A quick summary:
- Employee burnout definition
- Physical symptoms of burnout
- What causes employee burnout
- Preventing employee burnout and overworking
- Final thoughts
The modern world of work just doesn’t slow down. Many of us find ourselves burnt out, stressed and unable to juggle the demands of our jobs. And with the rise of hybrid work, millions of employees are overworking, unable to disconnect, switch off their machines and rest.
In this detailed guide, we’re exploring overworking and burnout in the workplace. We’ll start by looking at an employee burnout definition, before examining the physical symptoms of burnout. After that, we’ll discuss the causes of employee burnout, preventative measures employers can take and round up our conclusion.
If there was ever a more informative guide to employee burnout and overworking, this is it! Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how to tackle burnout in your company — because it is one of the major issues preventing businesses from growth and success.
Employee burnout definition
So, what does employee burnout mean? Let’s take a look at an employee burnout definition we came across online from Mental Health UK. According to the charity, burnout is defined as “a state of physical and emotional exhaustion”.
The description goes on to say it’s brought on by long-term stress in a job, with 1 in 5 employees feeling “unable to manage pressure and stress at work”. Long story short, burnout and overworking in the workplace are very real. It’s a problem big enough to affect those closest to us at work.
Back in 2019, the WHO (World Health Organisation) officially recognised burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”. Although it is not a medical condition, burnout was categorised as chronic workplace stress.
As you can see, burnout has now been recognised as a serious issue. One that is wreaking havoc on the personal and professional lives of many people. It’s the responsibility of employers to ensure everything from emotional wellbeing to workplace stress, anxiety and pressure are taken care of.
Physical symptoms of burnout
The physical symptoms of burnout are one of the easiest ways to assess employees. These are things like poor sleep hygiene, depressive episodes and more. All of which we’ll explore below.
Remember: this list is by no means exhaustive. We recommend researching more of the symptoms of burnout — both for your personal wellbeing and that of your team.
Poor sleep hygiene
Starting with poor sleep hygiene. For obvious reasons, this is a particular symptom of burnout that you just won’t see in employees. It’s one that will require speaking to your team about their health and wellbeing outside of the workplace.
During things like one-to-one wellbeing meetings, leaders should take the opportunity to discuss how people are feeling and coping outside of work. It could reveal signs of burnout.
Studies have been conducted to record the connection between poor sleep health and occupational burnout. It turns out burnout can lead to insomnia and other sleep problems. If employees express symptoms of insomnia, it could and should kickstart a conversation around work-related anxiety and pressures.
Sleeping problems can negatively affect things like productivity and performance and general mood. These can have consequences in the workplace, and so it is something managers should support their team with.
Moving on, let’s look at depressive episodes. Research shows there isn’t an intrinsic link between depression and burnout. However, both share similar symptoms. Depression and burnout are often the results of many causes, including chronic stress and anxiety.
If employees exhibit depressive moods and emotions, it could be a sign of mental health problems and/or burnout. As a leader, employee emotional health should be monitored on a regular basis.
Sometimes depressive moods are visible, and people going through this might show to be panicky, withdrawn from social situations and show a loss of interest in their job.
For employees suffering from depressive episodes, leaders must find out if they are also experiencing burnout — like other physical symptoms in this list, it’s about asking the right questions to get the right answer.
Poor health and immunity
Last but certainly not least, let’s discuss poor overall health and immunity. It’s no secret that when we experience heightened stress, our immunity can take a hit. Our bodies have to work harder to resolve and recover from chronic stress, which leaves our health and immunity prone to issues.
Just like poor sleep health or depressive episodes, our immunity can dictate our ability to perform in the workplace. If our bodies are so focused on fighting stress and neglecting immunity, we could end up suffering from illness much more.
This illness can then prevent us from not only performing at our best but turning up altogether. If we can’t find the energy or strength to work, we can fall behind deadlines and miss targets.
What causes employee burnout?
Now that we have discussed the physical symptoms of burnout, let’s look at what causes employee burnout. Here, we’re going to discuss everything from excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations to workplace relationship problems.
Excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations
While there are many causes of employee burnout, one that springs to mind is excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, many leaders neglect just how much time certain tasks take, choosing deadlines based on what they think they are capable of achieving.
This approach just doesn’t respect the difference in ability, wellbeing state, motivation levels and other factors that go into productivity and performance. Just because we think someone should be capable of achieving a certain result by a certain time, it doesn’t mean they can.
In toxic work environments, excessive and unrealistic expectations are set intentionally, so to allow employees to fail. This does very little for both employee wellbeing and the success of the company itself.
How? In simple terms, due to employee burnout, the company doesn’t achieve the desired results. Employees will cut corners trying to hit unrealistic deadlines and expectations, create poor work or undertake tasks at a dire level just to check them off the to-do list on time.
