When an Employee Burns Out: Employer’s Guide

Written by Nicola Wylie
Last updated July 17, 2022

Did you know that 2 million Brits think about quitting their job every day? That’s 7% of the population. One major reason behind this staggering statistic is work-related stress. As the lines between work and personal life become increasingly blurred, employee burnout is on the rise. When an employee burns out, they become less productive, unhappy, and unmotivated. 

While employee burnout isn’t a new phenomenon, the global pandemic has certainly exacerbated the issue. The emotional toll of the pandemic coupled with the challenges of working from home has created a significant rise in burnt-out employees across the UK.

Our guide for employers shares actionable advice on how to prevent employee burnout. You’ll learn how to spot the signs of burnout early and ways to support affected employees. 

What is Employee Burnout?

Professional burnout is a term coined in the seventies by Herbert Freudenberger in his book titled Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. According to Freudenberger, burnout is “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Building on this definition, Psychologist Christina Maslach names 3 main components of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. 

In simple terms, when an employee burns out they tend to lose motivation. What’s more, their health is affected and their performance drops. Burnout can have a long-term effect on an individual’s health, taking years to recover from. Furthermore, for a business, it can translate to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and high staff turnover. With so much at stake, it’s crucial that employers tackle burnout head-on. The good news is that there are measures your business can take today to reduce the chances of employees burning out.

When an Employee Burns Out: The Signs

Before we look at how to handle it, let’s look at some of the signs of employee burnout.

Physical Symptoms

When an employee burns out, they usually experience physical symptoms. That’s because burnout is caused by chronic stress. Burnt-out employees will often report having headaches, fatigue, mental fog, substance abuse, stomach problems, and sleep issues. Due to the prolonged stress, their immune system may become compromised, making them more susceptible to colds, flu, or infections.

A Drop in Performance 

Professional burnout often affects sleep. This can make employees feel more emotional than usual and affect concentration. In addition to the physical symptoms, a main characteristic of burnout is a loss of motivation. Combined, these symptoms can result in a drop in performance. You may notice a formerly excellent employee is missing deadlines, turning in sub-par work, and has lost their creativity.

Disengaged and Unmotivated

When an individual burns out, they lose motivation. This can be seen through a decrease in the quality of their work and a lack of engagement. For example, the employee may no longer participate in group meetings, attend social events, or put themselves forward for new challenges. Burnt-out employees are simply “going through the motions” and tend to slowly remove themselves from the company culture.

When an Employee Burns Out: The Causes

Burnout affects every employee differently and can be heightened by factors in an individual’s personal life. Having said that, there are a few common reasons why your employees are burning out.


Companies that don’t promote a sense of community and togetherness are more likely to experience employee burnout. When employees feel isolated, the stresses of their daily tasks can become overwhelming. And, without the support of colleagues, this can contribute to employees burning out. Research found that employees who feel like their employer helps them feel connected are more likely to feel supported at work.

In a nutshell, employers should prioritise fostering a strong culture of community in order to prevent employees from feeling alone. Particularly in a remote working environment.

Too Much Work

An employee burns out when their workload becomes excessive. The sheer amount of work becomes overwhelming, causing employees to feel chronically stressed. In fact, 38% of UK employees reported they regularly experienced stress at work, most commonly due to unrealistic expectations and unmanageable workloads. As a result, their performance begins to fall, worsening the problem. 

Interestingly, many career changers cite an excessive workload as one of the main reasons behind their career transition. Put simply, employers must manage employees’ workloads if they want to manage burnout at work.

Not Enough Recognition

Recognition and praise for a job well-done is a huge motivator for employees. Therefore, organisations that don’t recognise their employees’ efforts often experience higher levels of burnout. In an effort to combat employee burnout, employers should establish a culture of recognition. By doing so, employees see that their hard work is noticed and appreciated. In turn, they will feel more motivated and fulfilled in their work.

No Clear Goals and Expectations

Even the most promising employee burns out when they have no clear goals and objectives. In order to stay motivated, employees need to know what is expected of them. Additionally, they need to know how their individual goals fit into the big picture. As such, managers should demonstrate how an employee’s individual goals contribute to the overall business objectives. This will make employees feel valued and give them a clear path to follow.

The Absence of Feedback

An absence of feedback and an unclear performance management program can contribute to a stressful work environment. Thus, setting clear (and realistic) performance metrics can alleviate the frustration of employees. Regular feedback meetings throughout the calendar year enable employees to gauge their progress and understand their strengths and areas to improve.

A Lack of Support

As the saying goes, employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. While the reality is a bit more nuanced than that, there is a lot of truth to this sentiment. A major stressor for workers is not having the support or resources to do their job well. To tackle this issue, managers need to establish a clear feedback loop with employees. In doing so, employees can report the barriers they’re facing due to a lack of support or resources and work with managers to find a solution. Not only does this reduce stress and burnout, but it improves performance. This, in turn, boosts morale.

