Employee burnout: identifying the signs & causes

Employee burnout: identifying the signs & causes

Today’s organizations are responsible for ensuring staff can perform at their best and feel emotionally supported and valued. A recent Gallup poll shows that more than a fifth of employees feel burned out at work, and 63% are likely to stay home sick if they’re affected by burnout. Worse than that? Employee burnout might cause performance to be reduced by as much as 13%. The issue needs addressing. 

Preventing employee burnout is essential for the success of any company, regardless of size, industry, demographic, or location. Burnout can be caused by stress in the workplace, lack of recognition, inadequate training or support, or a host of other culprits. 

What is employee burnout, and how can you identify and prevent it? Whether it be providing therapy for employees or creating more open dialogue, read on to learn how to identify and fight back against workplace burnout in your organization, creating a more robust, healthier workforce that’s motivated and engaged in the workplace. 

What is employee burnout?

Employee burnout is a complex issue that can happen when people are exhausted from their jobs. It can be one of the most harmful effects of stress in the workplace and being overworked. 

Deloitte research found that nearly 77% of employees surveyed have had at least one experience of burnout — and more than half say they’ve experienced it more than once. 

Burnout can affect organizations of all sizes. It can lead to decreased employee productivity, increased absenteeism, and even employee turnover. However, by implementing proactive strategies, employers can identify burned-out employee symptoms and address them before they impact an organization’s performance.  

What are the signs of employee burnout?

Burnout among personnel is critical and can have detrimental consequences for both the employee and the company. HR managers need to be aware of employee burnout signs so they can quickly take steps to address it and promote the importance of employee well-being. People who are burned out might seem:

  • Excessively irritated
  • Exhausted
  • Frustrated
  • Empty 
  • Cynical
  • Sick
  • Prone to making simple mistakes more often
  • Depressed 

The most common symptoms of employee burnout, explored in detail, follow.

Loss of motivation

Not having energy or any eagerness for a job might indicate burnout. This lack of motivation could result in reduced or even lost productivity, difficulty completing tasks, or even missing deadlines. It’s important to make clear that these symptoms, if they’re truly related to burnout, are not due to laziness. Burnout can cause employees to feel uninspired by their job. A disengaged employee might feel as if they need something new or different to keep them motivated.

Increased absenteeism

Burned-out employees often start taking more days off than usual. They also may start coming in late, as they might be struggling with getting up in the morning or having enough energy to get through the day. This absenteeism can lead to decreased productivity overall, affecting the individual and their team members, who often find they must pick up the extra slack.

Low morale and negative attitude

When an employee is burned out, they may become increasingly pessimistic about their job and coworkers. This can lead them to a downward spiral where nothing seems right no matter how hard they try. If left unchecked, this negativity can spread throughout your organization like wildfire until morale becomes dangerously low across all departments. This is one reason it’s so essential for HR managers to recognize signs of burnout early on before things get too far out of hand.

Exhaustion and fatigue

Burned-out employees tend to experience extreme exhaustion, even if their hours aren’t necessarily any longer than what other people put in around them. Fatigue from high-level stress-related issues like anxiety or depression can make it difficult for someone suffering from burnout to focus on anything during working hours, which is obviously not ideal.

What causes employee burnout?

Burnout is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It can occur when employees feel overwhelmed or unable to meet their demands. HR professionals should be mindful of the potential factors that could prevent employee burnout from happening again.

Lack of autonomy

When employees don’t have control over how they do their job, they may become frustrated and unmotivated. Ultimately, lack of autonomy can lead to feelings of powerlessness, eventually resulting in burnout. 

How to solve it: Strive to ensure that employees have a certain level of authority over executing duties and that they can make decisions concerning their job-life balance.

Unrealistic expectations

Being overworked is one of the root causes of stress in the workplace, and a key factor in that is unrealistic expectations for employees. Employees may become burned out if unrealistic or unclear expectations are placed upon them frequently. This might be due to things like tight deadlines within their workload or too many responsibilities with insufficient resources to do their job correctly. 