Personal issues outside of the workplace
Unfortunately, leaders can only be responsible for the problems employees face in the workplace. However, our personal lives can cause us to burn out. This typically occurs because we try to balance the demands of our everyday lives with that of our work commitments.
Think about it, if we want to make progress in our careers, but we’re also trying to be the best parent we can be, it can be a difficult time. In some cases, our personal lives or professional lives get in the way of one another, creating tension amongst colleagues or tension amongst family and friends.
Although leaders can’t exactly support employees in their everyday lives, they can try to understand how they are struggling and either suggest solutions or seek help for them. If employees are happy to discuss what’s causing burnout or overworking, leaders can find solutions; this could be relationship coaching, financial wellbeing counselling or many other things.
Workplace relationship problems
Finally, let’s talk about all things workplace relationship problems. Employees don’t always get along, it’s as simple as that. And while managers can try to mitigate the issues between employees, it’s ultimately the decision of employees whether to work with others harmoniously.
Of course, if these problems persist and create negative consequences for the business, then more must be done by companies. People should enjoy coming to work and collaborating with those they work with.
The lack of workplace togetherness, healthy relationships and robust collaboration can be draining. It can cause employee burnout, as people will begin to feel isolated; actively avoiding certain employees which uses up so much energy negatively.
That said, there are a number of ways to create healthier working relationships, and leaders should strive to achieve just that. Whether it’s social gatherings or pushing for more collaboration, these could minimise relationship problems in the workplace and employee burnout.
Preventing burnout in employees
Preventing burnout in employees is no easy task; it requires conscious leadership and an empathetic and caring approach. Now that we’ve reached this point in our article, it’s worth noting that preventing burnout is just as important as recognising the symptoms and causes.
By understanding what creates employee burnout and overworking, you are in a much better position to prevent it from happening. Firstly, let’s talk about encouraging healthy lifestyles.
Both in and outside of the workplace, leaders should actively encourage healthy behaviours and habits. This means encouraging people to exercise regularly, eat well and minimise poor habits like sleep patterns.
Of course, these are all personal subjects, and leaders should only broach them if they feel confident about how employees will respond. It's important employees don’t feel attacked, and that their interest is solely to support.
If employees have expressed their struggles to sleep early, eat well or exercise more, it should be noted by leaders. That way, they can suggest solutions or provide them through the company’s benefits scheme — think free gym memberships or healthy meal kits.
But it does not just benefit schemes. As we’ve discussed above, one of the key leaders of burnout is excessive workloads and expectations. It’s important that employees feel comfortable with the deadlines and expectations of managers.
Fast turnarounds and short deadlines create nothing short of poor-quality work and employee burnout. Instead, we recommend that leaders work with employees to decide on deadlines.
That way, employees are held accountable and responsible for their work efforts and progress. This also includes them in the decision-making process and ensures autonomy isn’t affected – because if there’s one thing we’ve learnt about healthy, happy workplaces, it’s that autonomy must be in abundance for employees.
We also recommend that leaders sit down and discuss the progress employees are making — not so much from a performance point of view, but to ensure they are on track and can genuinely hit their deadlines.
Having these conversations normalises that deadlines are moveable, and encourages employees to speak up if they feel unable to reach expectations.
Finally, let’s not forget employee benefits. Providing your employee benefits package is well-rounded, with ample health and wellbeing perks, we strongly recommend that leaders push the use of their package or programme.
Here at Heka, our platform is host to more than 3,000 wellbeing products, services and experiences. These span more than 50+ wellbeing categories and put the fun back in employee benefits. After all, nobody just wants free tea and coffee or healthy office snacks.
Your benefits package can help promote health, wellbeing and happiness. Of course, if your employee benefits package is nothing to shout about, then it’s not the best advice to promote the use of your perks — we would then suggest speaking to one of our wellbeing experts to improve that problem!
What makes your employee benefits a great way to combat employee burnout, is that you’re likely already investing in perks and initiatives on an ongoing basis — why not invest in the right benefits that can reduce stress, anxiety, depressive moods or burnout?
Final thoughts on workplace burnout and overworking
And once again, that’s a wrap! As you can see, there’s a lot to digest in this ultimate guide to employee burnout and overworking. Hopefully, this gives you a greater understanding of the symptoms, causes and preventative measures your leadership team can put in place.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, what with the looming recession, and a cost of living crisis. People are feeling the pinch on their pockets, and it’s the responsibility of leaders to support their people as best they can.
A lack of rigorous leadership will see employee burnout and overworking spiral out of control. How are you supporting employees in these turbulent times? What can you do differently to create a culture of support or offer a benefits package that makes a real difference?