How Do You Tell If an Employee is Burned Out?

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 19/06/2022
emplyoee burnout signs

Disinterest in work, frequent mistakes, drop in productivity, longer breaks and unauthorised leave - all these are the consequences of employee burnout. Since to put preventative measures an employer or a manager first needs to recognise the signs, we are writing this blog to answer the question - how do you tell if an employee is burned out? 




There is a common misconception that burnouts only happen in huge companies where the pace and the demands are high and attention given to each individual employee is low. This often lulls owners of smaller businesses into a false sense of security, to whom, frankly, the consequences of a burned-out employee deal far more damage. The simple truth is that size of the organisation has nothing to do with the risk of its employees running out of steam - the reasons lie a lot deeper.

Most of the time burning out occurs due to the employee’s dissatisfaction: with the management, role, pay, demands, or basically anything else. Normally the reason why it escalates into a loss of interest in one’s work is that employees hesitate on voicing their concerns to the management for fear of being reprimanded. Or, if they are vocal about the changes they require - there’s no sufficient response to that. All in all, the employer is often left in a position where they need to spot the signs of a potential or an occurring burnout before it causes damage. But how do you tell if an employee is burned out?

The Best Solution is Prevention

Unsurprisingly, prevention is a better option than dealing with the consequences - including from a financial standpoint. The signs we’ve described in the starting paragraph are often mistaken for starting stages of burnout, but in reality, they’re signalling the situation has progressed far enough for it to be noticeable enough to affect the business. Early symptoms of burnout are more subtle, therefore easier to miss. This is why your safest bet is to eliminate as many potential burnout causes as possible.

While the list of factors influencing employees to lose interest in their performance within the company is pretty much endless, you don’t have to address the reasons one by one. The simplest means of prevention is a change of mindset - when you put the employees’ well-being as one of the top priorities, you naturally begin working on reducing elements that can spark the process of burnout. For example, something as simple as making a point to regularly praise your staff for their hard work and achievements can greatly minimise the risk of them burning out as one of the most common burnout reasons is lack of affirmation. In other words, you don’t need intricate strategies - you need empathy and smart leadership.

Common Signs of a Burnout 

It’s also important to recognise that burnout is a process rather than the end result - and you should aim to get rid of its trigger or stop it at the early stages. While it can be addressed and solved no matter how far it progressed, the longer it goes - the more potentially harmful to your business it is. So, what are some of the early signs you should address as soon as you spot them?

Declining Accuracy

Burnt-out employees are more prone to making mistakes as one of the earliest and easiest to notice symptoms is an inability to concentrate. They are also becoming consistent in forgetting important things like meetings or deadlines. This particular sign is very prominent in staff that have previously exhibited high levels of responsibility and attention to detail. While everyone is prone to occasional errors(it’s part of being human), a newly developed pattern is an alarming flag.

The reason burnout is exhibited in what can be perceived as tardiness is that the employee suffering from it doesn’t feel like adding their full effort into the job they do. Lack of previously applied expertise or interest then reflects in the end results being worse and below the usual standard. It’s also a good idea to pay mind to how they behave during meetings - are they focused are they spacing out? Since burnout is often related to a loss of interest or passion in one’s work, it’s only natural the employee will be easier distracted and less likely to focus on the tasks on hand. 

Increasingly Negative Attitude 

Did you notice your normally friendly and easy-going employee suddenly get snarky with their replies? Do they get into arguments with other colleagues, the management or you despite never having had a disagreement? Is their usual can-do attitude suddenly replaced with excuses? Keep an eye on them as all these are telling signs that indicate an employee is burned out.

Since burnout stems from overall dissatisfaction with the company, it can often manifest in negative changes in one’s attitude - rudeness, cynicism and even hostility. While everyone has bad days when they are particularly irritable and can snap at other workers, the grumpiness doesn’t last longer than the day. Sudden and continuous inability to get along with anyone, on the other hand, suggests that the person is under a lot of pressure and isn’t handling it well. Another telling factor is that instead of calming down, their negative attitude is only getting worse. It’s important to note that burnout is not an excuse and therefore an employee must be reprimanded if their behaviour gets out of control. 