How to solve it: Establish — and more importantly, effectively communicate — achievable objectives and clear expectations that are tailored to employees’ talents and strengths. Make sure there is enough assistance and support that they can achieve these goals without overburdening anyone.

No downtime

If an employee perceives that they’re unable to take respite or rest, it could lead to burnout and low spirits. When personal needs aren’t being given attention, and work obligations are the only focus, it can be overwhelming. 

How to solve it: Create a healthy work-life balance. Vacation policies must be clearly defined and enforced while ensuring everyone has access to sufficient rest periods throughout their days.

Feeling undervalued

Feeling unappreciated at work can contribute to employee burnout. People need positive employee feedback and reinforcement to remain motivated and productive over long periods. 

How to solve it: Implement incentives like bonuses, promotions, and acknowledgments into the workplace culture to let employees know the rewards they can earn for their accomplishments. This way, everyone knows what’s expected from them, and they’ll feel valued and experience job satisfaction for going above and beyond.

The need to address & prevent employee burnout

Burnout can damage a business or organization, causing reduced efficiency, absenteeism, low morale, and high staff turnover. Thus, it’s critical to recognize the signs of burnout early so you can address the issue quickly before it’s too late. Talkspace’s Employee Stress Check 2022 Report found that more than half of the 1400 people surveyed (53%) are burned out in their jobs, and a third (33%) say that workplace stress impacts their happiness.

Think this problem doesn’t affect your company? Think again — 51% of people who left their jobs did so due to burnout

What can you do? First, address the problem head-on. If you don’t think you can do anything to make a difference, think about the simple fact that 66% of the people surveyed who’ve considered quitting say that access to mental healthcare could make a difference

How to address employee burnout

As an HR manager, it’s critical to recognize employee exhaustion so you can take action. Here are some tips for addressing employee burnout:

  • Recognize warning signs: Be aware of the warning signs of employee burnout, including increased absenteeism or changes in attitude or behavior. By recognizing these signs early on, you can intervene before the situation gets out of hand.
  • Create a positive work environment: Creating a positive work environment with open communication and trust between employees and management is crucial in preventing employee burnout. Encourage team-building activities and provide opportunities for employees to socialize outside of work hours.
  • Offer flexible working arrangements: Providing employees with a flexible schedule and working arrangements, such as remote or part-time options, can give them more autonomy over their workloads and schedules while helping to foster a sense of value and appreciation.  
  • Provide mental health support services: Providing mental health support services — such as counseling sessions, meditation classes, or access to online therapy platforms like Talkspace — is great for helping employees manage stress levels effectively without feeling overwhelmed by their workloads. Offering therapy for employees will make them feel supported when they need it most.
  • Suggest self-care: Encouraging self-care practices among your staff members helps ensure they stay physically and mentally healthy while at work. This could include offering yoga classes during lunch breaks, providing time off when needed, encouraging regular exercise, or taking frequent breaks throughout the day. Allowing employees time away from their desks will enable them to reset mentally so they feel refreshed instead and ready to tackle the day.

Make your employees’ mental health a priority 

Employee burnout is a significant problem that requires serious attention. You can’t afford to risk the far-reaching repercussions, including diminished performance, greater absenteeism, and even physical and mental health issues. Talkspace offers services designed specifically for organizations looking to provide their employees with support and resources to manage stress in the workplace.

Talkspace offers a straightforward system that allows you to link workers with experienced, licensed mental healthcare professionals who are knowledgeable in helping people learn to manage and handle job-related stressors. 

Create an atmosphere where employees can be candid about their psychological health concerns without feeling apprehensive or ashamed. Talkspace’s suite of tools gives employers access to detailed analytics on employee engagement levels to better understand how best to address burnout before it becomes an issue. Don’t wait — make Talkspace a part of your company culture today. 


  1. Wigert , Ben, and Sangeeta Agrawal. “Employee Burnout, Part 1: The 5 Main Causes.” Gallup, March 10, 2023.
  2. Fisher, Jen. “Workplace Burnout Survey: Deloitte Us.” Deloitte United States, April 24, 2020.  

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