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Thought Leadership

How to Deal with Employee Burnout

man feeling burnout

With many media outlets deeming the current job market the “Great Resignation,” it would be tempting to think of burnout as a new challenge based on everything we have gone through in the last few years. However, the 2008 housing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have merely exacerbated existing workplace issues. As long as people have been working, people have been burned out.

That does not mean that burnout is inevitable. Employee burnout can be prevented, but not by employees alone. Managers have a large role to play in making workplace environments less stressful.

What Is Employee Burnout? 

The International Classification of Diseases 11 (ICD-11) defines burnout by three characteristics: 

  • Exhaustion 
  • Cynicism about or distance from the job 
  • Reduced productivity 

Businesswoman sitting at a desk thinking while looking at a computer monitor.

Signs of Burnout in the Workplace 

Around three-quarters of employees will experience burnout, but it can be difficult to spot from the employer’s side. Here are four examples of burnout in the workplace that you may see as a manager. 

  1. The Most Passionate Employees Lose Their Spark
    Burnout often happens to some of your most passionate and productive employees. When your business goes through hard times, these employees are often the ones who step up to take on extra responsibilities, often without being asked. The bodily symptoms of stress can creep up on them unexpectedly and prevent them from working at their highest potential.  
  2. High Employee Turnover
    High employee turnover is a telltale sign that a work environment induces burnout. Turnover has many negative impacts on individuals, teams, and organizations and creates additional stress on those that will have to support the workload. The remaining employees have to bend to help take on additional responsibilities, take time to interview, and support training and onboarding.
  3. Exceptional Employees Are Not Challenged
    In companies with high rates of burnout, many employees will have stayed in the same position despite years of excellent work. These individuals may no longer feel challenged and do not see a way to advance, which leads them to seek other opportunities.
  4. Overwork Is the Norm
    Particularly in companies with many salaried workers, overwork can become the norm or even encouraged. Even if employees are never explicitly asked to stay late, they may do so to meet tight deadlines or even just to fit in with their coworkers.

Why You Should Address Workplace Burnout 

Addressing burnout does not mean having to reduce your company’s productivity. In fact, treating and preventing burnout will help your business run more smoothly in several ways. When leaders address burnout they can:  

  • Increase employee satisfaction 
  • Attract new talent 
  • Keep high-productivity workers engaged 
  • Reduce employee turnover, reducing time and money spent on recruiting and training 

Two businessmen sitting at a desk talking.

Ways to Help Avoid Employee Burnout 

There are several steps that you as a leader can take to prevent burnout in your employees.

  1. Create a Culture that Cares
    While it is true that the workplace should not be treated like family, it is still important that it feels like a safe place for employees. Leaders should encourage a culture of mutual respect and empathy, where employees feel comfortable expressing their opinions and pushing back on deadlines. Managers should also be intentional about ‘checking in’ with teams, both individually and collectively. Offering office hours where people can drop in and connect is another way to establish a strong culture with employees. 
  2. Focus on Benefits, Not Perks
    Ping pong tables and fully stocked kitchens have become mainstays at many hip companies in recent years. However, these perks must not come at the expense of essentials. Focus on providing employees with real benefits such as mental health care and vacation time that empower them to take necessary steps to avoid burnout themselves.
  3. Have Realistic Expectations
    If you do not think your employees will be able to complete a task by a deadline without overwork, find a way to alter the assignment. Evaluate your employees’ workloads frequently to spot any imbalance and find ways to offer support. Another way to help tackle workloads is to align and establish what the priorities are.
  4. Enforce Reasonable Working Hours
    Allowing employees to stay in the office too late can contribute to a culture of overwork. Do not be afraid to tell employees to go home when you see them online or in the office too often. While it sometimes makes sense for employees to stay late due to tight deadlines, make sure that you identify when this is not necessary and communicate that to employees.
  5. Keep Employees Challenged
    Long working hours are not the only thing that can cause employee burnout. Monotony, lack of recognition, and inability to advance can also take their toll. If you have employees that need a challenge, consider giving them new tasks, going out of your way to recognize quality work, and allowing them to explore new roles in the company where appropriate.

Businesswoman looking out a window while thinking.

Positive Steps

It is important to remember that burnout is not inevitable. Although we are facing challenging and uncertain times, leaders can take steps to prevent workplace stress. Leaders should remember to ask themselves how they can offer support and what they can do within their control to help their team. Lastly, leaders should think about what could happen if they ignore the signs of burnout and the impact that it will have on their team and overall culture.  


Harvard Business Review: “Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?”
World Health Organization: “Burn-out an ‘occupational phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases.”
FlexJobs: “FlexJobs, Mental Health America Survey: Mental Health in the Workplace.”
Mayo Clinic: “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.”
Harvard Business Review: “The Toxic Effects of Branding Your Workplace a ‘Family’.”