How To Spot Burnout In Your Team - And 9 Ways To Take Action

There are 3 dimensions to burnout: exhaustion, cynicism or mental distance, and feelings of inefficacy.

October 14, 2022
Alyssa Birnbaum

The pandemic grind, political tensions, racial disparity… they’re all taking a substantial toll on people’s wellbeing. Now more than ever, employees are burnt out, making it hard to function at work.

And the effects – taking more sick days, quiet quitting, or leaving jobs completely—are forcing managers to take action.

So what can you do? Several key steps can help you support your team members to prevent or mitigate the effects of burnout.

  1. Gain awareness: Many people think burnout is just associated with exhaustion, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Learn about the actions and feelings associated with burnout.
  2. Spot burnout: Although some signs of burnout are internal, there are some subtle cues that can help you notice whether your employees are at risk of burnout – even if they work remotely.
  3. Take action: If you’ve identified that your employees are burnt out, there are steps you can take to re-engage them and help curb their burnout.

Gain Awareness

According to the World Health Organization, when workplace stress is constant and unmanageable, it evolves into burnout. There are 3 dimensions to burnout: exhaustion, cynicism or mental distance, and feelings of inefficacy.

Exhaustion: This is the most obvious symptom of burnout – feeling mentally and physically wiped out, depleted, and drained. Employees who are exhausted have a hard time concentrating and feeling motivated at work.

Cynicism or mental distance: When burnout creeps in, employees are more likely to snap, get angry, or feel negative towards their job, colleagues, and clients. Cynicism directly impacts fellow team members because it brings people down, makes them get defensive, and triggers resentment.

If the employee’s job is client-facing, like a doctor or retail associate, those employees may feel removed and distant from the people they are serving. This causes them to lack empathy or go through the motions of their job without caring. Clients, in turn, feel neglected and unsupported, making them less likely to return and more likely to share negative feedback.

Feelings of inefficacy: When experiencing full-fledged burnout, employees struggle to feel like they’re performing well at work. They don’t feel like they have the capacity to do what they’re supposed to do.

Spot Burnout

As a manager, it’s not always easy to notice whether the employees on your team are burnt out – especially if they’re working remotely. To spot burnout, it’s important to notice changes in behavior compared to their baseline behavior, and whether someone who used to take certain actions (like engage in chit-chat before meetings) no longer does so.

Here are some signs you may notice that can indicate if your employees are burnt out:

Stifled Interactions

  • Employees are curt, irritable, or quick to snap at their colleagues.
  • Employees aren’t engaging in casual conversations.

Diminished Work Quality

  • Client satisfaction has gone down, or you’re hearing complaints about certain employees.
  • Employees are asking the same question over and over, or they’re not understanding your instructions.
  • Employees’ productivity and work quality has decreased, and it’s taking much longer to get work done.

Withdrawal behaviors

  • Employees are coming in late and leaving early.
  • Employees are taking much longer to respond to messages (via email or chat).
  • Employees aren’t contributing in meetings – instead, they are exhibiting signs of withdrawal. That can include silence, leaning back in their chairs (rather than leaning forward), crossing their arms across their chest, and/or not making direct eye contact.
  • Remote employees start turning their camera off during meetings.
  • Employees aren’t going above and beyond or offering to take on additional tasks or learning opportunities.

Health deterioration

  • Employees are taking more sick days.
  • When asked, employees describe not sleeping well, eating much more or less than usual, and/or experiencing more headaches.

Take Action

According to a world-renowned burnout scholar Dr. Maslach in the NY Times, the most important way to mitigate burnout is not to place the onus on your burnt-out employee to provide their own self-care routine to fix themselves. This is especially true when their burnout is caused by work-related conditions.

As a manager, there are different ways you can help relieve your employees’ burnout and help re-engage them. The best way to alleviate burnout is to address the root causes of your employees’ burnout.

Given that it is challenging to know the exact source of their burnout, here are 10 general suggestions that you can do to cultivate a more engaging work environment to support your employees:

  1. Encourage time off. Urge your employees to use their vacation days and take breaks throughout the day as needed. This gives them time to recover and rejuvenate. It’s also helpful to respect their boundaries and avoid messaging or expecting work after work hours unless late night work is essential.
  2. Role model positive work-life balance. Share your own hobbies, exercise routine, meditation practice, or recreational activities that you did over the weekend with your friends or family. This enables your employees to see that you value and respect balance and encourage them to follow suit.
  3. Offer more autonomy to your employees. By avoiding micromanaging your employees and giving them ownership of their work, you’re demonstrating that you trust and respect them.
  4. Minimize meetings. Create no-meeting days several days a week or try to minimize unnecessary meetings so employees can concentrate on their work. This prevents their work from piling up unnecessarily.
  5. Offer team building exercises. Help employees feel connected to their team members and establish a sense of community. Here are some suggestions for team building exercises.
  6. Hold one-on-one meetings to understand your employees’ points of view. What are they struggling with? Do they have different expectations for their role? How can you help support them? This conversation can be enlightening and help you understand what they’re experiencing and how you can help.
  7. Remind employees of the impact and value of their work. How they are creating meaningful change for others? How are their tasks contributing to a larger goal? When employees believe that their work is meaningful, they’re more likely to feel inspired and engaged.
  8. Encourage creativity. Try to switch up their work tasks and ask them to do something that challenges them that’s still within their capabilities. New or creative tasks can feel invigorating.
  9. Start meetings with personal check-ins. Take 5-10 minutes to ensure people are ok, ask how their weekends went, or use the time for an ice-breaker. This helps people feel seen, cared for, and respected.


In sum, it’s important to understand all three dimensions of burnout so you can spot whether your employees are suffering from it. Then, take action to help re-engage your employees. It will help them feel healthier and more balanced while encouraging them to regain productivity with their work.

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