Workplace Burnout: How to Spot It and How to Avoid It

Updated on January 30, 2020
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Most working people are all too familiar with the concept of workplace burnout. And when you start a business and consistently have to juggle so many roles, you’re probably extra familiar with struggling to balance your responsibilities without feeling a little burnt out.

Workplace burnout can manifest itself quickly, sometimes without you even realizing it. Then, you may suddenly find it hard to get to work or to motivate yourself to get anything done. However, for both yourself and your employees, workplace burnout is a slow progression and learning how to detect the signs means you can avoid burnout before it turns into a bigger issue.

Spotting and avoiding workplace burnout helps keep up both your and your employees’ productivity and excitement around work, while also creating an environment and company culture that is conducive to good ideas and a healthy work-life balance.

It sounds like a lot to maintain, but identifying workplace burnout and learning how to reduce burnout in the workplace can have a huge impact on how well you and your employees end up working.

What Is Workplace Burnout?

Workplace burnout is a type of stress that causes emotional or physical exhaustion and can also come with a sense of lack of accomplishment. Some signs of workplace burnout are a lack of productivity or energy, a lack of satisfaction in work, a new cynicism around work, and other signs of exhaustion around your professional life.

workplace burnout

What Causes Workplace Burnout?

Workplace burnout can look different for everyone, as can the causes behind it.

Feeling burned out at work can be due to several different factors, including a work-life imbalance, unclear expectations, a lack of control, a dysfunctional office or workplace, or a lack of social support, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Some workplace burnout causes, like excessive work to the point of a lack of work-life balance and feeling overwhelmed or out of control professionally, can make you feel excessive stress or fatigue, cause insomnia, irritability, high blood pressure, a dependence on alcohol, and more.

As a good manager, you want to make sure your employees aren’t on their way to workplace burnout or suffering any of the consequences of workplace burnout. Below we’ll explain three types of burnout and how you can address and avoid them.

workplace burnout

Three Types of Workplace Burnout

We’ll go over three specific types of workplace burnout as identified by a study published in PLOS ONE below.

1. Overload Burnout

This type of workplace burnout affects energetic, driven people who have high standards and ambitions. These employees may not seem to be at risk for burnout, but in reality, will work to the point of exhaustion in search of success. These employees can feel stifled when bureaucracy, politics, or lack of upward mobility keeps them from achieving their career goals, and their burnout is often expressed in terms of concerns about job hierarchy.

2. Worn-Out Burnout

The opposite type of workplace burnout, worn-out, hits employees who feel incompetent, inadequate, or unable to keep up at work. These employees tend to be passive, so instead of taking action, they spiral downward in a vicious cycle. Since they aren’t performing up to par, they aren’t rewarded, which de-motivates them further. They express burnout by avoiding work.

3. Under-Challenged Burnout

 A middle ground between the previous types, under-challenged workplace burnout occurs when employees have monotonous jobs that don’t challenge them enough. They manage stress by gradually distancing themselves from jobs and coworkers, becoming cynical, and, eventually, completely disengaged.

workplace burnout

How to Reduce Burnout in the Workplace

To nip each type of workplace burnout in the bud, start by being observant. You won’t know what’s going on with employees unless you regularly interact with them. Pay attention to how your workers are expressing themselves. Cynical comments, lack of interaction with coworkers, or frequent complaints can all be warning signs. After that, you can take action.

1. For the Overloaded Burnout

 This is the type of employee you most want to retain, as they’re highly driven and hardworking. If there truly is no room for advancement in your business, could a lateral move provide the new challenges these workers are seeking? Title changes and financial rewards, such as performance-based bonuses, can help to re-motivate these types of employees. Additionally, consider providing additional training and education so the person can gain new skills. For example, you might send these employees to industry events, conferences, or webinars where they can absorb knowledge and then come back and share it with the team. Another option to reduce workplace burnout for this type of employee is to offer them flexible hours so they can earn an advanced degree or pursue different objectives.

2. For the Worn-Out Burnout

For this type of workplace burnout, determine what’s keeping these employees from success. Are they incompetent, do they lack the tools and empowerment they need, or do they simply need more training? Because these employees lack strong internal motivation, if you decide to keep them on board, you’ll need to build in lots of oversight, encouragement, and rewards along the way.

3. For the Under-Challenged Burnout

These workers need variety and stimulation to avoid workplace burnout. Perhaps you can redistribute work so employees share tasks with others and aren’t doing the same thing day in and day out. Alternatively, try challenging these employees by delegating more difficult duties, and by having them train or mentor others on the staff.

Workplace Burnout: The Bottom Line

Tailoring workplace burnout prevention to each type of situation takes a little extra work and thought, but the results will make it worth the effort. It’s bound to happen at some point that an employee of yours finds themselves suffering from some of the results of workplace burnout and when it does happen, you want to make sure you’re there to support them and help them to get out of it.

Keeping employees from feeling burnt out in the first place is ideal, but when it does happen, now you have some steps to take already in mind to help them get back to their normal selves in the office. This will leave them feeling better about themselves and their work, and feeling better about you as a manager and business owner, as well.

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is a small business contributor for Fundera and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company. She has spent 30+ years covering, consulting and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs.
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