Fact: Employee burnout is a mental health issue. Described as emotional exhaustion meets cynicism, meets ineffectiveness in the workplace, burnout can majorly impact an employee’s level of production and morale. Too often when dealing with employees suffering burnout, managers are quick to assume the problem lies with the individual—but, a sudden shift in attitude and output should raise alarm bells in management, it’s a surefire sign something isn’t right.

A Gallup study found that 23 per cent of employees reported feeling burnt out at work very often or always.


While personal issues can affect an employee’s behavior in the workplace, burnout in the workplace can often be attributed to any of the following:

  • Feeling underappreciated
  • Micromanagement
  • Feelings of incompetence
  • An employee being in a role that’s not the right fit

In any of the above, management must consider what they can do help an employee struggling with these challenges.

Before management can determine why an employee may be experiencing burnout, they must first understand how to recognize they’re experiencing it. Here are a few common signs and symptoms managers should be on the lookout for.

Increased Absenteeism

Absenteeism is a sure sign that something is off with an employee. A Morneau Shepell report found that 52 per cent of “incidental absence” is not due to illness, yet, non-illness related absences are often where workplace stress has been cited by the employee. 83 per cent of employers acknowledge that mental health and wellness most likely play a role in employee absenteeism, yet 43 per cent of employees feel their workplaces fail at creating an environment that supports mental wellness on the job. It’s a catch-22.

Many companies have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that provide employees with any personal problems they may be facing. While offering access to an EAP is a great benefit, employers need to recognize that absenteeism related to workplace stress indicates an issue in the workplace culture.

Meeting absenteeism and it’s at work-counterpart, presenteeism, head on is important for businesses. In 2013 it was determined that absenteeism costs Canadian businesses upwards of $16.6 billion a year. That was six years ago. Imagine how much that number has risen.

There are numerous ways to confront and handle absenteeism, but this must be done with empathy and compassion. As well as recognition that it could indicate employee burnout.

Feelings of Distance and Isolation

Often when dealing with stress, we can become insular, wanting to avoid contact with others for fear of expressing negative feelings or showing irritability or overall unhappiness. If you notice significant change in an employee’s mood make a note of it. If the mood persists or deteriorates further, it’s time to consider sitting down the employee. Offering a safe, open and communicative space where they feel comfortable to speak is vital. It may be that the employee doesn’t feel comfortable talking with their direct manager, in which case you should encourage them to speak with an HR representative.

Evident Exhaustion

At some point in time everyone deals with fatigue. Consistently feeling tired or rundown can be due to any number of illnesses (anemia, sleep apnea, hypothyroidism), depression and anxiety are also known causes of fatigue.

What does this have to do with employee burnout? Chronic stress can overwhelm you. One major factor that causes stress in our lives is work. If you have hardworking employees, putting in long hours to get more done, they’re at an increased risk of workplace stress, which in turn can lead to heightened anxiety or feelings of depression.

Fatigue can lead to accidents, making it a workplace hazard. Managers should be on the lookout for signs of fatigue in employees, including:

  • Reduced alertness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • An increase in susceptibility to illness

If you’re noticing a consistency in your employees’ levels of exhaustion, you’re seeing signs of burnout.

Reduction in Efficiency and Productivity

Another common sign manager’s need to look for when it comes to employee burnout is a reduction in efficiency and productivity. A once highly productive employee who is suddenly missing deadlines or hitting them but not to their usual standard, is most likely stressed out. This could be due to overwork, an unmanageable workload, or even the employee’s own perfectionism.

Tackle Employee Burnout Head-On

As an employer, supporting your employees means always being alert. It’s important to know how to recognize signs and symptoms that can lead to employee burnout, and to have a strategy to tackle it head-on.

Employers must first consider what workplace factors may be contributing to employee burnout and then determine what changes can be implemented to negate them.

EAPs, wellness programs and a workplace culture that’s focused on physical and mental health are also ways to combat and in some cases, prevent, employee burnout.