How to Identify Employee Burnout and Take Action

You’ve seen it, but you’re not sure what it is. Employees are taking less initiative. Productivity has slipped. You see employees talking more but they hush up or split up when you walk by. You sense discontentment.

You haven’t implemented any changes, so what’s going on?

Maybe that is exactly the issue – you haven’t made any changes. Everything is the ‘same-old’ and this is leading to a ho-hum attitude.

If a role stays the same, and you don’t introduce new challenges or promote professional growth, you can expect employee burnout. New employees are actively engaged but over time, participation wanes and eventually drops off.

Obviously other factors such as stress and conflict can also lead to burnout. This is especially true for organizations that have downsized during the recession. Employees faced with an increased workload are especially at risk of burnout as they struggle with the mounting pressure mourning lost co-workers.

Employee Burnout Symptoms

I have been there, and I can tell you that burnout leads to feelings of exhaustion and detachment. Even after a good night’s sleep, you wake up with a sense of dread at the thought of another day’s work.

Once enthusiastic about the job and what could be accomplished, feelings of emotional exhaustion were a surprise. That “go-get-em” attitude was replaced with “who-cares.” As hopelessness settled in, “can-do” was replaced with “can’t-do.”

Burned out employees lose motivation, creative talent, and the ability to offer innovative solutions. As a result, productivity suffers.

If you are noticing an increase in:

  • Employee turnover
  • Employee absenteeism
  • Employee conflict
  • Job ineffectiveness

Or a decrease in:

  • Employee attendance
  • Participation in company events
  • Job satisfaction
  • Job productivity
  • Commitment to tasks or projects

Then you are facing employee burnout.

Beware – burnout can creep from one individual to another as negative thoughts are shared. It can negatively impact the entire team and spread throughout the workplace.

Improving Your Workplace

If your organization is employee-oriented then you understand the importance of creating a positive and engaging environment. A positive environment will keep employees because they are happy. Happy employees are more productive. Happy employees also lead to happy customers.

Employee burnout can strike any organization or group. When it occurs you need to take immediate action to stop it in the early stages before it infects your entire organization.

Employee Survey

Identifying the cause of burnout is important. An employee survey can be valuable in identifying the issues but you will need to ask the right questions and be ready to act on them.

“But,” you say, “I dread these surveys. I can’t seem to get the data I really need that will result in a change.”

If you are dreading it, you can bet your employees are too. They are expecting you to act in their best interests. If you fail to follow through on the information they have entrusted you with, then you might as well forget about conducting any future surveys.

You need to build a trusting relationship among your employees and management in order to create a positive workplace. You, as a manager, need to track and communicate what is and isn’t working.

So before you implement that employee survey, be sure you are collecting information that you will act on. And be ready with a plan.

Wondering what information you should collect? Hold an employee focus group. This will engage and empower your employees. These meetings should be held onsite to convey the message that your workplace is a safe place to share thoughts.

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Survey Questions

Working for a survey company, I have seen quite a few employee surveys.

Typical employee opinion, satisfaction or engagement surveys do not identify employee burnout. If you suspect burnout, you need to be asking the right questions to determine how prevalent and serious the problem is. Below are some examples. Consider using a 5-point Likert scale so employees can easily select how much they agree or disagree and you can assess the degree.

  • Would you say your current role is stressful or overwhelming?
  • Would you say that this position has conflicting job demands?
  • Do you feel you have the support you need to succeed in this role?
  • Do you feel you have a say in the decision making process?

Make a Plan

You asked for it, now do something about it! Your employees are expecting you to make a difference. If you don’t act on the data they entrusted you with, then you can expect cynicism to increase. Your customers will bear the brunt of it.

Here are 10 changes you should consider to help alleviate employee burnout:

  1. Be clear. Make sure employees understand what’s expected of them. There should be no question about how performance is being measured. Employees should also be clear in communicating when the workload is too much.
  2. Create a nurturing environment. Make sure employees have the resources they need to succeed in their current role. Provide opportunities to learn new skills and encourage career growth. You will both benefit from it.
  3. Empower employees. Include employees in the decision-making process. Doing the right thing should not require approval or bureaucratic paper work. Allow employees to make the right decision and move forward quickly to get it done. They will appreciate it and so will your customers!
  4. Foster healthy competition. Everyone likes a challenge, but if your staff consists of a large number from generation Y, this is especially true. This group grew up gaming and they respond well to a point and reward system. So why not gamify some of the more tedious tasks to make them more fun?
  5. Go with emotion. Let employees work on projects that they are passionate about. Move employees to different areas if necessary and be willing to create new positions if there is a need for it.
  6. Introduce wellness programs. Encourage employees to take a break, eat lunch away from their desk, minimize overtime, and join a fitness club. This might cost you more upfront but you will benefit in the long run with lower health costs and an increase in employee retention.
  7. Mix it up with side projects. Stir up the creative juices by allowing your employees to spend some time working on a work-related project that they enjoy.
  8. Provide feedback. Let employees know when they have done a good job. Acknowledge and reward their hard efforts. Make it known among the team and the organization that they are valued and appreciated.
  9. Rotate staff. Allow employees to rotate to another department for a day or so. Who knows, they might develop a better appreciation for their coworker or they might find this role is a better fit for them.
  10. Set reasonable expectations. When assigning tasks, set ambitious goals but be realistic. Work volume should be challenging but not overwhelming to the point of discouragement.

Measure the Impact

So now you have asked, planned, and implemented some changes. What now?

Measure the impact and do it again! Ask your employees if they are benefiting from the changes. Has the workplace atmosphere improved? Do you see an increase in productivity?

Be agile. If a change doesn’t produce the desired affect, then be quick to implement another change until you see positive results. Don’t fear change – fear what will happen if you don’t make a change!

Many organizations won’t acknowledge burnout for fear of having to implement new processes. Change will be required – it will be painful and might mean hiring new staff, reducing demands, and resetting expectations. While this might seem costly, there is a higher price to pay for not addressing the issue.

Join the Conversation
  • Angela T.

    Great job on the article, Sandy. I like how the article emphasizes why employers should care about employee burnout. Though those who don’t probably won’t even be asking the question, and those who do will already be reading this article. And just the process of asking, and showing employees that you care seems like such an important step. Great job, again!

  • Angela T.

    Great job on the article, Sandy. I like how the article emphasizes why employers should care about employee burnout. Though those who don’t probably won’t even be asking the question, and those who do will already be reading this article. And just the process of asking, and showing employees that you care seems like such an important step. Great job, again!

  • kavitha naidu

    tell me one thing, is there relationship between employee job burnout and employee retention

    • sgizmo

      Hi Kavitha,

      There is absolutely a relationship between employee burnout and retention. It’s always best to work to prevent burnout as much as possible and to create a work environment where employees are also happy. The happier your employees are, the more likely they are to stay with your company. They’ll also perform better too!

      -SurveyGizmo Team