7 Signs of Employee Burnout you Can’t Believe you’re Missing

Have you been paying close attention to signs of employee burnout.. We promise you this blog will help you detect 7 of them early enough!

Employee Experience

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Thursday, March 05, 2015


As HR professionals, managers or employers, the importance of maintaining the well-being of your employees is and should always be one of your top priorities. If a company’s most valuable asset is its employees, then anything that might get in the way of their health and happiness can hinder the overall success of the organization.

But with busy schedules, work piling up, and pressures coming at you from all directions, it can sometimes be difficult to spot a burnout among all the chaos. Signs of employee burnout are not necessarily in plain sight, nor are they always comprised of outward expressions of anxiety and nervous tension.

In order to handle and reduce the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion caused by such excessive and prolonged stress, you need to be able to identify those stressors first.

Here are 7 signs of employee burnout you might have overlooked.

#1 Disengagement

Not to be confused with being stressed out, employees on the verge of a burnout may experience a certain disconnect with their work and people. Where stress can push us to be proactive, burning out may cause us to experience a lack of interest, hope and a lag in our work as well as performance.

Although a disengaged employee doesn’t necessarily mean he/she is going to burnout, it can still be a warning sign for something much more serious to come if not handled properly.

If your employee is past the point of caring and feels detached from his/her environment, find out the causes and severity of the situation before it spirals out of control.

#2 Being exhausted in every sense

Feeling tired and worn out can be quite normal when experiencing long hours, a last minute rush or emergencies at work. But when an employee shows extended signs of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, this is when it becomes more serious. They may seem tuned out, forgetful, unable to concentrate, and already drained the minute they arrive in the morning, probably due to lack of sleep. They can experience continuous muscle aches, headaches, and difficulty breathing.

Sometimes it starts with physical signs such as dark circles under their eyes, dull complexion, a gain or loss in weight, gloomy to blank facial expressions, or a significant neglect in the way they look (especially if this employee normally presents him/herself very well). If you consciously make the effort to check in with your employees, exhaustion can be more easily detected, if not mentally, then physically.

#3 Increased absenteeism and accidents

Since employees who are on the verge of a burnout experience some form of mental, emotional or physical symptoms, their chances of taking a sick day and being absent  more frequently can greatly increase. Some may be unable to get out of bed, experiencing chronic stress and work overload, while others may just be completely demotivated by their work or having to deal with colleagues or managers.

Due to their lack of concentration and focus, these employees may also create more accidents or mistakes in their work. This can be especially worrisome if they are handling heavy machinery, dealing with very intricate detail or when the safety of others lies in their hands.

When an employee is experiencing burnout, a lot of their attention is focused, even fixated, on their adversity and what they perceive as a threat. So this can leave little room for concentrating on other things, like work. And when we lack concentration, things can fall between the cracks. Yet another reason to prevent instead of manage mishaps.

#4 Showing signs they are not built for the job

If you hire an employee that doesn’t have the natural reflexes and strengths to fulfill their tasks and responsibilities, this can lead to feelings of uselessness and struggle, similar to continuously swimming against the current. This not only leads to drained energy, but a sense of failure because what they WANT to achieve and what they CAN differ considerably.

Using tools that can help you uncover an employee’s innate potential will help you know right off the bat if there are any major discrepancies between person and job. And these discrepancies can increase the chances of elevated nervous tension and potential burnouts in the future.

#5 More isolated and distant than usual

If you see that an employee, who is usually very sociable and lively at work has become more isolated and distant, is avoiding others, or just isn’t his/her friendly self anymore, you mustn’t turn your cheek. Of course, we all have our “off” days, but if this becomes the norm, you don’t want to let it accumulate more than it has.

Now imagine if this person was introverted to begin with, you might have never noticed that something was wrong because of their already reserved nature. This is yet another reason that signs of employee burnout can go undetected if you don’t make a cautious effort to stop and pay attention.

Know who your introverted employees are, as their feelings of hopelessness can be undetectable on the surface and misinterpreted as them just being distant as usual.

#6 Higher sensitivity

What about those who naturally take criticism more personally, who may feel victimized more than the average, and whose great sensitivity may cause them to experience a lot of emotion? Could they be more susceptible to burnouts? Well, when faced with difficult conditions at work, they are likely to be more vulnerable and make mountains out of molehills. So pay attention, know the personality traits of your employees to figure out who amongst them are more sensitive to criticism.

And while you’re at it, it might also be pertinent to find out who among them have a tendency to be sceptical, perfectionists or high achievers. Now, I am not saying that these people are bound to burning out, but this concoction of personality traits can make a person more prone to feeling that what they are doing is never good enough, or to being more affected by a loss of control or failure. Bottom line, know the personality traits of your workforce.

#7 Extreme thinking

When an employee becomes disillusioned or irrational by his/her extreme thinking, this can be an indicator of something more serious to come. Thinking or saying such things like “no one will ever like me”, “I will never make a difference” or “I’m not good at anything at work” may lead to employees having uncompromising attitudes.

You mustn’t shrug this off as a one-time remark. Your employee may be experiencing very overwhelming feelings that need attention and support.

Signs of employee burnout are not always obvious, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Such things like employee disengagement, mental, emotional and physical exhaustion, or extreme thinking may be indicators of something more serious. More sick leaves, accidents and isolation is also worth looking into, especially if your employee is highly sensitive. Finally, if you haven’t taken the time to evaluate the innate potential of your workforce, there may be a huge discrepancy between their natural selves and what is required of them for the job. This gap can lead to demotivation, nervous tension and potential burnouts in the long run.

What other signs of employee burnout have you witnessed?

Let us know in the comments below!

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