Are You Burned Out? Here Are Signs You Should Look for

Last Updated:Wednesday, November 15, 2023
  • Fatou Darboe

Image credit: Quartz

You are probably familiar with burnout. Perhaps you’ve experienced it before? If not, here’s a brief recap of what burnout is.

Burnout occurs in employees that have completely exhausted their physiological and psychological strength due to prolonged stress or frustration.

The main cause is usually the work environment: a generally stressful job, tight deadlines, a toxic work environment, lack of support or resources, etc.

Sometimes, burnout occurs as a result of your own expectations of yourself or your personal circumstances.

It can manifest in several ways. From irritation or inertia towards your work, constant irritability, exhaustion, absenteeism to anger and being argumentative.

These things can all drain a company’s morale and resources (mainly economic). Burned out employees cost a company in terms of productivity and when a burned out employee quits, a company incurs costs to search for their replacement and training. So it is a lose-lose situation for both employees and companies.

The sad truth is that burnout out cannot always be prevented. But can be controlled. In order to control it, one needs to understand the reasons for burnout and then find cooperative solutions to try and revive employee motivation.

This article will go over ways in which employees and employers can avoid burnout.

How Employees Can Avoid Burnout

There is a common misconception that people with low-paying and low profile jobs are the only ones that get burned out. That is far from the truth.

People with high paying and high profile jobs experience burnout as well. Now that we’ve clarified that, let’s get it to it.

When people start feeling burnout, they usually focus on short-term solutions like taking a vacation. While that helps, it’s only a temporary solution.

You should instead focus on strategies that have a long-term impact and provide long-term solutions. Here are a few long-term strategies you can use to avoid burnout.

What is Your Purpose?

Asking yourself that question regularly can help you prevent burnout. For example, does your career have a deeper purpose and meaning in your life, besides just getting a paycheck?

When you rediscover your purpose, you can easily avoid burnout and stress.

How does your work make life better for others? That's the deep impact you should look for. And also yourself how you could add more meaning to what you do every day. Think about it deeply because it is important for your personal and professional wellbeing.

If you can't find answers to those questions, you are probably in the wrong position or career. It may be time for you to come up with a strategy to help you get into, and plan, a career that is better suited to your goals and dreams.

You could alternatively, use job crafting to craft a role that suits you better.

Conduct a Job Analysis

You can sometimes feel like a hamster in a wheel if you are taking on an overwhelming workload. That situation can be extremely stressful, demoralizing and more often than not, leads to burnout.

You should always conduct a job analysis so that you can know what is expected of you in any role that you take on. It will help you figure out what the priorities are in your role.

That way, you can either delegate or cut out some tasks depending on their importance.

If you think your boss is giving you more work than you can handle, then you need to have a private talk with him or her. Let them know that you are experiencing burnout due to your workload.

Perhaps go to the meeting with suggestions of how you can reassign some tasks to colleagues.

The key lies in managing opposing priorities and dealing with unreasonable demands.

Take Control of Your Work

You can avoid burnout when you find ways to have more control or autonomy in your role. You can talk to your boss about letting you have more control over your projects or deadlines.

You can also feel more in control if you manage your time more efficiently at work. Prioritize your to-do lists or draft an action plan to have better control of your day.

While you’re at it, you can also tie the lists to your personal goals.

Help Others

A quick and easy way to add meaning to your work is to help others, even in small ways. In doing so, you feel good.

The smallest acts of kindness can indeed take you a long way. You can feel re-energized and find meaning in your work.

Learn How to Cope with Stress

When you don't cope with stress well, particularly in the short term, it can lead to burnout. It is highly important for every professional to learn how to effectively cope with stress.

There are many strategies that you can use to deal with stress. You could keep a stress journal to help you figure out what induces your stresses.

Next step is to practice meditation, deep breathing, yoga and any other relaxation techniques that are effective in keeping you calm.

You should also manage the way you think as thoughts become things, including stress. Monitor your thoughts and practice positive thinking.


Regular exercise can help you cope with stress and give you a sense of general well-being. You will have more energy and increased productivity as a result.

Regular exercise will also help you sleep better, which further increases your productivity and energy levels.

If don't have enough time during the day, perhaps get up earlier or exercise during your lunch break.

How about getting extra motivation by pairing up with colleagues or organizing an office fitness challenge?

How Employers Can Prevent Burnout

Video credit: Society for Human Resource Management

A recent Kronos study found that burnout is to blame for half of employee attrition. In particular, they report that employees are working more hours, with no additional incentives (like more pay); so they simply leave to find more suitable jobs for themselves.

Almost all employers that were surveyed reported that improving employee retention is a top priority but they do not invest in properly addressing burnout (even though it costs them thousands of dollars to replace an employee).

Some of the study subjects reported that they even work during vacations, weekends and outside of work.

Vacations enable employees to recharge so that they can be more productive when they return to work. Yet, a study found that more than half of employees didn't use their vacation time in 2015 because they had heavy workloads and couldn't find time to take a proper vacation.

They, much less, couldn't take breaks at the office. In fact, in a Staples Business Advantage study, it was found that about 50 percent of employees feel like they can't leave their desks to take a break; and a little less that 50 percent of them take their lunch at their desks.

Those are dooming reports, especially if they ring true for employees at your company. No manager or CEO wants to lose their most talented employees because of burnout.

However, most of them are rarely aware that their employees are burned out until it’s too late.

If you’re not sure if your employees are burned out, or experiencing too much stress at work, try the following method.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have provided guidelines on identifying and preventing burnout in employees.

