employees and cultivate a sense of belonging. Make sure to play your part in optimizing your virtual onboarding plan for today’s remote world.


6. Offer flexible scheduling

Giving employees the freedom to adapt their working hours to their personal lives has a positive impact on engagement. Not only does it help them establish a work-life balance that meets their needs and helps prevent burnout, it also gives them a sense of autonomy, which enhances their overall employee experience.

Furthermore, customizing their work schedule enables employees to hone in on their most productive hours. If an individual knows they tend to check out after 4:00 p.m., they can shift their day to start earlier and sign off before productivity plummets. For remote teams, this is an easy way to avoid workplace burnout without overhauling your efforts; with everything online, employees can easily catch up on projects if their schedules don’t align.


7. Improve and automate processes

Sometimes freeing up an employee’s bandwidth is as simple as automating a process. For example, if a UX designer dedicates the first few hours of every project to recreating the same framework, take the time to create a template they can return to and modify as needed. 

Work to identify bottlenecks, whether that be individual contributors or process limitations, so you can mitigate them for your team. Sometimes removing a step or consolidating responsibilities through delegation can improve how employees work together, ease frustrations with a process and prevent burnout in the long run.


8. Encourage passion projects

People are naturally more engaged with their work if it’s something they enjoy doing. In addition to encouraging your team members to explore their interests — both at work and in their free time — provide them the autonomy to choose their tasks. If a software developer prefers working in one coding language over the other, allow them to work predominantly on projects that fit their interests.

Of course, every employee has responsibilities they may not enjoy that have to get done. As a team leader, it’s not your job to customize roles to the individual. Still, refocusing an employee’s priorities and task list to better align with their professional interests and goals is a productive form of employee development. Helping employees do work that excites them and allows them to grow in their careers reduces the risk of workplace burnout.


9. Make time for fun

Engaging social initiatives should already be in place as part of your company culture, but you can implement additional activities specifically for your team. Doing so helps employees bond as a collective unit and on a personal level. It also helps them blow off steam at the end of the work day and relieve stress to avoid burnout. 

Schedule happy hours, plan team meet-ups or simply eat lunch together. Anything you can do that offers an enjoyable break from work will infuse positivity into your employees’ days. Furthermore, it forces them to take a step back from their projects and relax, which is essential to avoiding workplace burnout. Adopt a few of these virtual activities to bring all of your employees together.


10. Offer rewards

In addition to recognizing employees for a job well-done, give them a reward for their efforts. Incentives and prizes are common among sales teams, but also work well in motivating and engaging employees across all departments. Offering rewards makes employees feel appreciated and encourages them to take pride in their work. 

It doesn’t have to be a significant monetary prize or an all-inclusive vacation package, either. Employees will appreciate an extra day of PTO to prevent burnout, a gift card to their favorite restaurant or the chance to join an exciting industry event. When determining rewards for your team, ask them what they’d enjoy most. This makes them feel included in the decision-making process and increases the likelihood that they’ll be motivated by the prize.

Avoiding burnout essentially boils down to this: Listen to your employees. When asked, they’ll tell you what it is they need to feel more confident about their work and to be successful in their role. Be vigilant against the signs of employee burnout and take action immediately to retain top performers and entice great job seekers.

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