Addressing a Burntout Employee

Not every worker recognises they’re suffering from burnout and therefore a direct confrontation isn’t always the best course of action. While a talk is required, you should avoid bringing the term up and instead try to identify the causes - and then address them with actions. There are two main routes you can go for a fast fix, although you will still need to take more specific steps in order to solve individual cases.  

Encourage the Use of Holiday Entitlement 

While you are legally required to ensure your staff has a sufficient number of paid days off, you’re under no obligation to ensure it’s used up. You should, on the other hand, encourage the employee you suspect going through burnout to take some time off. Frequent causes of burnout are closely related to tiredness, frustration over not being able to live up to demands or expectations or a big workload. In other words, sometimes time off is all your staff member might need.

We suggest using a holiday management software like Timesheet Portal to have quick access to your company’s calendar as it grants you visibility of your team’s holiday schedules. Has the burnout employee not taken any time off in a long while? Although not guaranteed, this is most likely that time off will be beneficial in sorting their lack of motivation out. Even if they refuse to but you reckon this is the best solution, you are entitled to force them to go on annual leave. Mind, this should be done with sufficient time in advance and, in case the root of the burnout is elsewhere, it might affect your relationship with an employee. 

Adopt a More Flexible Approach

People like the freedom of choice - and very often it’s limited at the workplace, if existent at all. If you are still binding your staff with 9-to-5 workdays and usher them to be in the office at all times - you’re creating the perfect environment for burnouts. Flexible hours and location, on the other hand, give your staff the ability to adjust their schedules and plans in accordance with their rhythm, outside of work duties, and their productivity times.

An important note to make is that flexibility doesn’t equal full freedom and you should still add some boundaries. For example, you can set the rule that each staff member has to work a total of 8 hours a day, between 7 AM and 7 PM - this way individuals on your team can choose whether they want to start earlier and finish earlier, start later and finish later, or stick to the traditional 9-to-5. It is similar to hybrid working. You can offer the possibility to work remotely 3 times a week, but 2 days must be spent in the office. In other words, while there are still company rules to follow, you let your staff choose options that work best for them. This is known to drive employee satisfaction which in turn reduces the risk of burnout. 

Further Burnout Prevention

Did you know that the tools you utilise in your business can help with burnout control and prevention? Whether it's implementing automation to free the workers from repetitive mundane tasks, adopting an easy-to-use holiday management system or investing in tools that support hybrid working - the right software can be your best ally in preventing your staff from burning out.

Flexitime in Timesheet Portal

Timesheet Portal is a great tool to support your burnout prevention initiatives. Our multi-functional platform has a flexitime module that includes all key functionality you need, ranging from setting up the number of demanded work hours to more in-depth configurable flexitime rules.

In addition to that, Timesheet Portal can also serve you as a powerful holiday management tool. It grants you full visibility of the upcoming and past annual leave/absences of your team members, which can be crucial in telling if an employee is burned out. It also creates an easy and streamlined process for your teams to place a time-off request. The approval process is made equally easy, eliminating the need for long email threats that tend to get lost or forgotten. 


Despite the world having grown increasingly aware and concerned about the well-being of employees, we still have a long road ahead of us. There are too many reasons why burnouts happen as they are highly dependent on the individual’s emotions, values and personality. This, however, doesn’t mean there’s no solution for them. At its core, every case of burnout is rooted in dissatisfaction; to find true reasons for it, you need to be open to criticism and sympathetic.

We very often mistake the consequences of burnout for the signs of it. This blog article has hopefully highlighted some of the key differences and has therefore empowered you to have the ability to tell if an employee is burned out before the business sustains any major damages. We also hope the preventative measures offered will become part of your strategy moving forward.

Are you ready to prioritise your employees? If yes, give us a shout

Free trial

See for yourself how you can save time and money. Enter your details below for a free 30 day no-obligation trial.
Cyber Essentials logo Cyber Essentials Plus logo

Timesheet Portal online software provided by Anfold Software Ltd, a registered company in the UK.