Burnt Out Employee(s): The HR Manager’s Guide

A burnt-out employee?

Does it even exist?

In today’s space and time, it’s easy to get lost in the whole “hustle” game. We tend to over-glorify working hard, yet we forget that we’re humans as well.

Burning out isn’t an occurrence that happens to entrepreneurs; it happens even to employees and co-workers.

In our experience of working with teams and helping them to find and scale their strengths, we come across the topic of burnout quite often, and more often than not, we relate above all things else.

Why? Because we get burnt out ourselves sometimes.

When we handle consecutive workshops.

When we consult companies.

Even when we’re constantly leading others to develop their own potential, sometimes our own potential seems limited by our tiredness.

employee burnout

The question is then: how can we tell the signs of burning out, and how can we counter burnout at the workplace?

This article aims to do just that.

We aim to uncover the definition of burnout and understand what exactly leads to a burnt-out employee.

Then, we’ll go through a few simple tips that you can apply to yourself at the workplace to avoid burnout.

What Exactly Is A Burnt Out Employee?

If you’ve even known a friend who’s a high performer at work, but for some reason, you find that they’re not happy, it’s highly likely they’ll be a burnt-out employee soon.

Or if you yourself find that it’s hard to maintain a high level of performance without sacrificing things that you find and hold dear, then burnout is also a likely possibility for you at the end of the tunnel.

Essentially, burnout is a situation where you feel stressed and overworked.

It is a situation where you find that you just don’t have the passion nor the interest for certain things anymore; to the extent that you might even come across as being depressed.

You find that these groups of people are often doing a lot for the organisation, but they no longer find satisfaction in their job, and what they are doing.

In other words, a carrot and stick approach probably isn’t going to do much to retain burnt-out employees.

Burnout happens to the best of us, and it is something that can hit us when we least expect it.

Understanding The Symptoms Of A Burnt Out Employee

When it comes down to it, the first way to solve any problem is knowing that there is one.

The same applies to Burnout.

Across our experience of working with individuals and companies that have faced situations of their employees burning out, we’ve found that the most common reasons include:

Complaints of being tired, overworked, and not being paid enough

This is a common complaint amongst employees, and though it is hard to tell whether or not it’s burnout, speaking out about this often reveals their level of burnout in the workplace.

Simply put, employees at this level complain that they feel that even weekend breaks and holidays are not enough to make them feel motivated at work again.

In addition, they show signs of lethargy and being tired at the office.

Additional symptoms include showing signs of pessimism and making sarcastic comments about the job as well as holding a cynical attitude about the workplace and everyone in it.

Moreover, these employees are always thinking about whether or not they are a good fit for the organisation, and whether or not they should quit the job and seek employment elsewhere.

We see this happening a lot with millennials especially, what with their famous job-hopping habit.

We blame them for not being able to settle down for a job; but could it be because organisations are pushing them to the wrong places, that burnout becomes inevitable?

Highly Emotional Behavior At The Workplace

Another symptom that we find happening all too often at the workplace that is a good representation of burnout is when employees display highly emotional behavior at the workplace.

When employees start to feel burnout at their workplace, they start showing signs of erratic behaviours, sometimes getting too emotional over small things.

We find this group of people to be easily frustrated, and get easily tensed or stressed up. They might feel depressed, and display a lot of negative emotions, towards their work and their colleagues.

More And More Mistakes

Of course, making mistakes at the workplace is a natural thing. We all make mistakes.

However, when they have done too many things, or are managing too many tasks and projects, it becomes hard for them to keep things perfect, simply because it’s hard for them to keep track of everything. Of course, in the long run, this leads to burnout.

Also, they might show signs of not getting things done on time. You might find them in the position of delaying projects, and not getting their assignments completed by assigned deadlines.

Oftentimes, they might not have the bandwidth or the ability to handle things simultaneously. People see them as slacking off, or being forgetful – and their colleagues or bosses might be hard on them.

Worse still, these employees take it out on themselves for all these mistakes (no matter how minor or small they are). and this leads to them slowly starting to see that they are incompetent in their job.

Lacking The Motivation

As we have earlier discussed, a burnt-out employee isn’t attracted by a carrot and stick approach to getting things done.

We find that all the time, especially when we get around to discussing the topic of burnout due to the lack of motivation at the workplace.

This group of employees soon find that nothing excites them about coming to work – not even an increased salary.

They find that they no longer care about being good or being perfect, just getting by is good enough to justify them coming to work every day.

