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What are the symptoms of workplace burnout? 10 clear indicators


September 6, 2022


June 16, 2023

According to a Deloitte survey, 84 % of Millennials declare having experienced burnout. How do you recognize symptoms of workplace burnout? There are a few physical and psychological indicators that you can observe in your team. Of course, our first goal should be to prevent them from appearing.

The causes of this phenomenon are not always easy to identify, as many independent factors can contribute to workplace burnout. If one of your employees is struggling, it’s important to spot it early to avoid escalating the situation. Burnout at work can manifest in various forms according to the person. In some cases, they are subtle, while in others, they are more evident. It can be easy to observe when someone slowly starts to act differently, such as losing interest or becoming cynical. Sometimes, work depression is more difficult to recognize but it is also manifests in clear, physical signs like regular stomachaches, for example. This article helps you identify all types of hints and find solutions to support your peers in the best possible way. It is important to remember that anyone can suffer from burnout, regardless of their position in the company.

Woman with head on desk surrounded by crumpled paper
Workplace burnout is common in today's high-paced work environment.

5 Physical symptoms of workplace burnout

1. Body aches

Our bodies always send us clear signs about what is going on in our minds. For example, people who are easily stressed sometimes suffer from strong stomach cramps when sitting for an exam or taking a job interview. Imagine coming to the office with that same sensation every day. This is what some employees go through when they experience burnout. Other physical symptoms can be repetitive bowel issues, muscular pain, or headaches. Be vigilant and pay attention to workers who regularly have body pain or are often sick.

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2. Sleeping patterns shift

Developing insomnia, struggling to fall asleep, or, contrarily, sleeping more than normal are clear physical hints of work depression. In other words, anxiety can cause changes in your sleeping patterns. Some individuals have difficulty falling asleep and wake up often during the night because they can’t switch their brains off. They don’t manage to relax or stop thinking about job-related things. For other people, it’s the opposite and they start to sleep a lot more than usual, at any time of the day. This can happen when they unconsciously transform this basic need into a moment to escape reality. 

3. Food, alcohol, and drug consumption

This is a classic sign of general depression which is, of course, also often seen in employees that sadly experience workplace burnout. Caring for themselves is no longer the priority, they need to find comfort and feel better. Some start to eat more and usually don’t choose healthy options, while others begin to increase their alcohol intake. In the worst scenario, taking drugs becomes another way to forget and escape. All these types of abnormal behaviors can sometimes be noticed, even at work. 

4. Energy depletion

There are always periods in our lives when we feel more tired than others. Sometimes, a big project comes up that requires a lot of time and engagement. Feeling tired is then totally normal. However, when a team member shows a constant lack of energy without any specific reason, it can also be a symptom of professional burnout. If one of your employees seems low energy,, it might be a good idea to check if everything is ok.

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5. Neglecting personal needs

Are your employees able to maintain a healthy  work-life balance? How well do they take care of themselves? Burnout at work can lead to a lack of motivation and a lack of self-love. In these circumstances, allowing some time off for personal needs is even more critical. Taking some time to do sports, cook, go for a walk, or participate in hobbies like painting, for instance, can be beneficial. In most cases, people who suffer from depression tend to neglect themselves. This vicious circle needs to be avoided or broken as early as possible.

Woman sleeping at desk with laptop
Sleepiness is a common sign of burnout

5 Psychological and emotional symptoms of work depression

1. Irritability and impatience

Experiencing professional burnout has a domino effect on how your employees feel and interact with others. As their anxiety towards their work environment grows, their tolerance decreases. They may overreact over little remarks or actions that their colleagues say or do. If you start to perceive some signs of irritability among your team members, investigate the cause. Of course, we all have different levels of patience, but if you notice a change in how your employees respond and communicate with others, attempt to understand what is going on. There may be a momentary reaction to a period of increased workload, but it could also indicate a deeper problem.

2. Difficulties to remain focus

Staying attentive can be a real challenge when things are whirling around in our heads. As we explain in our article about happiness in the workplace, being positive affects our performance. When someone is going through a difficult period in their lives, it can be challenging to stay focused and easy to lose one's perspective. Focusing enables us to be more productive and get things done quickly, leaving more time for other tasks. However, a lack of concentration can lead to a decrease in performance. It can create a snowball effect of self-depreciation, hopelessness, and frustration if not taken seriously.

