How to spot staff burnout before it’s too late

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Employee burnout is a growing concern in the modern workplace, and according to recent research conducted by Westfield Health, close to half (46%) of the UK workforce are close to burnout.

In fact, in 2023 the World Health Organization’s handbook will finally recognise “burnout” as an official diagnosis, with reports of burnout-related absence increasing to 48% in the last 12 months.

The definition of burnout is given as ‘a response to chronic stressors that are not adequately managed’ and with World Mental Health just around the corner on 10th October, the ability to spot the signs that an employee is heading for burnout is more important than ever before.

But before we dive into some of the obvious and not so apparent signs of employee burnout, let’s unpack some of the reasons why it’s so important to spot burnout, support staff and manage stress factors before it’s too late.

According to NICE, the Global Organisation for Stress, 13.7 million workdays are estimated to be lost each year in the UK due to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression. This loss of working days comes at a huge cost to the UK economy, with £28.3 billion in lost productivity.

From a more localised viewpoint, burnout can and does lead to high staff turnover rates, with good employees leaving key roles mainly due to unachievable workloads (78%),  followed by a lack of support from those in management positions.

So, what are the main warning signs related to burnout, and what as employers can you do to help support your staff?

Decreased Productivity

Burnout often leads to a decline in work performance, so if an employee who was previously productive starts missing deadlines, making mistakes, or showing a general lack of interest in their tasks, it is time to take a closer look at the reasons behind this fall in productivity rather than marching straight in with a warning to ‘do better’.


Increased Absenteeism

Burnout can result in employees taking more sick days or requesting time off more frequently.

These absences may be due to both physical and mental health issues stemming from burnout, so it is important that you take a supportive angle when questioning the potential reasons behind such absences and seeing if there is anything that you as the employer can do to improve absence rates such as lessening workloads.

Changes in Behaviour

Pay attention to any significant changes in an employee’s behaviour. They may become more withdrawn, less communicative, or display signs of cynicism as stress begins to mount.

Social withdrawal can be another red flag for burnout, so it’s important to nip this in the bud quickly as negative behaviours can impact the entire team rather than just a single employee.

Having someone to talk to confidentially about the issues they are facing without fear of judgment is an excellent way to allow employees to release tension and feel that their problems are being listened to, so outsourcing counseling services or having a wellness co-ordinator whom employees can open up to can be a crucial first step to opening up a channel of communication between staff and employer.

Recognising the signs of staff burnout before it escalates is essential for maintaining a healthy, productive workforce. Employers should foster an open and supportive work environment, encourage work-life balance, and provide resources for employees to manage stress.

Some resources include time management training, flexibility surrounding working hours, and wellness programmes, and by being vigilant and proactive, both employees and employers can work together to prevent burnout and promote well-being in the workplace