They specifically advise employers to hold group discussions with their employees; survey them; collect and analyze data to spot problems and stressful conditions; and measure employee thoughts on the work environment, their health, stress levels and job satisfaction.

After an employer discovers the source(s) of stress, they should come up with a strategy or plan for the company to implement to mitigate burnout.

But why should you, as an employer address and curb burnout (besides employee retention)? The three other main reasons are as follows:

  • Healthcare expenditures (which increase for employees who have experience elevated levels of stress)

  • Absenteeism and tardiness (which are both signs of burnout)

  • Stressful working conditions (which could derail safe work practices and result in workplace injuries)

Here are ways you can prevent burnout in your company.

Be Realistic and Strategic in Assigning Work

Do not assign huge or overwhelming amounts of work. An assignment or project should be challenging but shouldn’t overwhelm an employee to the point of burnout.

Be realistic in your assignments and expectations.

On the same note, you should assign tasks that mesh their passions. Each member of your team should be on projects and in positions that they are most passionate about.

Be open to creating new positions or perhaps even move skilled employees to new or different positions based on where their passions lie.

You could also let them work on side projects that they are passionate about. If you look at innovative companies like Google, you will see that some of their most innovative ideas come from employee side projects.

Set Reasonable Work Hours

Employees differ on how many hours a week they want to work. Some can work 40 hours a week while some can work 100 hours a week and not get burned out.

Keep reasonable working hours and allow your employees to take paid time off, sick days and vacation days.

Give Your Employees a Break or Two

In line with that, allow your employees to take 1-hour lunch breaks and perhaps several 15 minute breaks throughout the day.

They can use that time to socialize, take personal calls, take a walk or stretch. Giving them time off during the day could enhance their productivity, prevent burnout and increase their job satisfaction.

In fact, the Staples Business Advantage study found that giving employees breaks increased the productivity levels of 75% of study participants.

Make it Easy for Employees to Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance

A good way to enable your employees to achieve a healthy work-life balance is to give them the one thing they must have to round up their week.

For example, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo gives employees (that she thinks may burn out)  time off when they “need to be home for Tuesday night dinners,” or attend their children’s football games.

Perhaps you can give employees paid days off, during which they can do something that makes them happy.

Be Flexible with Deadlines and Assignments

You should be flexible with deadlines, under the right circumstances of course. Perhaps if a deadline is unrealistic, change it to a date that is attainable.

Similarly, if someone is not the right type of person for a particular project, you can reassign it. It is all about not spreading your team too thin.

You can perhaps reduce the number of projects that each person or team is working on. They should not be crushed by their to-do lists.

Any decisions you make regarding your employees should be fair and ethical. You shouldn't assign them any task that encroaches on their personal values or ethical codes.

Give Employees the Necessary Tools to Succeed

Giving your team the necessary and right tools will not only set them up to succeed but will also enhance their productivity.

And by tools, we also mean resources. There should be enough funds available to them to effectively executive their strategies. One such resource is the Ivy Lee Method, an app that can help your employees beat and prevent burnout without decreasing their productivity.

Be Supportive

Managers should carve some time out to listen to their employees and address any concerns.

Being supportive of your employees should actually be a company value. Provide rewards for employees that adhere to, or are models for, that supportive culture.

And any value that isn't consistent with your company values should be addressed immediately. Things like office gossip or bullying against a certain employee should be effectively addressed and mitigated.

Encourage Employees to Socialize

Socializing in the workplace should be encouraged for team bonding and morale. Employees should engage in moderate amounts of socialization daily (during their breaks and even after work).

Reward Your Team

After reaching a stressful milestone, or after an exceptionally tough week, surprise your team with something they would love.

Perhaps some gift certificates, a party, or giving them a half day?

Make Your Company Feel Like Home, Literally

Make your workplace like home – the same way Google does.

Perhaps stock up the kitchen (something that Google does) and make sure your team is well fed and full of energy.

Get to Know Your Employees

Carve out some time to get to know each person on your team on a personal level. You can take them out to lunch, individually, and spend time getting to know them.

Inject Fun into the Workplace

To boost team morale and job satisfaction, you can organize company activities like go-kart racing, pottery, kickball, etc. Make it fun and keep it creative!

Image credit: Society for Human Resource Management

Employees who are excited to go to work experience less burnout. You can provide table games like ping pong or foosball in the workplace to keep people engaged, happy and social. Anything that can make the workplace fun and exciting will do the trick.

Image credit: Society for Human Resource Management

Give Constructive Feedback

Your employees should know when they are doing well and when they are slacking. You should always give direct feedback, and it should always be constructive.

And when the feedback is highly positive, reward their accomplishments or contributions with awards, bonuses or promotions.

Listen, Listen, Listen

When an employee comes to you with a frustration or concern, you should address it immediately and take appropriate action.

And if you can't resolve or meet their demands or expectations, you should let them know.

Educate Employees on Burnout

Educating employees on burnout will increase their abilities on coping with and preventing burnout.

You can organize a seminar or workshop that addresses the topic, with a Q&A session for them to ask any questions or concerns regarding burnout.

You can contract a mental health professional and several people from HR to moderate the seminar. Consider having a trained professional at hand to help them with coping and relaxation techniques.

Wrapping Up

Everyone is well aware of the human toll of burnout – at least they do now.

Both employees and employers can put some preventative measures (that are discussed in this article) in place to avoid burnout.

When each of those two groups uses those measures, they are better able to allocate more time to devote to driving their own success as well as the company’s.

What they get in place of burnout is increased productivity and a more wholesome work environment.

Everybody wins.