No Room for Growth

A lack of opportunities for professional development is one of the main reasons why employees want to change careers. When employees don’t feel like their employer is investing in their career development, they tend to feel stuck and unfulfilled. As a result, the employee burns out and loses interest in their work. In a bid to keep employee motivation and satisfaction high, employers must provide career journeys for workers and opportunities to grow as a professional.

How to Prevent Employees from Burning Out 

It can be tough for employers to define a clear course of action when employees are suffering from burnout. However, by addressing the issue early, your organisation can promote a healthier work environment. Consequently, you’ll see a reduction in staff turnover, increased productivity, and improved performance. 

Here are a few actionable steps your business can take to prevent employees from burning out.

Support Employees in Managing Their Workload

The first step in ​​​​dealing with a burnt-out employee is to help manage their workload. To do this, set clear priorities and expectations. When an employee knows exactly what is expected of them and what tasks should take priority, they feel more confident in their job. Regular 1-2-1 check-ins and a feedback circle can help managers to set expectations and prioritise employee tasks.

Communication is King

Clear, transparent communication is a severely underrated tool in tackling burnout. By maintaining high levels of communication, employees feel secure in their jobs. What’s more, they know exactly what is expected from them and feel like a valued member of the team. Employers should implement a clear communication strategy and make use of communication tools to keep the dialogue open.

Implement a Culture of Recognition

Burnt-out employees changing careers often report not feeling valued as one of the reasons behind their decision. It is the role of the employer to create a culture of recognition and praise within the business. In doing so, employees feel motivated and that their hard work is recognised and appreciated. The more a company fosters a culture of recognition, the more engaged employees tend to be. The first step is to publicly acknowledge the positive impact your team’s work has had on the business.

Create a Community

Cultivating a sense of belonging can make employees feel more connected to their work. As a result, they feel more supported and less stressed. By organising regular social events, businesses can build a strong community and prevent employees from feeling isolated. In turn, employee engagement will grow and fewer employees will burn out or consider a career change.

Set Clear Goals

Employees need to know the why behind their work. This eliminates frustration and makes it clear to workers what is expected of them. Like most things in life, when we understand why we have to do something, we are more likely to do it well. In addition, goals empower employees to take accountability for their work. They give them clear metrics to work to and a sense of purpose.

Lead by Example

Breaking the curse of burnout starts at the top. If your employees are on the verge of burning out, your leaders should take action. For instance, leaders can encourage a healthy work-life balance by setting boundaries themselves. This could look like taking regular breaks, not working outside of office hours, and using all of your annual leave. When leaders prioritise a healthy work culture, this will trickle down to employees at all levels. In short, behaviour changes start with leaders.

Make Time for Learning

Promote a learning culture. Workers who are continuously learning are less likely to suffer from employee burnout. Thus, employers should invest in employee development. This can be achieved by first finding out what employees want to learn and then providing training and resources to help them achieve their learning goals. In addition to training, skill-sharing and shadow schemes can help to provide employees with professional growth opportunities. This is a particularly effective way to retain burnt-out employees considering a career change.

Identify Pain Points

When it comes to ​​handling employee burnout, employers should try to remove barriers and pain points. By finding out what is causing employees to feel stressed, you can address the issues early. For example, is your team struggling with its workload due to a lack of resources? Managers should become advocates for their teams, fighting to get them the support and resources needed to resolve pain points at work. This will boost morale, improve performance, and lower stress levels in the workplace.

Offer Flexible Working Options

A 2021 poll of workers in the UK found that 9 out of 10 workers feel that work-life balance is important to their happiness in a job. Yet, less than half of the responders believed their employer understood this. This tells us that employers still have a way to go when it comes to offering meaningful flexible working options. Therefore, employers who want to prevent employees from burning out and retain career changers should consider their current policies. Providing flexible work and remote working opportunities can significantly improve the quality of employees’ life. Thus, keeping burnout at bay.

Final Thoughts

When an employee burns out, this is usually a sign of a deeper issue within the organisation. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to identify the root causes of burnout and address them. While this is not an easy task, the results will be worth it. Workplaces with low levels of employee burnout tend to perform better, have a lower staff turnover, and better company culture. 

At Refreshing a Career, we understand the challenges burnout can pose for employers. That’s why we have created a wealth of resources for employers to help combat employees burning out. From remote working advice to job advert inclusivity screening, our goal is to empower your business to build a great work culture.

Be sure to also check out what employer services we can provide your company, including advertising your roles on our unique career change jobs board.

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Last Updated: Saturday August 19 2023
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