Identifying the signs and symptoms of employee burnout

Jun 25, 2018 | Business Tips, How To, Knowledge Center, Management

Burnout. Everyone’s experienced it in some form or another. But unfortunately, burnout rates among health care providers have increased dramatically from 2011 to 2014, compared with the general population. It’s highly prevalent 50 percent of physicians across the different medical specialties, being highest among emergency room physicians. Consequently, satisfaction with life has correspondingly decreased among physicians.

It happens to the best of us. Without realizing it, you find yourself exhausted, spent and completely burnt out. The job you once loved has become your master, and you’re resenting the work you used to love as you struggle to understand what went wrong.

The question is – what causes it, and can it be avoided?

What is burnout exactly?

Burnout is emotional, physical and mental exhaustion that is caused by excessive or prolonged stress. When you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet the demands placed on you, you can lose interest and motivation that led you to take on the role in the first place.

When most of us feel burnout, we are less productive, we feel tired, helpless, cynical and resentful. Eventually, we question if we have anything more to give at all.

When it comes to healthcare workers, it’s important for health care providers to take steps to build resilience before it sets in. Getting adequate sleep, rest and exercise, eating healthy and avoiding long periods of sitting are critical. Practicing gratitude and compassion and focusing on the positive aspects of life are key aspects as well. Thinking about values at work and at home and ensuring that work is aligned with those values gives life meaning and builds resilience. Another strategy is to identify one’s strengths and devote at least some time at work to activities that leverage those strengths.

It goes without saying that burnout can and does spill into other areas of your life. It eventually affects your home life, social life and physical health. Because of these consequences, it shouldn’t go ignored.

While you’re probably already aware that burnout doesn’t just happen overnight, you may not be aware of some of the early markers and tell-tale signs that you are on the road to burnout. 

The following signs and symptoms show up subtly at first, but worsen with time.

Physical signs and symptoms of burnout

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, getting sick a lot
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out your frustrations on others
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

Healthcare organizations are seeking more proactive measures in preventing burnout of staff members. It’s in everyone’s best interest to promote holistic health and well-being, which inevitably results in lower healthcare costs as well as lower turnover.


1. Be involved
Employers can take an active role in their employee’s lives to ensure they’re watching and aware of early signs of burnout. Know your employee’s concerns, and address them early and often.

2. Engage socially

Organizations that encourage employees to work with multiple departments and offer/coordinate group programs that allow social interaction are a step ahead of burnout. Creating opportunities for engagement amongst employees, such as luncheons, serve the overall morale and wellness of your team.

3. Encourage healthy habits

Health should remain a focus in internal communications, as well as things like company-sponsored workout classes or other physical activities staff can engage in.

4. Continued learning program
A continued learning program goes a long way to promote employees continuing to be challenged and engaged. When a teammate is continuing to engage and learn, they feel confident and in control of their career and life. Personal development is an often overlooked area of health and wellness.

5. Vacation time
You give your employees vacay time – make sure they take it! This will serve to promote a healthy work-life balance even for employees who may not value it the way they should. They’ll feel valued by their leaders as the leaders seek to encourage their team’s needs outside the workplace.

Specialization/Distribution of Work

Specialization, or the division of work, is the way activities and tasks are broken out into individual jobs. High specialization can be of great benefit because it allows employees to focus on a specific area and become experts, increasing productivity for them and the organization. On the other hand, low specialization offers more flexibility and learning opportunities for staff members.

Formalization explains how jobs are structured within an organization and takes into account the degree to which an employee’s day-to-day life is governed by rules and procedures. A formal structure seeks to separate the employee from the role, as the role stays the same regardless of who’s currently holding it. An informal structure places more value on the employee, allowing for the progression of a role based on an individual’s preferences or skill set and places less importance on what team they are on. I suggest finding out what the employees prefer and consider making some changes based on their responses.