Five Keys to Managing Burnout Before It’s Too Late

It's a topic increasingly discussed in the news, in meetings at work, and even among family and friends, especially during this current environment.

Burnout, the condition in which continuing in one's profession seems untenable due to factors such as stress, workload, or sheer exhaustion, has quietly become a leading factor in a rising number of employee resignations and early retirements.

On the surface, it's not difficult to see how the state of the world today could be contributing to this trend. Pandemic-related stress, shifting work situations, conflict abroad, and a succession of global warming reminders like wildfires and hurricanes constantly strain the psyche.

But one could argue that these types of external influences have always been part of the landscape. So, why is burnout such a hot topic today? And, more important, how can an organization deal with it? We look at five keys to managing burnout here.

Key One: Recognize the Signs

It's a rare occasion that the employee suffering from burnout comes right out and tells you (although it has been known to happen). You'll likely have to watch for signs that something is up.

According to the ada, signs can include subtle and more obvious indicators, such as:


  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of creativity
  • Feeling listless
  • Fatigue
  • Poor performance and productivity

If you recognize any of these in your employees, it may indicate burnout. Remember that these could also be from other temporary life stresses, such as divorce or a death in the family. Be sure to probe for details that provide insights on this front.

Key Two: Probe Gently for Details

An employee suffering from burnout will experience various emotions and mental states. For many, this may be the first time they've felt this way. Therefore, they may not even know they're burning out.

You can help them articulate their feelings in meetings, such as a weekly one-on-one or in a zoom call. The key here is to keep the situation familiar—you want the employee to feel comfortable.

While they may not feel like divulging what they're experiencing, open-ended questions will give them more room to articulate how things are going. Questions like 'how's the new project going,' or 'where do you want to apply your skills next,' will provide room for answers and rambling.

Don't be surprised if a question about one issue leads to insights into a different area. If this is the case, don't worry about getting the conversation 'back on track.' Instead, listen closely—you may learn something important.

Key Three: Commit to Action

If you've witnessed signs of burnout and have engaged the employee to learn more, you may be presented with a scenario you've never dealt with before. You might even find the prospect of helping someone experiencing burnout overwhelming. After all, it's human nature to think you can't possibly fix a complex situation on your own.

While these reactions are normal, it doesn't mean you can't help. The key is to do something—even if it's small, to give yourself and the employee a sense of movement on the journey back from the brink.

This may be as simple as:

  • Giving the employee an afternoon off to recharge or re-evaluate their feelings.
  • Assigning or redirecting a project that's a source of fulfillment or stress.
  • Referring the employee to mental health resources available to your company.

Remember to give yourself credit for addressing the issue even if you feel ill-equipped to do so. Chances are you're not a therapist, so don't feel like you're failing if you can't fix the situation yourself.

Key Four: Stay Engaged

Burnout doesn't happen overnight, so it makes sense that it can't be addressed with a meeting and a plan of action alone.

Treat the issue like a long-term project with a beginning, middle, and end goal of a positive outcome. If it helps, consider it one of the many projects you oversee daily, like inventory or quality control.

This means regular meetings with the employee that revisit topics or action items you've discussed, such as attending a workplace burnout seminar. It may seem odd at first, but the more you institutionalize the issue, the better you'll get at dealing with it.

Key Five: Check Yourself, Too

There's a reason flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. You can't be compromised if you plan to assist an employee suffering from burnout.

Be aware of the signs and ask yourself if you're experiencing burnout. Engage your spouse, significant other, or family members who know you for their opinions. And if you check the box that says 'burnout,' enlist the guidelines here or seek help from various professional sources.