Re-Examining Burnout: Symptoms and Workplace Prevention Tools

by Angela Phillips

Employees are tired of being burned out, and no industry has been spared. Employees have solely carried the burden of their burnout for far too long. Although tools to recognize the signs of burnout are extremely important, it is imperative that organizations recognize and take responsibility for how they’re contributing to employee burnout. 

Burnout Warning Signs

For many, the first stage of burnout starts with good intentions and a heavy emphasis on work, but can progress toward more serious consequences if work-life balance is not prioritized. Here are signs that may indicate increased risk for burnout:

  • Sleep issues, such as insomnia, restlessness and nightmares 
  • Physical exhaustion, fatigue or feeling run down
  • Shifting toward a more cynical, negative or disconnected view of one’s job
  • Feeling less sympathetic toward others
  • Feeling a greater lack of appreciation 
  • Increased irritability, frustration or moodiness
  • Becoming more withdrawn 
  • Reduced productivity
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, backaches, headaches, etc.
  • Individuals experiencing these concerns can talk to a primary care provider or therapist, who can help them find strategies to address their symptoms. 

Workplace Burnout Prevention Tools

Employers can help by taking steps to assess how their workplace structure, environment and culture may be contributing to employee burnout. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Research and learn how burnout may be impacting employees. Emerging data, resources, experts and tools are readily available to support this process. 
  • Welcome feedback and community engagement. Workers know pain points best. Survey and engage in discussion directly with frontline employees and encourage their honest feedback. 
  • Work culture should include well-being. Management and HR should have the tools they need to assess and recognize signs of burnout, and be able to advise or refer to the appropriate resource. Leadership should model and take this “practice what you preach” role seriously by talking about mental health at work and promoting provided resources. 
  • Offer comprehensive resources. Leadership should think outside the box and not just offer what might have been the “status quo” for the company or industry. Parental leave coverage, mental health support apps and behavioral health offerings through employee assistance plans (EAPs) are easy ways to support workers who are likely to be at greater risk for burnout. 
  • Assess workload and set realistic expectations. Many professions are rooted in a culture that rewards behaviors that lead toward burnout. Reviewing expectations can help expose workplace cultures that create a path to burnout. Looking closely at workload distribution can also shed light on situations where the most weight is being carried by a few. 
  • Make meaning and connection. Employees who can connect their role with a greater mission report less burnout and greater job satisfaction. Leadership should take the time to clearly communicate the company’s goals and mission and have conversations that explain how each role contributes to that bigger picture. 

Although employers may feel the need to make immediate change, creating and fostering a proactive approach to preventing burnout is a long-term, dynamic process that takes time and continued practice. But investing in employee mental health pays off and makes a difference in the lives of millions. Employee mental health is something that Advanced Recovery Systems, a physician-led behavioral health care company, has been monitoring throughout the pandemic and developed the Nobu app to help address the urgent mental health needs of the U.S. workforce.

In order to adequately address burnout, employers and employees alike must take responsibility for what leads to this devastating syndrome. Ultimately, some will find the only way out is through more drastic change. For others, simple tweaks and adjustments can go a long way. Whatever the case, why take the risk when there are so many ways to intervene and provide support? 

Angela Phillips, Ph.D., LICSW is telehealth and clinical content director with Advanced Recovery Systems and Nobu Health and Wellness.

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