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3. Lack of interest and motivation

Happy and satisfied employees are usually passionate about their job and motivated about their projects. Burnout, however, has similar effects to depression in general. Losing interest and motivation is one of them. Something needs to be addressed whenever your employees push themselves through the day, refuse to take on new projects, do the bare minimum, and don’t participate in the company’s social events. It doesn’t happen from one day to another. Being able to say ‘no’ isn’t a bad thing. However, something is probably going on if your team members constantly set barriers between themselves and their work environment.

4. Cynicism and disconnection

Workplace connection  and professional burnout are deeply correlated. A sense of disconnection from our work environment can easily lead employees to feel worthless and lost. Suddenly, they wonder: Does what I’m doing make any sense? What is the purpose of all this? Am I at the right place, with the right people?

Being unmotivated by a job and not finding something to hold onto can gradually cause a mental distance from the workplace. Specialists often refer to it as cynicism at work and associate it with work depression. Indeed, the more workers feel cynical about the company, their job, and their colleagues, the more they’re exposed to burnout and vice versa.

5. Drop in productivity

All the symptoms of workplace burnout mentioned above, physical as much as psychological and emotional, impact your workers’ performance. As we discussed in our article regarding employee happiness and productivity, there is no mystery. Happy workers are more productive than others (at least 12%, according to Oxford University’s Saïd Business School release). When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. How can team members be efficient without feeling engaged or motivated? How can they accomplish anything if they believe they’re useless and in the wrong place? If you notice that one of your employees’ performance is plumbing, it may indicate that they are burnt out.

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Woman stressed looking at laptop
Burnout often leads to a lack of motivation and productivity.

Recognizing burnout at work

Pay closer attention to hybrid teams

Especially when operating on a hybrid work model, you need to build a healthy and reliable connection with your team. The goal is to create a trustworthy relationship so they don’t hesitate or fear talking to you if they’re having a tough time. When you work from home, you can feel isolated, and finding the right time to address specific issues can be more challenging. It’s also more difficult for managers to notice some changes in behaviors. Some hints are, however, evident, such as frequent meeting cancellations, avoiding coming to work, and decreasing performance.

Focus on communication and prevention

There are various explanations for burnout that aren’t always related to the organization itself. It can result from a lack of connection with the job or a toxic relationship with the manager. Moreover, some people are unaware of the symptoms of work depression. Some may explain their mood swings or performance decline with other reasons, and they hope it will only last a short time. However, identifying professional burnout at an early stage can prevent it from worsening. The key to this is, communication and prevention. Don't shy away from talking about it. In team meetings or one-to-ones, often ask your employees if they encounter any issues at work. Make it clear that their well-being is your priority and that there is nothing wrong with expressing their down moments. 

Check your analytics and conduct surveys

Office analytics is a great tool to collect insights into your workforce and the way they work in order to spot any issues. The information provided by desk booking software can show you if your team members are coming to the office less often or are deserting meetings regularly. As an HR department or manager, you can also conduct surveys. Even anonymous feedback will allow you to identify any negative feelings among employees. Try to raise the topic without spotting employees if you suspect they are experiencing workplace burnout. Encourage them to talk about it with you or someone else who can help them to find a solution.

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Be attentive to your employees’ expectations

Topics that are constantly brought up by your workforce can be an indicator of an issue that may lead to work depression. They may express the need to add a new resource to the team which is often a sign of a heavy workload. It can also be that they require more lifestyle benefits like flexitime or hybrid work opportunities, for example. This highlights a desire for a better work-life balance. Some employees’ expectations are common to most companies, but you will always find some that are specific to yours. They can help you understand how your workers feel and you shouldn’t overlook them.

HR manager holding clipboard surveying employee
Surveying employees is one way to determine burnout.

We hope this article gives you clear insight into the main symptoms of workplace burnout. Work depression has a physical, emotional, and psychological impact. As a result, you can observe the following: cynical behavior, a weight change, regular body pains, a drop in productivity, a lack of interest, and so on. Although it may be rooted in personal issues, paying attention to these signs and being available to discuss them with your employees is crucial. Other, more organizational solutions, such as enabling more flexibility in their schedule can also help overcome burnout. 

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What are the symptoms of workplace burnout? 10 clear indicators

Paulyne Sombret

Paulyne is a highly respected expert in hybrid work. She's known for her writing on sustainability in the hybrid office, flexible work models, and employee experience. With a strong background in content and SEO, her work explores the exciting trends and latest news in the world of work.

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