5 Signs Your Team is Burning Out (and How to Fix It)

Employee burnout is a problem.

It’s much more than needing a vacation or feeling worn out by a time-consuming project. Burnout is more intense. It’s a constant state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by stress and pressure at work. 

And it doesn’t just affect the health of the employee who feels burnt out. Employee burnout can affect turnover rate, professional relationships, and company productivity too.

Your team is your most valuable asset. It’s important to monitor employee wellbeing, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of your organization. By keeping an eye out for these telltale signs of employee burnout, you can help your team members by addressing these issues early — before they get worse.

Obvious exhaustion

Clear signs of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion may be your first clue that an employee is suffering from burnout. Listen to what your team is saying. Are they talking about their struggles with sleep? Do they arrive at work in the morning and already seem drained of energy?

Look at their body language and appearance. Do they seem sluggish or tired all the time? Are they dressing or caring for their appearance differently? Do they have a blank, anxious, or gloomy facial expression?

We all have tough days when we feel low on energy, but if you notice employees who constantly seem fatigued, they may be feeling burnout.

Negative moods or attitudes

Just as everyone has days when they feel tired, many people experience “off-days” when they aren’t in the right headspace for work. However, if you notice an employee whose moods and attitudes have worsened, and they don’t seem to be getting back on track, that may be another sign of burnout.

Irritability, frustration, cynicism: these are common moods that can signal burnout. But be on the lookout for other changes in your team’s typical attitudes. For example, if an energetic and happy-go-lucky employee has begun acting more withdrawn and quiet, they may be feeling the beginnings of burnout. Know your employees’ baseline for behavior and attitudes, and you’ll be able to spot changes in personality more easily.

An employee may also make pessimistic, cutting remarks such as:

  • “I never do anything right.”
  • “My boss doesn’t care, so why should I?”
  • “That client is going to yell at me anyway, I just know it.”
  • “It won’t matter in the long run, so why bother?”

These remarks shouldn’t be ignored.

Increased absenteeism

Employee burnout can manifest itself in real health problems. Chronic stress can actually affect the immune system and lead to illness. Over time, it can even increase the risk of health problems like heart disease, digestion, memory and concentration impairment, weight gain, anxiety, and depression.

A burnt out employee may seem to suffer from colds and headaches more often, and call out sick to stay home from work. Even if the employee isn’t feeling physical symptoms of illness, they may be totally unmotivated and can’t face the stress of going into work. In either case, be on the lookout for increased absenteeism in your team.

Mistakes or unfinished tasks

Another key sign of burnout is a decrease in the quality of an employee’s work. Their lack of concentration, feelings of being overwhelmed, or unhappiness with the job can affect their performance. Maybe they begin making more mistakes on tasks and projects. Or they begin to miss more deadlines than usual.

And in a workplace where they’re handling heavy machinery, dangerous tools, or they’re responsible for the safety and wellbeing of others, simple mistakes can lead to costly accidents. Monitor the quality of your team’s work for these signs of possible burnout.

Decreased engagement

Sometimes employees have bad days. Or they’re suffering from stress in their personal life, and it has affected their performance at work a few times. They may withdraw into themselves and stop participating at the office every once in a while. That’s totally normal and okay.

However, if this behavior turns into a habit, your employee may be feeling burnt out. Imagine a sociable, outspoken employee who stops speaking during meetings, has no feedback or suggestions on projects, or is indifferent to collaborating with teammates. This disengagement is different from their usual attitude, and might mean they’re feeling disconnected and overworked.

Of course, some employees are naturally more introverted than others. They aren’t usually the first to volunteer their opinion in a group and they prefer to work alone. That may make spotting signs of employee burnout even more difficult. That’s another reason why it’s so important to know your team’s regular behavior and pay closer attention if you suspect they’re burning out.

How to help burnt out employees

Now that you know what warning signs to search for, maybe you’ve identified some employees on your team who seem like they’re experiencing burnout. What can you do?

First and foremost, talk to them. It’s an easy way to confirm whether or not it’s actually burnout. Perhaps they’ve been dealing with personal problems, and they didn’t realize it was affecting their attitude and performance at work.

If it does seem to be burnout, ask how you can help. Simply being there for them and offering help can work wonders. Listen to your employee and figure out how you can get them feeling better. Let them have a few days off, move around their tasks to lighten their workload, or assign someone to help them take the pressure off now.

Prevent burnout from happening in the future

There are steps you can take to prevent burnout from happening in the future. Get to know each of your employees and understand how they normally work and act in the office. That will help you spot the warning signs of burnout when they occur.

Be honest about the workload. Do you need to hire more employees? Are you assigning more tasks to certain employees when others could take them on instead? If you’re not sure, ask your employees for honest feedback. That will show them that you care for their opinion and their wellbeing.

When you work on a deadline or have back-to-back projects, you may feel that you don’t have time to take a step back and breathe. But that’s important for your team. Encourage them to take small breaks. Take them out to lunch every once in awhile. Give them a handwritten thank you note, or simply thank them for their hard work and acknowledge their efforts in a team meeting. Showing appreciation can boost morale and motivate your team. That can go a long way in preventing burnout.