6 Employee Burnout Signs and Strategies to Solve the Causes
Employee burnout is a big issue for businesses, especially in times when labor is scarce. Unfortunately, most businesses misunderstand employee burnout and consequently struggle to address it.
Employee burnout isn’t easy to spot. It’s not as obvious as a worn-out or stressed employee dealing with short-term challenges such as high-effort projects. True burnout is both more severe and more hidden. Employees experiencing burnout have a defeatist attitude and a chronic sense of frustration and exhaustion.
It’s challenging for a burned-out employee to recover. A short break or a vacation rarely solves the problem because burned-out employees often feel like they don’t want to do their job anymore, and time away from work actually reinforces that feeling.
In this article, you’ll learn the most powerful burnout signs that can be seen with the naked eye so you can stay on top of burnout as it happens. (If you’d like to learn about the data-based signals that can help you spot burnout 6 months before it happens — book a demo with the Praisidio team.)
What is employee burnout?
Employee burnout is a chronic sense of mental and emotional exhaustion, often coupled with a sense of feeling out of control. Negative employee experiences such as unrealistic work demands, dysfunctional working environments, work-life imbalances, and working in emotionally draining professions without the appropriate employer support.
Burnout is distinct from simply being worn out by hard work in that employee burnout isn't offset by any sense of accomplishment, because it’s not caused by healthy work challenges. The sense of pessimism and disengagement that comes with employee burnout persists through time off and can make employees unresponsive to improvements in their employee experience.
That’s not to say that people can’t recover from burnout. However, it’s quite challenging, and taking steps now to protect your workforce from burnout before they’re experiencing it is the best approach.
Employee burnout statistics
75 percent of employees reported experiencing burnout in a survey by Mental Health America. In a similar survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 77 percent of employees said they had experienced burnout.
Employee burnout is a huge problem. No company or industry is immune, and the true costs of employee burnout are often overlooked.
In the same survey conducted by the APA, 26 percent of employees reported that work-related stress caused a lack of interest, motivation, and energy. 19 percent said burnout reduced their effort at work. 36 percent reported cognitive weariness, 32 percent said stress caused emotional exhaustion, and 44 percent said they experienced physical fatigue as a result of burnout.
For businesses, this is a problem from a health and wellness problem that has negative impacts on productivity and employee retention.
Burned-out employees are 2.6 times more likely to find a new job, and 63 percent more likely to take sick days. Depression-related absenteeism and lost productivity cost U.S. businesses $51 billion each year.
On the whole, employee attrition costs businesses $1 trillion each year. Replacing a separated employee can cost 60 to 200 percent of the employee’s yearly salary.
Additionally, 88 percent of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human error, and the most common causes of these errors are distraction and fatigue. Of the employees who have fallen for a cyber scam, 45 percent said it was because of distraction, and 37 percent said they fell for the scam because they were tired.
A cybersecurity breach causes an average of $9.44 million in the United States.
Even with all these costs, only 21% of workers say they can have honest, productive conversations with their HR department about resolving their feelings of burnout.
This all points at one thing: burnout is a pervasive, expensive problem that is going mostly unaddressed.
Signs of employee burnout
It might seem odd that a problem so expensive hasn’t been solved yet. However, it’s not that companies haven’t tried to address the burnout issue.
The struggle is that many companies are looking for the wrong signs or using antiquated methods to detect employee burnout or—even worse—both.
Historically, organizations have relied on surveys or direct supervisors to spot signs of employee burnout. These are imprecise methods that typically only detect signs of burnout once the employee is feeling so burned out that it’s difficult or impossible to retain that employee.
It’s much better to use an active data observation platform such as Praisidio to take a proactive approach to detect these signs of employee burnout.
Praisidio processes metadata on organizational relationships, performance reviews, productive working hours, time-in-role, compensation history, and other metrics in real-time to predict which employees or cohorts of employees are at the highest burnout risk months before employees start showing outward signs of severe burnout.
Then, Praisidio aggregates this risk into visual dashboards that make it easy to extract actionable insights from the data, and can automatically alert HR teams and managers of the highest attrition risks, so your organization can leverage this advanced warning to prevent burnout before it becomes employee attrition.
