How to Prevent Employee Burnout


It can happen to employees at all levels of an organization: An employee who used to be an engaged and active contributor, then seems to have lost motivation and interest in their work. Piled up stress, deadlines, and pressure leads to what is referred to as “burnout.” Burnout can have a major effect on an individual and an organization, and therefore it is important to know the signs ahead of time.

What are the consequences of burnout?

The drawbacks of burnout can be long and serious, and go beyond just the office. Employees who experience burnout can exhibit psychological and physical symptoms. Burnout leads to decreased productivity, creativity, and motivation for the tasks at-hand. It can also lead to employees feeling isolated and without hope, which overall decreases employee productivity.

What are the warning signs of burnout?

For those who are experiencing burnout, they can experience constant fatigue, exhaustion, distress, negative outlook, and ineffectiveness. The important thing to note is that burnout and stress are different. Burnout can be the result of long-term stress, but is also characterized by a loss of motivation and hopelessness.

What are the causes of burnout?

Depending on the person, there may be different causes for them to experience burnout, and some may exhibit stressors more easily than others. From work overload to unclear expectations, there can be many different causes of burnout. It is also important to know that there may not be just one factor that causes burnout, but multiple factors. For example, a job responsibility that is unclear and increasing workload with shrinking time constraints over a long period of time may cause initial stress. However, disagreements between co-workers may make the initial work exhaustion even harder to handle. In addition, for some, doing the wrong type of job may also cause burnout.

Drs. Michael P. Leiter and Christina Maslach researched six main causes of work burnout:

  1. Workload – there is too much work, or deadlines and urgency may be too much
  2. Control – you do not feel a sense of control over your type of work or decisions being made
  3. Reward – your work is underappreciated or undercompensated
  4. Community – communication between colleagues or a sense of togetherness breaks down
  5. Fairness – there is a sense of unfairness or unequal treatment between employees
  6. Values – the company or those in it are not embodying the same set of values you deem important

What can you do about it?

One of the first things is to identify from which area of work is causing burnout. Whether it is disagreements between colleagues or too much work, understand that there may be multiple factors. There are things that you can do both personally and professionally to address some of the symptoms.

Personally, employees can do things like meditate, journal, take time for reflection, and ensure that there is one person at work that can be a confidant. However, some of the most important changes are also done on an organizational level. These include assessing the culture of the organization from a managerial point of view, as well as giving employees the opportunity to express themselves and use time for self development.

Finally, know that although burnout can feel debilitating, it is possible to regain balance. Know that things will not change in a dramatic way immediately, but small steps work toward creating a more positive future.