Burnout in the Workplace: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Burnout describes a state of severe mental, physical, or emotional exhaustion in response to prolonged or chronic work-related stress. Burnout often carries with it a sense of cynicism and discouragement regarding one’s professional ability. If left ignored, workplace burnout can even increase the risk for serious illnesses such as depression, diabetes, and heart disease.

As a business owner, we know that you want to create a workplace where your employees thrive. It’s good for business and more importantly, it’s good for employees. Creating a positive environment that fosters mental health and well-being matters. Our mental health coaching tool MindBoost is designed to achieve those goals by helping employees develop healthy thought patterns and providing goal-oriented plans tailored to each user’s unique needs and mental state. Let’s discuss some other ways to avoid burnout and foster better workplace.

Major Causes of Burnout at Work

Some of the major causes of workplace burnout include:

  • Unreasonable workload or time constraints. Although many factors may contribute to burnout, one of the biggest culprits is a workload that is disproportionate to an employee’s current work capacity. Whether in the form of unreasonable difficulty or unrealistic time constraints, chronic overload makes it challenging to create a healthy balance between the challenges of work life and healthy periods of rest and recovery.
    • Lack of communication with management. The effect of burnout can be compounded by a perceived lack of input or dialogue with management over decisions related to an employee’s workload or career development. In this situation, an employee who feels that their values and priorities are not being reflected can quickly find themselves growing frustrated, discouraged, and cynical.
    • Lack of clear expectations. Some employees feel that their expectations and roles in the workplace are unclear. This can create feelings of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment. When an employee wants to do a good job, but doesn’t know the path to get there, success is elusive and dissatisfaction takes over.
    • Perceived unfair treatment. Whether true or not, perceived favoritism, disparate compensation, or mistreatment at work can all easily foster cynicism and discouragement leading to burnout. Clear lines of communication and the opportunity to speak directly with appropriate personnel to clear up concerns can help create a transparent workplace where everyone knows the steps to success, and everyone is able to thrive.

Watching for the Physical Signs of Workplace Burnout

Burnout at work can actually have physical presentations, as well as emotional and behavioral signs. Some of the physical signs of chronic workplace burnout include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased immune system
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain

Burnout can also lead to employees feeling emotionally drained and disheartened. This can, in turn, lead to behavioral changes, some of which may include:

  • Impaired concentration
    • Lowered productivity
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Irritability
    • Pessimism
    • Detachment
    • Lack of motivation
    • Frustration and cynicism

How Managers Can Prevent Burnout and Foster a Happier Work Environment

As a manager or employer, understanding the signs and triggers of workplace burnout is vital to creating the kind of workplace that promotes success and achievement. Every successful manager wants their team to succeed, and a good workplace environment goes a long way toward facilitating that success. When you know how to foster an environment that avoids negative factors, you will start to see a thriving business and loyal employees who love what they do and where they work. What could be more rewarding?

Here are several ways managers and employers can help prevent workplace burnout:

  • Communicate – Make your values and the resources available to your employees known, including mental health resources. Let employees know that your HR personnel or department is there to alleviate their concerns and hear their suggestions with the goal of establishing a healthier work environment. Be clear and vocal about your goals for your workplace environment, goals such as integrity, kindness, and teamwork.
    • Lead by example – Lead by example in encouraging employees to prioritize mental health and to seek help from trusted individuals. You have a lot on your shoulders! If your mental health is struggling, those who look to you for leadership may also have a hard time prioritizing emotional wellness. In fact, studies show that 80% of workers with mental health conditions avoid pursuing treatment due to stigma. Model healthy choices and make it clear that you believe your health—both physical and mental—is important and worth prioritizing.
    • Unplug – Model the decision to take time to decompress by cultivating interests outside of work. Consider exploring a creative, athletic, or academic interest and reserve that space in your mind as a work-free zone. Where appropriate, encourage employees to establish boundaries between work and home life, such as not checking email when at home. Make it clear that you value every aspect of your team members’ lives and responsibilities.
    • Promote workplace health – Study after study proves the connection between physical and mental health. Regular exercise and balanced meals can actually go a long way toward preventing burnout. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed, walnuts, and fish act as natural antidepressants. Adequate sleep and exercise boast numerous benefits for both physical and emotional health. Of course employers can’t enforce healthy choices, but you can brainstorm ways to facilitate your team’s health goals, from stocking healthy snacks in the communal kitchen to creating access to gym memberships, fitness classes, and outdoor activities.
    • Mental health management training – Over half of employees say they work at a company that doesn’t do enough to encourage employee health. Make it a priority to provide your team leaders with the training they need to spot a potential issue and to have helpful conversations about mental health in the workplace.
    • Ask employees how they’re doing – Even something as simple as a routine check-in can go a long, long way toward promoting emotional wellness at work. A study by Harvard Business Review found that almost 40% of employees said no one at work had asked them if they were doing OK. That group was 38% more likely than others surveyed to say their mental health had declined since the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. Make it a practice to ask your employees how they are doing, and to ask tailored questions about the types of support they need. Avoid making employees feel that they are being micromanaged and focus on genuinely serving your team. Encourage team managers and directors to do the same.

MindBoost is a mental health coaching tool designed to easily implement into everyday life and help users build positive habits that prevent workplace burnout through targeted, customized interactions. Schedule a demo today and be part of the solution toward a better, healthier workplace.