These are the signs of employee burnout that Praisidio uses data to identify. As you read, notice how challenging it would be to spot these signs without taking a data-driven approach.
Every company is a network of relationships. Inevitably some personalities will clash and sometimes difficult conversations are necessary. A healthy workforce manages these working relationship challenges and prevents disruptive conflict.
Burned-out employees are often too mentally and emotionally exhausted to navigate these situations tactfully, which causes ordinary working friction to become interpersonal conflict. Burnout also causes people to be more reactive to feedback, which makes necessary conversations between colleagues and with managers problematic rather than productive.
Burned-out workers tend to become detached and cynical. This can be one of the most damaging aspects of burnout.
It’s isolating when an employee begins to believe that their coworkers, supervisors, customers, and others are just out for themselves. Cynical people are less likely to ask for help and collaborate, they’re less receptive to feedback and ultimately more likely to leave the organization because they feel no connection to the company.
Exhaustion is tricky to spot because it shares several characteristics with being tired. If an employee has to work a few long days to wrap up an intense project, they’ll certainly be tired. A tired employee will recover after a weekend or a couple nights of quality sleep, though.
A burned-out employee feels chronically exhausted, and the exhaustion extends into the mental and emotional realms. Burned-out employees often struggle to show up on time or take a long time to get going in the morning. This chronic exhaustion also strains work relationships, because exhausted people are typically unpleasant to work with.
Increased sick days
Anyone who feels irritable, cynical, and exhausted takes every opportunity for time off. They also feel bad, so taking sick days is a natural way to get away from work.
Everyone needs to take sick days sometimes. When an employee starts to feel burned out, they’ll usually start to take more sick days than they usually do.
Burnout certainly extinguishes any passion for one’s work. This causes people to disengage from their work.
However, burnout also causes people to disengage from other people, which is arguably worse than being disengaged from work. It makes collaboration at work challenging and strains an employee’s personal relationships.
This is one of the reasons mental health professionals have connected burnout to depression and often use depression as a proxy for measuring burnout. If an employee isolates themselves and exhibits other behavior associated with depression, there’s a good chance they’re burned out.
This goes without saying for many people, but employees experiencing burnout are less productive than active, engaged employees. Unfortunately, the decreased productivity expands beyond the burned-out employee.
Burned-out employees also reduce the productivity of their whole team, which impacts the entire organization, because every person in a company depends on every other person in the company to operate efficiently. Decreased productivity from any person will inevitably impact everybody around that person, which causes a domino effect of lost productivity.
Based on the data we’ve analyzed for large corporations, we’ve found that collaborators are a key marker for employee turnover. Often the lynchpin isn’t visible until they’ve quit. To solve this, Praisidio gives instant visibility of informal collaboration and burnout risk. You can use these insights to easily understand which employees need help and what the costs will be if they don’t get it.
Book a demo to see how Praisidio can help you see collaborators in your org and which are at risk of burnout.
How to prevent employee burnout
Employee burnout isn’t one of those things that goes away of its own accord. If you leave it unchecked and hope for the best, the impacts on staff morale and your bottom line will soon catch up with you.
Fortunately, reducing employee burnout dovetails neatly with employee retention programs. If you’re already working to retain employees for as long as possible, preventing employee burnout is a matter of making tweaks and using the right methods to detect burnout.
Optimize working hours
Feeling overwhelmed or overworked is almost always a function of feeling like there’s too much to do and too little time to do it. It’s easy to become cynical and disengaged when your deadlines feel impossible.
Managing workloads and doing everything you can to keep teams fully staffed is important. You should have programs to address these challenges, but these are high-effort activities.
Ensuring that people have ample time to get their work done is a low-effort way to curb work overwhelm. It’s far easier to batch all work meetings in the afternoon than it is to hire more team members or reduce required work volumes.
Batching meetings and managing other tertiary responsibilities this way gives your teams big chunks of time to concentrate on solving problems and getting things done. We call these hours “Maker Time.” This not only helps people feel less overwhelmed because they actually make progress on their to-do list, but it also makes work feel less frustrating.
