What are the Signs of Burnout — and the Best Solutions?

4th March 2024
 minute read

Table of contents


Burnout is a mental, physical and emotional condition caused by prolonged periods of stress. In the workplace, it can lead to impaired performance, increased absenteeism and strained relationships with colleagues. As burnout is on a spectrum, it is key for leaders and HR professionals to be able to recognise the signs before it escalates. It is also crucial to have psychologically-informed strategies in place for both preventing burnout and helping those affected to recover.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a spectrum of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. The journey from initial stress to the realm of burnout is not abrupt but a gradual process, manifesting through various signs and symptoms. The key to address burnout lies in recognising these signs early and implementing effective solutions.

Nowadays, the demands of our professional and personal lives often blur the lines between persistence and over-exertion. As we stride to meet these demands, the subtle hints of burnout can easily go unnoticed until they escalate and take a heavier toll on our wellbeing

What is the burnout spectrum?

The burnout spectrum (or burnout continuum) spans from mild symptoms like occasional fatigue and frustration to severe manifestations like chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of ineffectiveness. 

On one end of the spectrum, individuals might experience temporary bouts of stress that ebb with time. As individuals move further along the spectrum, the symptoms intensify, morphing into a persistent state of burnout that can drastically affect their quality of life and productivity at work. A 2017 study published in the National Library of Medicine Study also highlights how burnout can impact job performance

Understanding the burnout spectrum is pivotal as it helps in both early recognition and also in gauging the severity of the issue. Burnout is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon but a varied experience that requires a nuanced approach for effective management.

Recognising the signs of employee burnout

‍Early recognition of burnout in the workplace is crucial for timely intervention. Common signs include:

  • Seeming drained
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Decreased productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • A detached attitude 
  • Growing cynicism towards work
  • Irritability
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Becoming withdrawn from colleagues

These signs are not just passing phases but persistent symptoms that signal a need for attention and action.

Implementing workplace solutions to burnout

‍Addressing burnout at work requires a multi-pronged approach that encompasses individual, organisational, and systemic changes. 

Moreover, organisations can play a significant role by fostering a supportive working environment, promoting realistic expectations, and providing resources for stress management. It is a collective endeavour that not only uplifts individual wellbeing but also cultivates a thriving, resilient community. Our guide to Integrating Wellbeing Into the Workday provides more information. 

Ways to help minimise burnout at work include:

Cultivating a supportive organisational culture

Promoting work-life balance: fostering a workplace culture that values and promotes a healthy balance between life and work. Encouraging employees to take time off and respecting their time outside of work hours are steps in this direction.

Open communication: creating channels for open communication allows employees to voice their concerns, discuss workload issues, and seek support when needed.

Recognition and appreciation: recognising employees’ efforts and appreciating their contributions can significantly boost morale and job satisfaction. This can mitigate feelings of burnout.

Flexible working arrangements 

Remote working options: providing options for remote working, hybrid working or flexible working hours can alleviate the stress associated with rigid work schedules and long commutes.

Job sharing and part-time opportunities: these arrangements can provide a better balance, especially for individuals juggling multiple responsibilities in their personal and professional lives.

Mental health resources

Providing access to mental health support: offering access to therapy services or mental health programs as part of employee benefits.

Mental health awareness training: conducting regular training sessions on mental health awareness can help in destigmatising mental health issues. It also promotes a culture of understanding and support.

Management training

Leadership skills: Management training in emotional intelligence, leadership skills, and effective communication can have a significant impact on the work environment — and people’s mental health.

Conflict resolution: Leadership training in conflict resolution helps to promote a harmonious and open work environment, rather than one where issues are swept under the carpet. Development in this area equips managers with the skills to address and resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.

Systemic changes

Policy revisions: reviewing and revising policies to ensure they promote a healthy work environment and do not inadvertently contribute to employee burnout.

Industry standards: on a broader scale, industries can work towards setting standards that prioritise employee wellbeing and sustainable work practices.

Employee involvement

Encourage employee participation: involving people in decision-making processes and considering their feedback on organisational changes fosters a sense of agency and engagement.

Evaluation and feedback

Regular evaluations: conducting regular evaluations to assess workload, employee satisfaction, and organisational practices can provide valuable insights for making necessary improvements.

Constructive feedback: providing constructive feedback — and having mechanisms in place for employees to share their own — can foster a culture of continuous improvement.

Personalised strategies

Encouraging individuals to take regular breaks, pursue hobbies, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are key steps towards alleviating burnout. 

As everyone’s experience of burnout is unique, strategies should be tailored to the individuals preferences and circumstances. If the individual is able to align solutions with their own values then this can help provide a path through stress and prevent burnout. 

Individual wellness approaches could include:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness and / or meditation practices 
  • Engaging in movement / physical exercise
  • Maintaining a nutritious diet

Furthermore, accessing workplace mental health support such as therapy can provide personalised insights and strategies for managing stress and preventing burnout. It can also help identify the internal stressors — such as thinking styles, previous adverse experiences, and unhelpful emotional coping mechanisms –—that may be amplifying an already stressful situation and increasing the risk of burnout.

Ultimately, it is all about individuals finding what resonates with them and integrating these practices into their daily and weekly routine. 

Creating a supportive environment at work‍

Cultivating a psychologically safe environment at both home and work is essential in combating burnout. Encouraging open communication in the workplace, fostering a culture of appreciation, and building a community that values wellbeing are pivotal steps in this direction.

Moreover, destigmatising burnout and promoting a culture that prioritises mental health are crucial for creating an environment where individuals feel safe to express their concerns and seek help. This helps to create a culture of empathy and understanding.

Navigating the burnout spectrum and implementing solutions is a dynamic process that demands awareness, action, and a supportive working environment. By recognising the signs early, adopting personalised strategies, and fostering a culture of wellbeing, leaders and HR professionals can significantly mitigate the adverse effects of burnout.

It’s worth bearing in mind that burnout is not an inevitable outcome of stress but a manageable challenge. With the right tools, strategies, and support, individuals can regain balance and vitality. This can both enhance their quality of life and boost their professional performance.

What are the Signs of Burnout — and the Best Solutions?
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