How to Recognize Employee Burnout and Steps to Avoid It


At one point or another in a workers’ career, burnout can likely become an obstacle. For some it can lead to their dismissal; for others it might serve as a pivot point to renew their careers. Whether an employee believes nothing is within their control or there are simply too many factors beyond their control, burnout can affect the best and brightest employees. What causes employee burnout and how can employers recognize and reduce it?

How Burnout Can Occur

Whether stress is perceived or real, there are workplace factors that influence an employee’s job stress level and resulting performance. A coder used to working on a tight-knit, small team on the back end could experience role mismatch, contributing to burnout. For example, say he is transferred to a client-facing role on a regular basis. Another example is a sales agent who is comfortable with a customer-centric role but is frustrated with a slow and unresponsive computer or internal messaging system.

Beyond a mismatch of role, the lack of proper recognition also can lead to burnout. This may include compensation not matching accomplishments or if workers don’t receive appropriate workplace awards (special parking, office perks, etc.). Burnout can occur when there’s an internal slight, such as being passed over for a promotion by a worker who has more favor with a boss but is less qualified for the position. It also can weigh heavily if an employee does not fit in with a company’s culture or make “workplace buddies.”

Sometimes burnout goes unnoticed, but other times an employee may communicate it in some manner but it’s not acknowledged or addressed by management. While burnout impacts each organization differently, a common negative impact is that employees “check out”. If left unchecked, this can cause greater absenteeism and decreased productivity, subsequently leading to higher recruiting and training costs due to employee turnover.

How to Address Employee Burnout

Once employee burnout is identified, taking decisive action is key to reducing its impact on the employee and the organization. One way to address burnout is to modify an employee’s workload. For example, if a veteran sales or customer service representative agent must consistently deal with difficult or needy clients, give them a break once in a while by letting them deal with newer clients while mid-level representatives deal with more complex clients. This not only helps address the burnout issue, but it can help train mid-level employees to handle more demanding clients and learn to “put out fires” without further escalation.

Another way to combat burnout is to let employees work on different, yet complimentary assignments. This may provide more autonomy and enable them express their individual creativity. For example, say an employee is tasked exclusively with interpreting spreadsheets of internal or external metrics. Allowing him to work with the IT department to create a more informative and easily searchable knowledge database can give him a break from repetitious and tedious work – and may even improve his productivity. It also has the potential to provide clients with the ability to consult this database before contacting customer support, thus alleviating CSR workloads.

Beyond breaking up the monotony of a static role, there are other strategies you can implement to help combat burnout. Many Americans do not take all of their available vacation time, so you could provide incentives for your workers to do so. By sending employees to additional training classes and setting up clear role expectations, workers will feel that their contribution to the organization is appreciated and this can further reduce stress-related burnout.

These are just a few of the ways to identify and address employees suffering from burnout. Be aware that the sooner processes are put in place, the greater the chances that a better workplace culture can exist and symptoms of burnout alleviated.