How to prevent employee burnout

Last updated:
June 30, 2021
May 11, 2022
min read
Alyse Falk
prevent employee burnout
Table of contents

Burnout is one of the most common problems in the modern world, especially in large cities and metropolises.

Often people do not understand what is happening to them, why they have lost the desire to do their favorite job, why colleagues and customers have become so annoying.  

Psychologists define burnout as a syndrome that develops against the accumulation of negative emotions, stress, and leads to exhaustion of employee resources. In simple words, professional burnout is a state when an employee feels overwhelmed.

American psychologist Cary Cherniss explained burnout in the following way:

"Burnout is a kind of withdrawal, if you like, a psychological disagreement between a person and work in response to prolonged stress, frustration or disappointment. At the same time, a person has the feeling that he can no longer live as before. This is not just a mental state but a disease that affects the entire body."

Nearly 45% of workers in the United States admit that they experience emotional burnout from time to time, while 23% frequently suffer. Burnout treatment costs in the United States make from $ 125 billion to $ 190 billion annually.

Who is in the risk group?

These are mainly employees who closely interact with customers - teachers, doctors, salespeople, bankers, and social workers.

Ann Kelly, a French tutor, says: "Recently I started to work remotely, using new communication tools, having more virtual classes and a lot of urgent projects. All this blurred the lines between home and work, and my productivity started to decline."

Cholerics and melancholics, who absorb all the negative emotions associated with work, are especially prone to burnout. In this case, burnout can be a protective response to the stresses that other people bring to them. This negative trend is quickly spreading to other spheres and businesses.

The IT industry did not escape it either. In 2018, the social network Blind even ranked Silicon Valley companies with the highest percentage of employees in a state of burnout.

How to distinguish burnout from ordinary stress?

Everyone faces problems and stresses from time to time. The clinical signs of burnout and depression are very similar; that's why they are often viewed as related problems.

But professional burnout is difficult to deal with. It is a long and protracted process that matures and accumulates over a long time, then removes the employee from working conditions for a long time.

If the chronic stress associated with work lasts more than 3-6 months, it indicates emotional burnout. Signs of an overworked employee are manifested in increased fatigue and drowsiness, decreased concentration, memory impairment. At first, it leads to small mistakes and inattention.

During the second stage, psychosomatic symptoms appear in the form of insomnia, chronic headaches, gastritis, pressure problems, etc. A person is almost always irritated, becomes closed and withdrawn, can be rude to customers, and conflicts with colleagues. He loses motivation and interest in work.

In the third and last stage, an overwhelmed employee becomes apathetic, falls into a deep depression, completely loses interest in work and life in general, has no goals for the future, and does not see the meaning and value of life.

It is important to notice and eliminate the causes of burnout in advance; otherwise, an overworked employee will need at least a year to return to his normal state. You can take an online test to evaluate your current state.

Reasons for burnout

The main reason is the level of stress that has become unbearable, and various factors can trigger it. Some of them are obvious, and others are hidden but very powerful.

The obvious reasons for burnout are:

  • Monotonous work;
  • Constant deadlines;
  • Work in close contact with people;
  • A permanent increase in mental stress;
  • Suppression of labor initiatives;
  • Lack of professional growth and self-expression;
  • Misunderstanding and pressure inside the team.

Further reading: Why is employee training and development important and how to create an employee development program?

Indirect factors of emotional burnout:

  • Absence of planning and self-organization;
  • Non-observance of the work and rest regime;
  • Motivational problems (lack of goals);
  • Perfectionist syndrome;
  • Work in a psychologically ill mode (unfriendly atmosphere within the team, difficult customer relationships).

Burnout prevention

The main thing is not to ignore the problem. If you have noticed the above signs in your everyday routine, start taking the following actions:

  • Rate your options. Discuss specific issues with your manager to change expectations, reach compromises, or make some decisions. Try to set goals for your priorities and define what is not urgent in your to-do list.
  • Seek support. Whether it is help from colleagues, friends, or loved ones, cooperation can help you cope with the situation. If you have access to a dedicated corporate psychological support program, use it.
  • Choose a relaxing activity for yourself. Explore programs that help with stress: yoga, meditation, etc.
  • Go in for sports. Regular physical activity helps manage stress and distracts from work.
  • Sleep more. Sleep restores the body, improves well-being, and protects your health, so it's important to get a perfect night's sleep.

Dealing with an overwhelmed employee

Each employer should remember that burnout is easier to prevent than to deal with its consequences. Analyze if you are not overloading employees with work, and is you see the above-described signs, implement the following practice:

  • Evenly distribute the load so that it is approximately the same for all workers;
  • Switch staff attention between different activities - give them diverse tasks, for example, alternate tasks that require creativity and routine ones;
  • Let people rest - keep track of the vacation schedule, introduce a normal lunch break, try not to delay employees after a working day. In the case of overtime, compensate for the time spent;
  • Create a comfortable atmosphere in the office or in production - install air conditioners, install coolers and a coffee machine, buy comfortable chairs and tables, make repairs in a timely manner;
  • Interested in something get employees new: introduce some teambuilding activities. It will add a healthy atmosphere to the team;
  • Find out how to motivate an overwhelmed employee. It is a good approach to offer rewards for high efficiency. Avoid fines in case of failure, but figure out why it happened and help the employee overcome the backlog;
  • Conduct surveys to identify staff issues and help solve them.


It is widely believed that emotional burnout is unknown to those who do what they love. Unfortunately, it happens, even if you love your job. After all, a high level of involvement is a dangerous catalyst for burnout.

So, the key to your professional well-being is the ability to listen to your feelings, recognize your needs, and seek help from professionals in a timely manner.

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