Employee Burnout: Symptoms, Causes, and Solutions

February 05, 2024

Employee burnout can take a serious toll on your employees and your business. Learn how to prevent it and support employees experiencing burnout.

In today's relentless business climate, burnout isn't just a personal concern — it's an organizational hazard. It stealthily undermines productivity and inflates costs. Recognizing and addressing burnout is complex, yet vital.

What’s worse, burnout isn't always easy to identify, let alone combat in a constructive way. 

In this guide, we’ll explore what burnout is, how to recognize it, and most importantly, how to support employees experiencing burnout.

Key Takeaways

  • Employee burnout is chronic and unmanageable workplace stress. Burnt out employees tend to be less engaged, less productive, and cynical about their work.
  • Organizations with a burnt-out workforce have higher turnover rates, lower productivity, more absenteeism, and decreased customer satisfaction.
  • The root cause of burnout varies from organization to organization, but is most often related to unrealistic workloads, lack of autonomy, lack of recognition, and toxic workplace cultures.
  • HR professionals can reduce burnout through wellness initiatives, fostering a healthy company culture, and equipping managers with tools to support employees. 

What is Employee Burnout?

There are several competing definitions of employee burnout, but the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as chronic workplace stress involving exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, and reduced productivity. 

In more real terms, this looks like a previously stellar employee now missing deadlines, or a once-passionate colleague becoming apathetic towards their work.

It's worth noting that burnout isn't quite the same as work-related stress. A manageable level of stress can be a good thing if it means you respond to it by rising to a challenge. Burnout happens when the stress becomes never-ending and all-encompassing, leading to a decline in employee health and work performance.

How Big of a Problem is Workplace Burnout?

Fifty-one percent of employees were in active burnout at work in 2022, according to Aspect 43.

Yes, you read that right. 

In this comprehensive survey of over 1,000 professionals from 30+ industries as diverse as manufacturing, finance, and healthcare, more than half of the polled employees were experiencing burnout. 

That survey ran the full gamut of departments, too: C-suite, HR, Recruiting, Operations, Sales, etc. 

So yes, there’s a problem with burnout. 

How Does Employee Burnout Affect Organizations?

The cost of employee burnout to your company is tangible and high:

Burnout can also have a ripple effect on how your organization operates, including:

  • Decreased employee and customer satisfaction
  • Less effective collaboration between teams
  • Less innovation and more errors from employees

Identifying the Top Causes of Employee Burnout

Employee burnout causes and cures are two sides of the same coin. So, the best way to start is by trying to understand how burnout develops in the first place.

Excessive Workload

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but an exhausted employee is especially vulnerable to burning out.

Excessive workload can sometimes have a logistical source, like understaffing, misaligned job duties, or deadline crunches. These often put too much on an employee’s plate, resulting in exhaustion and burnout.  

Sometimes, the cause is more environmental. A company culture that puts 100-hour workweeks on a pedestal is primed to generate burnt-out workers. Employees will strive to work long hours because that’s the perceived expectation. 

Lack of Control

A lack of control over schedule and how work gets done can also lead to burnout. Micromanaging and rigid structures sometimes create excessive work-related stress. 

Giving employees a little leeway can go a long way. Workers are 43% less likely to feel burnt out when they have some autonomy in their role. 

Learn More: Redefining Flexibility in the Workplace

Lack of Recognition

A lack of recognition undermines an employee's sense of purpose and value within an organization. This puts them on a fast track for burning out. Organizations that don’t provide enough recognition are 48% more likely to have burnt-out employees.

When employees put in the effort and achieve results without acknowledgment, it can lead to feelings of invisibility and question the worth of their hard work and even their role in the company. 

How to Measure Employee Burnout Effectively 

Sure, it’d be great if you could just send out an employee burnout survey and get accurate results. 

But unfortunately, measuring burnout isn’t that simple. 

Many people are reluctant to face or admit they may be experiencing it. And even when they do, they’re likely to be equally unwilling to reveal it to bosses for fear of harming their career.

Instead, you must take a multifaceted approach. There are several metrics you can use to try to gauge the level of staff burnout, some more direct than others:

  • Employee engagement: This is a good place to start, since the more engaged your employees are, the more likely they are to avoid burnout. Highly engaged workers show better levels of job satisfaction and productivity.
  • Staff turnover: Tracking employee turnover over time can give you a good indication of your workers’ mood trends.
  • Absenteeism and sickness rates: Stressed employees tend to get sick more often and are less committed to their work.
  • Employee satisfaction: You can use employee engagement surveys to establish how content your staff are with their day-to-day experience. 
  • The Maslach Burnout Survey: This is a scientific approach to burnout that’s been around since the 1980s. It scores subjects on three factors: exhaustion, mental distance from work, and changes in professional efficacy. Use with caution, though, because it’s not 100% reliable for diagnosing burnout. Think of it more as a guide.

