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5 behavioral signs your staff is on the brink of burnout

Leaders not only need to recognize that employees are approaching burnout, but also to identify and address organizational behaviors that contribute to it.

5 behavioral signs your staff is on the brink of burnout
[Source photo: Paul Theodor Oja/Unsplash]

Since “burnout” was recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019, it has become a buzzword in business. There is now the expectation of leaders to prioritize workplace well-being in order to tackle rising burnout levels, and in turn reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, and cultivate a psychologically safe culture of happier and healthier staff.

Leaders not only need to recognize the behavioral signs of employees approaching burnout, but they also need to identify and address organizational behaviors that contribute to burnout.


The first step leaders need to take is spotting the signs that both their teams and the wider business are suffering from the effects of burnout. This can be identified as intrinsic factors (within the individual) and extrinsic factors (the wider organization):

Intrinsic signs

  • Decreased creativity and innovation
  • Decreased quality of work
  • Decreased productivity and taking longer to complete tasks
  • Missing deadlines and asking to move deadlines
  • Absenteeism (extended time off)
  • Presenteesim (continuing to work while sick)
  • Leavism (catching up when on holiday or over weekends)

Extrinsic signs

  • High turnover rate of employees
  • Low morale and poor motivation across the company
  • Lack of engagement in team-building initiatives and social activities
  • Difficulty attracting and retaining good staff and top talent


The next step is for leaders to recognize what behaviors within the business culture are contributing to high levels of burnout, which is based around lack of stability, poor culture, and lack of psychological safety.


  1. Do employees trust the organization and the leaders?
  2. Is there engagement and open dialogue regarding changes and uncertainty?
  3. Do staff members feel that leaders and managers are accessible and approachable for providing support, to help minimize confusion and whispers?
  4. Does the company put actions to words and do what it says it will?


  1. Unclear values: Even when the values of the business are stated, if they are not backed up by action and consistently performed, a sense of disconnect and uncertainty is created between leaders and their teams.
  2. Psychologically unsafe behaviors go unchecked: When organizations tolerate behaviors within their teams that are not in line with a sense of overall safety, like passive-aggressive acts or bullying masked as friendly banter, employees feel alienated and devalued by both their peers and their leaders.
  3. Unclear policies: Many businesses create well-being policies that end up being scrapped or not adhered to. This type of lip service when it comes to employee well-being breaks down organizational trust and support across the board.


  1. Unclear roles: When employees are unclear on their roles, leaders perpetuate a sense of day-to-day uncertainty in staff that limits their resilience to tackle challenges effectively. This also creates confusion and crossover among peers in a team whose responsibilities may begin to overlap.
  2. Unrealistic or constantly changing expectations: Burnout thrives in a staff whose healthy, manageable limit of workload is constantly challenged by changing expectations from their leaders.
  3. Unclear communication: A breakdown of clear communication leaves teams feeling unsure of the company’s direction and unable to approach their leaders for support when they need it. Employees feel forced to struggle through and “figure it out for themselves,” which increases a fear of failure that feeds into burnout.
  4. Lack of empathy: Employees who don’t feel truly listened to, empathized with, and understood when communicating their issues to leaders will feel isolated and unsupported, which breeds a lack of motivation and passion for their role.


These are the steps that leaders can take to beat staff burnout and cultivate healthier company well-being.

  1. Set boundaries and encourage self-care: With the rise of hybrid working, leaders must set clear boundaries and promote healthy work-life balance. That means no emails or calls after working hours, turning off IT at lunchtime, or introducing daily “permission to pause” slots in their calendar where they can step away from work without feeling guilty.
  2. Help with organization and time management: Make sure your teams know their priorities for each week, and split their workload into essential and nonessential tasks. You could introduce time-boxing to their schedules to block out allocated slots for set tasks, or encourage “do not disturb” spaces in the office or online alerts for concentrated periods of working.
  3. Allow staff to say no to tasks if they are too much: Make sure to assess an employee’s workload before asking them if they can complete an additional task, and do not reprimand if they are honest with you and say they don’t feel they have the capacity.
  4. Introduce mindfulness: Mindfulness practices help to calm the mind, ease stress, and prevent burnout. You could transform an old meeting room into a space for mindfulness meditation, or provide online workshops on mindful breathing or yoga practices to give employees a break from fast-paced work that may be threatening burnout.
  5. Educate around exercise and its benefits: Provide educational workshops on how employees can find the time and space for exercise. Start by creating a mini campaign that aims to touch various aspects of exercise, engaging different people, with different wants and needs. This can be top tips on running, different sports, walking, even gardening.

In order for burnout not to become the burden of your business, employees must feel that you are taking actionable steps toward creating a happier, healthier company culture. Leaders must account for and address the diverse well-being challenges and needs of the whole organization.

Following these steps may reduce absenteeism, increase motivation, and create a psychologically safe culture that contributes to the overall success and high performance of the business.

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Dr. Adam Greenfield is a doctor of chiropractic medicine, a workplace well-being expert, and the cofounder of WorkLifeWell. More

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