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How to Recognize Employee Burnout

By Christy Bieber - Sep 17, 2018 at 7:16PM

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Don't let burned out employees impede your productivity -- watch for these signs of burnout.

It's been said that companies are only as good as their weakest employee. This truism makes sense because a poorly performing employee reduces productivity at best and makes costly and damaging mistakes at worst. Unfortunately, making sure your team is free of weak links can be a major challenge, as formerly great staff members can sometimes become burned out and unable to perform up-to-par.

While an employee suffering from burnout could hurt your organization, the good news is burnout can be easy to spot if you know what to look for. To recognize it, pay attention to these key signs.

A woman doing work with a laptop, calculator, and notebook.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Disinterest and disengagement

If a high performing employee who used to offer suggestions and ask questions suddenly goes quiet, this is a good indicator something is amiss. Employees who get burned out lose interest in what they're doing and stop looking for new opportunities to contribute.

When you notice a staff member is no longer piping up to share opinions, it's time for a quiet word. Inquire if there's something going on or if overwork is causing increased reticence. If so, it may be time to look at lightening the workload, suggesting a vacation, or shifting the employee's responsibilities.

2. More mistakes being made

When someone who used to turn in perfect work is suddenly making silly errors, something has obviously gone wrong. The mistakes need to be addressed, and it's important to find out if its burnout causing the problem or if the staff member has simply become careless.

Schedule time to discuss the mistakes and make a plan to ensure there will be no future errors. Invite the employee to speak up about whether he feels overworked or under-appreciated or if there's something else going.

3. An increase in absenteeism 

A previously reliable employee who starts coming in late or missing work may be feeling overwhelmed and in need of a break. Missed workdays can seriously damage productivity, so it's imperative to get to the bottom of the issue right away.

Find out if family problems, illness, or excess work is causing the absenteeism and make adjustments accordingly. This may mean offering flextime to better balance work and family life, or shifting the employee's responsibilities so work is more manageable.

4. Oversensitivity to criticism

Employees must be able to take suggestions and implement constructive criticism. If a worker who used to respond well to feedback is suddenly dissolving into tears or flying off the handle when suggestions are made, the employee has probably reached his breaking point due to stress and burnout. 

When criticism is poorly received, talk to the employee to find out why. Asking point blank if he or she feels the current workload is too much to handle can be the best way to get to the bottom of the situation.

5. Cynicism and skepticism

Have you noticed an employee starting to take a negative view of what's possible when it comes to setting objectives or meeting company goals? A sudden shift to pessimism could suggest workers have started to feel disillusioned because their efforts aren't producing desired results.

This kind of burnout may mean you need to adjust your expectations to ensure you're making reasonable asks of staff members. Pay attention to whether employees work excessive hours to accomplish objectives or if people generally have a hard time meeting your expectations.

You can prevent employee burnout before it becomes a problem

Spotting and reacting to burnout is important to avoid problems, but it's best to prevent burnout in the first place. Make sure you have a sufficient amount of staff, that your requests are reasonable, and that employees have the tools to do their work efficiently. Preventing burnout can reduce turnover, keep morale high, and spare you from dealing with a difficult situation when a prized employee becomes unable to do their job up to your standards.

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