In addition, they find themselves always taking leave or MC – not because they are trying to skip work, but because they are actually sick due to overwork.

overworked employee

We have found in our studies that even though people encourage and support them, they find that intrinsically, it is still not enough to motivate them to be satisfied at the workplace.

The Lone Ranger

The next time you see an employee of yours isolating themselves from the crowd, there’s a high chance that he/she is becoming a burnt-out employee.

This group of individuals find themselves being so burnt out at work, that they tend to exclude themselves from the group.

In addition, they also try to limit interactions with colleagues and team members, which makes it worse for them as the interaction could be the key to reducing burnout.

Furthermore, they find it hard to speak up, and they become quiet and reserved when they used to be chatty and/or talkative. They struggle to raise the simplest questions and communicate with their colleagues or bosses.

In extreme cases, they find that they are always unsure of what to do, or they can’t seem to make up their mind about how to proceed with certain decisions.

What To Do When You Have A Burnt Out Employee

Having burnt-out employees means that your employees are disengaged at work, and oftentimes this can mean a lack of progress which cost companies a lot of money.

In addition, if your company finds that your employees are slowly starting to become disengaged at work, but yet they are one of your top performers, then it becomes clear that you should invest in a few techniques to at least help them with this difficult situation.

If you notice some of the signs above, here’s what you can do.

Talk It Out

It might sound cliche, but the best thing that you can do for someone who is experiencing burnout is to tell them about it.

Oftentimes, we place a lot of emphasis on our work, and we tend to place aside the complaints our body has as “just a minor issue,” but it really is our body asking for a timeout.

Talk to them before it’s too late. Self-awareness is the first step to solution-ing. Show them that you care, make them feel like you are there for them and you want to listen whenever they need someone to talk to.

In areas that can be solved, help them solve them. Make them see the solutions that they might not be able to see. Show them some things that are not impossible.

By speaking to your employees who are feeling burned out, they would at least know that you care, and be more open to solving the problem together.

Building An Environment Of Success

When it comes down to solving burnout, it’s very important to not just be aware of the people who are facing burnout.

Sometimes, it’s also important to be able to provide them with an environment that they can work well.

Some people, for example, prefer to work with people, but if they are constantly facing computers and machines all day, might lead to burnout and vice versa.

Different people have different needs. Is your organization able to meet their needs or provide them with structure, support or facilities that can help to meet their needs so that they can thrive and do well in those environments?

More importantly, can you provide a work-life balance? Make it compulsory that they can only work certain hours on certain hours.

Make sure that no work is done after hours on those work-life balance days.

That way, it forces them to rest, thereby reducing the chances of you dealing with a burnt-out employee at the end of the day.

Providing Compliment And Support

If you’re the boss of your company, it’s normal to expect your employees to perform to the best of their ability and get the job done.

However, let’s not also forget the importance of providing a compliment here and there for a job well done.

Most bosses tend to neglect the intangible benefits of a compliment and the miracles that it can do in the workplace. Instead, they tend to focus on correcting weaknesses only.

As a boss or manager, try to compliment them for the work that they’ve done. Compliments go a long way. It shows people that they are appreciated, and tells them that they are doing something right.

giving employee compliments

Giving compliments, after all, are cheaper than hiring someone new.

The main goal here is to make your employees feel important, and show them how they have contributed to the organization in their own unique ways.

You’d want to make them feel that they have support and they don’t have to bear and or carry everything on their own shoulders.

Time Management

Although there are many reasons why burnt-out employees become who they are, often the issue could be as simple as a matter of not knowing how to manage their time.

If your employees are constantly not able to complete their tasks or their projects are constantly delayed, then perhaps it’s time to step in and help.

Start thinking about what systems or tools you can provide to help them with time management. There are a lot of tracking or time management tools, e.g. Asana.

Send them for a course to teach them – sometimes burnout employees do not know how to time manage.

Different people work differently – time management might be simple to some, but not to others.

Avoid Burnout Today

Across the years that we’ve been in the market of potential development, we’ve seen how burnout can harm employees and companies altogether.

We at StrengthsAsia strongly believe in a highly engaged workplace, and it is our mission to help companies and their employees avoid the negative connotations that burnout brings.

If you like this article and want to find out more about Engaging your Employees at work, feel free to download the free guide we have prepared for you below. 

Dina is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach at StrengthsAsia. She is one of the principal architect and designer of StrengthsAsia’s wildly successful Strengths Engagement Programs. She is passionate about bringing strengths to the education sector, in helping educators and student leaders discover their natural talents, passions, interests, and building ‘strong’ foundations to do what they do best every day.

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