These criteria, taken together, will help you get a good idea of how big a problem burnout is in your workplace. They work best when you monitor them over time, because it’s difficult to pinpoint burnout with a single data snapshot. But, if all the metrics are moving in the wrong direction, you’ll know there are issues to address.

9 Burnout Symptoms to Watch For in the Workplace

Always be on the lookout for signs of burnout at work. Some will be more obvious than others, and the best approach is to have systems in place so that managers are trained to spot them. Some classic signs include:

  1. Difficulty concentrating
  2. Irritability and impatience
  3. Cynicism or excessive criticism
  4. Substance use disorders
  5. Exhaustion
  6. Low productivity
  7. Lack of job satisfaction
  8. Poor sleep
  9. Physical problems (e.g., unexplained headaches or stomach complaints)

These employee burnout signs can seem isolated at first, so you need to take a holistic approach to monitoring them.

For instance, one employee suffering from poor sleep doesn’t necessarily indicate burnout. But if a previously effective team suddenly seems impatient with one another, that should raise suspicion.

How to Prevent Employee Burnout

Preventing employee burnout isn’t only essential for the individuals involved, but also for the collective business. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious how to combat employee burnout at an organizational level.

Nevertheless, there are some positive steps you can take.

Wellness Initiatives

Burnout is a health issue, so encouraging employee wellness programs can help mitigate it to a certain extent. To be clear: it’s not a full solution. Holding a weekly Pilates class won’t be enough on its own to address the root causes of the problem. 

That said, creating opportunities for your employees to improve their wellbeing is a great idea for all kinds of reasons. Some examples include: 

  • Providing free healthy food
  • Smoking cessation groups
  • Lunchtime running club
  • Mental health support

It makes sense for any business to look after the health of its staff. Be creative with your ideas, and your company will reap the benefits. 

Develop a Healthy Work Culture

The best way to manage employee burnout is to try to prevent it in the first place. That means taking an honest look at your work culture to see where it can become more supportive.

For example, do your managers routinely contact their teams outside work hours? While this may be necessary on occasion, it should never become the norm. Educate your managers and employees on the importance of respecting a good work-life balance.

In fact, set an example yourself! If you claim to encourage a good work-life balance but never take any vacation, your employees will feel pressured to follow your lead. 

It’s the ultimate “do as I say, not as I do”.

Other cultural aspects to manage include:

  • Setting clear expectations
  • Giving regular feedback
  • Encouraging employees to take their full allocation of paid time off
  • Monitoring workloads
  • Enabling transparent communication
  • Regularly celebrating personal and professional wins

Dealing with employee burnout is much more straightforward if you already provide a supportive work culture. It empowers your staff to seek help if they need it.

Learn More: 8 Ways to Improve Company Culture

Management training

No matter how enthusiastic you are about finding employee burnout solutions, they’ll ultimately be ineffective if you don’t train your managers to spot the signs. Managers are your first line of defense when it comes to fighting burnout.

Truthfully, you may encounter some resistance at first. Some managers might be skeptical about how widespread burnout really is, so you need to win them over. A manager who’s used to messaging their team with a request at 10 p.m. on a Friday night might not want to change their habits.

So, set out the facts first, then frame the issue in terms of business effectiveness. After your managers are on board, implement practical steps:

  • Regular 1:1 meetings between managers and their team members
  • Reminding employees to book vacation time
  • Weekly team huddles to talk about progress
  • Enforcing a moratorium on out-of-hours contact (with exceptions when absolutely necessary)
  • Brainstorming sessions to discuss engagement survey results

The key is for managers to be alert to changes in mood or behavior that could indicate a burnout issue. 

HR Technology That Drives Communication and Connection Can Help Prevent Employee Burnout 

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for beating employee burnout. But thankfully, the right HR technology can help implement strategies to support your workforce and build a strong company culture.

Paylocity’s all-in-one HR and Payroll software features a wide array of tools designed to build culture and connection among your workforce. It’s a crucial ally in your battle against burnout. Support your employees with features like:

  • Community, a social collaboration platform, connects employees across locations, teams, and interest groups, helping foster a culture of engagement. 
  • Recognition & Rewards helps motivate and inspire employees with tangible rewards for milestones, good work, and achievements.
  • Employee Voice offers data-backed pulse surveys to check on engagement levels with the click of a button.


Request a demo of Paylocity to learn more about how our HR and payroll software can empower your HR team to battle burnout.

Employee burnout can impact businesses at the organizational level. This guide explores burnout, the symptoms, and how to support employees.


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