Having a lot to do can be stressful. It’s even worse when you have a lot to do, but your days are so inefficiently packed with meetings and other secondary tasks that you can’t get any work done.
This situation is stressful and frustrating, and many companies create this issue daily. Check your calendar, and make sure your teams have blocks of time to do what your company hired them to do.
Offer more flexibility
Flexible working hours and hybrid working arrangements go a long way toward helping employees maintain a healthy work-life balance which helps inoculate against burnout.
However, giving employees flexibility in which projects they work on is an often overlooked tactic that greatly improves the employee experience. People feel better about their work when they do work that most interests them.
Wherever you can, empower employees to develop projects and work with their teams to complete those projects. This is simpler than it sounds.
It boils down to avoiding overmanagement. Give your employees a high-level goal, and let them figure out how to accomplish that goal.
This gives employees a feeling of being in control and a better sense of accomplishment when they finish projects. It also reduces stress on your supervisors and management, because they don’t have to manage how their teams get things done, they just have to direct the high-level goals and deadlines.
Build a culture of trust and responsiveness
There are two big reasons why so many employees feel they can’t have productive conversations about burnout with HR teams: employees don’t feel like they have a good connection with their managers and HR representatives, or they don’t feel like anything will be done about the problem.
Therefore, it’s important to build a culture of trust, which starts with overhead and upper management being honest with their employees. It’s okay for managers and supervisors to admit when things are stressful or challenging, and it sets the example that it’s okay to be open about being stressed or overwhelmed.
On the other end, you must take action when employees give feedback. People are sensitive to being ignored. Many people will stop giving thoughtful feedback after feeling they’ve been ignored one time.
If an employee admits to feeling burned out or even feeling the symptoms of burnout, it’s imperative that HR and leadership align to work with the employee, managers, and supervisors to develop an action plan and follow through in making sure the issue is addressed.
If your teams consistently have open conversations and the organization is responsive to employee feedback, you’ll have far lower rates of employee burnout.
Give more responsibility
This might seem counterintuitive, but feeling a lack of progress in their career makes people feel unsatisfied. Giving people opportunities to develop skills to advance their careers is an important part of solving this problem.
However, most companies neglect to give employees opportunities to use these new skills, which increases burnout and attrition risk.
It may be challenging to create positions for people to move up, but you can put people in charge of things that are above their pay grade. This gives people the chance to put new skills to work, develop experience that advances their career, and feel like they’re making progress.
The key is to make sure that you’re not overloading people. Make sure that you shift the responsibilities around so that people are doing different work, not more work. Feelings of progress can easily be offset by feelings of overwhelm.
Develop skills and create learning pathways
An important part of giving employees more responsibility is giving them the skills to handle it. Employee development in the form of learning and development and new learning pathways can help upskill employees and free them to take on new and novel experiences.
Employee burnout surveys (and what’s better)
As with all the interventions above, the prerequisite for success is knowing which employees are at risk of burnout. The most common tool in the HR toolbox for unearthing burnout is employee surveys.
The problem with surveys is that they’re lagging indicators that suffer from the inaccuracy of self-reporting. Surveys can only be conducted periodically, and not everyone will readily admit feeling burned out.
Sadly, this renders surveys virtually useless for truly preventing employee burnout and attrition.
Fortunately, most enterprise organizations already collect much of the information employee surveys collect through their HR and other internal management systems. Most organizations don’t leverage this data, though.
Praisidio uses machine learning to leverage this business system data to deliver actionable insights for preventing employee burnout up to six months earlier than other burnout detection methods. It’s like having your finger on the pulse of every employee at once, so you can intervene early and effectively. This saves both unnecessary hardship for your employees and prevents the myriad of costs associated with employee turnover.
Companies that implement Praisidio typically save $10M+ in annual attrition costs for every 2000 employees and recapture 90 person-years annually for every 1000 employees, which prevents burnout and improves workforce productivity.
Book a demo to see how Praisidio can prevent attrition in your organization.