The signs of burnout (and what to do about it)


(Photo courtesy of Dennis Skley/Flickr)



The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as a syndrome caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Indicators for burnout include:

  • Exhaustion/low energy

  • Disengagement and negative feelings about your job

  • Reduced performance

Occupational burnout is a serious condition that is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Many employers now recognise that pushing their employees too hard will have consequences for the individual and the company.


Many people are working harder than ever before, often with fewer resources. The pandemic has made work-life even more challenging, with factors like working from home, staff shortages and disrupted workflows all amping up the stress for employees and leaders alike.


Long before Covid arrived in our lives, technology was already increasing the potential for workplace burnout. Efficiencies gained through new technology can often result in the merging of roles, placing higher demands on individual workers. ‘Always-on’ communications (email, teams etc.) can mean people have no respite from work or feel obliged to answer email queries after hours.


So what are some of the symptoms to look out for in yourself or your colleagues? Typical signs of burnout are:

  • Feeling cynical or irritable about work

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Poor sleep

  • Low energy

  • Substance abuse - drugs, alcohol, over-eating

Employers and team leaders have a duty of care to their people, and there are many ways they can assist their workforce, to ensure burnout doesn’t become an issue. Giving employees more control over their work and the resources to do their job well is an excellent antidote to workplace stress.


By proactively setting company guidelines and policies around activities like after-hours work, leaders can remove some of the uncertainty employees face around employer expectations. For example, a policy that restricts all email communication to regular business hours can give your people a clear boundary between work and home life.


An individual experiencing burnout isn’t necessarily over-worked. There could be underlying issues such as depression, workplace bullying or a lack of social support that affects their ability to work. Access to professional and confidential counselling services is a vital service that can make all the difference in these situations.


If you’re feeling that work is getting on top of you - talk to your supervisor and explain your situation. Many people feel embarrassed or reluctant to admit they’re not coping—but leaving issues unaddressed will only make them worse. By opening up to your employer, colleagues, friends or family - you’ll get the support you need and life will definitely improve. Other measures like regular exercise, a healthy diet and mindfulness activities can all help you get back to a more balanced work life.


I’ve helped organisations develop wellbeing initiatives and company policies that help reduce the potential for workplace burnout, together with support programs for counselling and mediation. If you’d like to find out more about these services - please get in touch.

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