Can You Identify the Signs of Employee Burnout?

According to the Research Department at the University of Massachusetts, job stress and employee burnout lead to serious long-term consequences for businesses to the tune of costing American companies $300 billion per year due to increased absenteeism, health-related costs, and loss of productivity. 

When leaders can identify the signs, they have the option of taking preventative measures instead of relying on in-the-moment reactions to address struggling employees. 

Calling in Sick More Often

Stress manifests physically in many people in the form of headaches, nausea, chest pain, high blood pressure, muscle aches, and other symptoms.

An employee who suddenly starts calling out sick more often, despite a history of good health, could be suffering from these physical symptoms of stress without even knowing that’s the culprit, only adding to their overwhelm and anxiety about why they suddenly feel ill all the time. 


Employee burnout has a profound effect on mental health, increasing overall feelings of anxiety.

Someone may suddenly begin to question whether they’re capable of doing their job, fear what will happen if they don’t “get it together,” and worry about how their recent struggles affect your perception of them. This is particularly common in employees who strive to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Negativity and Cynicism

Misery loves company, which goes tenfold when your team already has titters of discord regarding their workload. 

Employees who feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities or treatment at work will likely seek solace in one another by trading grievances and creating a work culture built around ranting and complaining. 

Over time, employees who aren’t necessarily feeling stressed can start to empathize and, in turn, think that they, too, have unfair expectations placed on them. 

Self-Isolation from Peers

As workloads get heavier and deadlines loom, employees who were once enthusiastic, contributing team members can begin to isolate themselves from the group to reduce “wasted time” spent collaborating and building relationships. 

While there’s value in knowing when to dedicate time in your day to focused task completion, long-term isolation affects their sense of work satisfaction and well-being


Much like negativity, irritability spreads across teams. When an employee suddenly begins snapping at their coworkers and reacting in irrational ways to what appear to be perfectly reasonable requests, others will start dreading coming to work every day just to deal with someone else’s anger. 

Be particularly aware of when these bouts of irritability pop up. Familiar sources of workplace stress include meetings that interrupt workflow, additional tasks without compensation, and working with outdated, obsolete tools. With some observation, you may be able to solve the problem before it escalates and show an irritable employee that you recognize their frustrations. 

How to Approach a Burntout Employee

Identifying the signs of burnout isn’t enough. 

Once you see someone struggling but haven’t yet approached you about the problem, it’s in your best interest to initiate the conversation. Otherwise, you risk employee burnout continuing until someone reaches their breaking point. 

  • Enter the conversation with empathy. The goal is not to discipline, shame, or interrogate; that will only add to the pressure your employee already feels. Instead, validate their feelings and reassure them that you’re on their side. 
  • Be prepared to stand by your solutions. Making false promises about reduced workload and additional resources not only does nothing to fix the issue at hand, but it also compromises how much that employee trusts that you have their best interest at heart. 
  • Recognize that while personal stress can be a contributing factor, it’s often not the only factor. Few jobs in the world offer a completely stress-free environment. Assuming that they must have something going on at home places can make you more dismissive of their work-related concerns. 
  • Don’t expect an immediate, long-term improvement. Burnout takes time, and so does healing from the exhaustion, anxiety, and negativity that comes with it. Your employee will likely need continued support and flexibility to get back into the swing of things. 
  • Reflect on your expectations. If there is a wide swath of employees who are feeling the same way, you may have overloaded an already overtaxed team. The same goes for a reliable, dependable employee who suddenly starts to buckle under pressure. Have the courage to acknowledge when you’ve placed too many responsibilities on people and solve the problem as soon as possible. 

Learn How to Handle Tough Leadership Dynamics

Addressing employee burnout can be difficult, particularly when someone’s lack of productivity affects overall business success. That being said, taking an uncompromising approach to an already stressed-out employee rarely solves the problem. Instead, you’re more likely showing them that you aren’t interested in them as a person, only as a worker. 

Just like graphic design or accounting, empathy and productive communication are skills that you can learn. Let’s work together to help you grow as a leader with a 6-month Business Coaching package, where we can break down barriers to success and cultivate a happier, more productive workplace. 

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