Human Resources

Fire Drills: Spot the Early Warning Signs and Stop Employee Burnout

Signs of employee burnout.

Employee burnout is a problem that impacts over half the workforce, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. When your team is stressed out, there can be dramatic consequences for your bottom line – a result of absences, poor productivity, and employee turnover. By taking the time to understand employee burnout and learn how to recognize the early warning signs, HR managers and business leaders can help prevent this issue from impacting their teams.

What Causes Employee Burnout?

According to the Center for Disease Control, today's workers face potential burnout and work stressors from a variety of sources. They say, "We know that employers and workers deal on a daily basis with issues related to new technologies, the ever-changing organization of work, precarious employment situations, shiftwork and long work hours, work-life integration, workplace violence and bullying, and other stressful situations on a daily basis." Your workers may be facing high stress related to:

  • High workloads
  • An "always on" culture
  • Balancing personal and work responsibilities
  • Interpersonal challenges with managers or co-workers
  • Instability in their employment situations

When employees become burned out, they can suffer from mental anxiety, physical symptoms, emotional outbursts, and a decline in productivity. In extreme cases, burned out workers may leave to pursue other opportunities which they perceive will be less stressful or a better fit with their needs.

When your team is stressed out, there can be dramatic consequences for your bottom line – a result of absences, poor productivity, and employee turnover.

How Can You Spot the Early Warning Signs?

Being aware of the early warning signs of stress can help you prevent major employee burnouts before they occur. It may also make financial sense to focus on these – Stress.org reports that job stress for the U.S. industry is estimated at over $300 billion annually.

Signs that your team may be stressed include:

  • Employees complaining of being stressed, overwhelmed, or under pressure
  • Unexplained absences, or complaints about new physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches, and other ailments associated with stress
  • Managers who are concerned that their team faces an unmanageable workload
  • Increases in accidents, errors, or other issues which could be caused by stress and distractions
  • Signals that employees may be seeking new employment

Avoiding Burnout In Your Workforce

HR leaders and business owners need to proactively take steps to avoid employee burnout. These include:

  • Training managers to be aware of the signs of burnout, and having a plan in place to evaluate employee situations to see if the underlying issues can be addressed
  • Systematically evaluating the workloads associated with specific teams and positions to ensure they are realistic and employees have the skills and support needed to be successful
  • Adopting flexible scheduling, telecommuting, and paid time off policies which can help provide better work/life balance where possible
  • Investing in employee engagement and recognition, using tools such as engagement monitoring, bonus programs, employee awards, and setting minimum cost-of-living adjustments
  • Adding an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to your benefits package to provide access to support across a wide variety of areas which may be causing stress
  • Investing in training around areas such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and stress management to give your workforce the tools to better manage workplace and general life stress
  • Adopting policies which limit the expectation that employees will complete work, check email, or be "always available" outside the set hours required to conduct their jobs

By understanding burnout and investing in strategies to help mitigate employee stress, it's possible to control related costs, reduce employee turnover, and keep your workforce healthy and productive.

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