Are your employees burning out? The American Psychological Association is reporting record highs in employee burnout signs across all professions.
To acknowledge the global impact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently upgraded its definition of burnout from a phenomenon to a syndrome. WHO’s International Disease Classification (ICD-11) now ranks burnout among health syndromes with profoundly negative emotional and physiological consequences.
Now’s the right time to look within the ranks of your company and spot employee burnout signs. Your colleagues may need urgent intervention to address burnout before it harms their mental or physical health—not to mention the health of your organization.
What is Employee Burnout?
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines employee burnout as “unhealthy mental, physical, and emotional states where stress and anxiety rule.” Burned-out employees often appear unmotivated, apathetic, irritable, panicky, and overwhelmingly negative about their roles and employers.
One of the most unsettling aspects of employee burnout is that people often recognize it in others before recognizing it within themselves. Feelings of burnout often simmer for long periods, and as SHRM reports, “it’s not always easy to recognize when burnout is happening to you.”
This leads to the development of poor leadership habits and productivity inhibitors which become ingrained over time. Someone who’s starting to burn out might forget to do essential tasks or refuse to accomplish them as thoroughly as they used to. They might even push work onto other employees who, in turn, begin to burn out too.
A fully burned-out employee has no desire to grow or progress further with the company. They may even begin to experience personal struggles with clinical depression, anxiety, panic attacks, chest pains, and other serious health conditions requiring immediate attention.
What Are the Top Employee Burnout Signs?
The signs of employee burnout vary among people and organizations, so leaders should check in with employees to see if burnout is an issue. Some people have difficulty accepting burnout until someone has a heart-to-heart with them.
Keep in mind that burnout looks different in various people, so there’s no single “typical” way of displaying the signs of burnout. Leaders should keep an eye out for any of the signs listed below and consider ways they might more fully support struggling employees.
Top Employee Burnout Signs:
- Elevated stress levels and constant talk about stress
- Hostility and irritability
- Low-quality work, missed deadlines, and incomplete tasks
- Cynicism toward coworkers and clients
- A sense of detachment from the company
- Sleep disturbances that lead to daytime fatigue
- Panic attacks or chest pains that seem related to work
- Avoidance of supervisors and new assignments
- Low engagement or quiet quitting
- Outright threatening to quit or start interviewing elsewhere
Burnout can manifest differently for people with certain health conditions and challenges. Someone with a history of heart disease, for example, may be at a higher risk of a heart attack due to severe workplace stress. Even mild signs of burnout could quickly escalate to a life-threatening outcome for someone in this situation.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found the following long-term occupational outcomes for people experiencing workplace burnout: Overall job/career dissatisfaction, workplace absenteeism, new disability pension, and a need for preventive interventions.
How to Spot Burnout in Employees
Ask someone what makes them feel burned out, and they’ll probably have plenty to say. Forbes reports that the top causes of burnout among millions of U.S. employees are experiencing persistent poor communication, feeling overworked/underappreciated, having unclear expectations, and working for bosses who leave them feeling unsupported or micromanaged.
“Working in a toxic environment” is among Forbes’ top burnout factors, which includes issues like company cultural clashes and hostile work environments. Many burned-out employees also said a contributing factor was “feeling the need to be constantly connected to work.” Even the most engaged and enthusiastic worker needs downtime to prevent burnout.
The Mayo Clinic lists additional factors with strong connections between workplace burnout and negative health consequences. These include working excessively long hours, feeling an uneven work-life balance, working in a helping profession like the medical field, feeling a lack of social support, and working somewhere with “dysfunctional workplace dynamics.”
One of the best things an organization can do to avoid worker burnout is to provide support and education for employees’ job skills, workplace confidence, and positive mindsets. This includes supporting your organization’s team leaders, who often need extra leadership development resources to rely on during tough times.
Consider adding resources like:
- Free or low-cost mental health counseling
- Optional social events to help coworkers feel connected
- Built-in moments of downtime as part of the company culture
- Timely reviews with opportunity for two-way feedback
- Skill-building and leadership development opportunities
- Personalized coaching to help people feel supported and encouraged
Experts say the best employee development approaches are customized, robust programs with mentors on hand to provide individual attention. Avoid burnout and help your employees feel successful by providing ongoing support rather than just a one-time seminar.
To learn more about your options for developing employee resources and preventing burnout, please download Leadership Resources’ whitepaper about emotional intelligence.