5 Subtle Employee Burnout Signs You Could Be Overlooking

Burnout is a big problem—but can you recognize it when you see it? Here are some of the key employee burnout signs you might be missing.

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The Calm Team

3 min read

If you’ve been in the HR profession for any length of time, you’ll have heard increasingly worrying statistics about the rise in employee burnout. And that’s no surprise. 

Because the fact is: burnout is a big concern. From a recent survey, Deloitte found that 77% of people had experienced burnout at their current job, while 69% felt their employers weren’t doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout.

But it’s not always clear when an employee is on the verge of (or currently experiencing) burnout. It can be hard to spot the signs in others—especially people you don’t know or when you’re all working remotely.

There are always signs, some more obvious than others. In general, you’re looking for changes in a person’s normal work behavior. It’s important to learn to spot these changes so you can take action to prevent them from spiraling downward.

So, here are some of the less visible signs of burnout that you may be overlooking. Alone, none of these are guaranteed to be symptoms of burnout, but taken together they form a pattern that may signal someone is in need of support.

Employee burnout can look like…

Illustration for subtle signs of burnout with loss of confidence

Loss of confidence

If somebody suddenly seems to lose confidence in their abilities, it could be a sign they’re experiencing burnout. This could manifest as an employee who’s convinced their work will always be rejected or who becomes more tentative than usual. And it’s not just in the office; a loss of confidence can leak into people’s personal lives until they believe they’re incompetent, disliked, or unwanted.

Illustration for subtle signs of burnout with change in socializing at work

A change in socializing at work

Burnout can sometimes mimic symptoms of depression, leading people to feel lethargic and disconnected. If someone is suddenly exhausted all the time and skipping plans or turning down favorite activities, it could be a sign of burnout. Burnout could also be the reason an employee suddenly becomes cynical about their work relationships or their perceived place in the company.

Illustration for subtle signs of burnout with general change in behavior

A change in general behavior

If an employee or colleague suddenly has a drastic dip in energy—for example, if they seem disinterested and unspirited compared to how they usually are—it could be a sign they’re becoming disengaged, which is a marker of burnout.

Likewise, a sudden change in eating habits—eating either more or less—could also signal impending burnout. That’s because people suffering from burnout may try to fill the serotonin gap by eating sugary junk food and carbs. (It’s called stress eating for a reason!)

Illustration for subtle signs of burnout with lack of care at work

Lack of care at work

Another common sign of burnout is suddenly becoming a lot less careful at work—whether in regard to their attention to detail or their attitude.

For example, there may be more absenteeism or a reckless, devil-may-care attitude. Either could signal that the person no longer cares about their job, which could be a result of an underlying issue like burnou

Illustration for subtle signs of burnout with physical illness

Physical illness

Finally, if you notice someone is off work more often or complaining about ailments, you should pay attention. Burnout can cause actual physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomach trouble, body aches, and increased susceptibility to flu and colds). Or, a sudden uptick in days off could be symptomatic of someone who is burnt out and unable to face work.

Basically, what we’re trying to say is…

It can be difficult to spot the signs of burnout, but it’s important to be vigilant about it.

If you suspect someone you know may be suffering from burnout, read our comprehensive post about Everything You Need to Know About Burnout at Work for tips on how to help.

Or, if you want to know more about bringing mental wellness into your organization, check out The Big Picture: Mental Fitness as Part of a Healthy Workplace Strategy.

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