Workplace Burnout: Why it Happens and How to Spot the Signs

We speak to wellbeing experts at Mind It to discover how burnout can impact your day-to-day life. Plus, top tips on how to tackle it

Over the past year, the line between our personal and professional lives has become increasingly blurred. At a time of great change and uncertainty, the need to take care of your workplace wellbeing feels more important than ever. Of course, a certain amount of pressure is a natural part of our working lives. However, when this gets too much, burnout can take hold.

According to the Labour Force Survey, 828,000 workers in Great Britain suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/2020. We’ve teamed up with workplace wellbeing experts, Mind It to explore the concept of burnout, how it can affect you and which crucial signs you should be looking out for.


What is burnout?

The term ‘burnout’ was first coined by the American Psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger, in his 1980 book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He defined burnout as:

“The extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results”.

Put more simply, burnout is a state of “emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress…as the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place” – according to HelpGuide.

In addition, Very Well Mind highlights that “if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout”.


Why is it so important to take care of yourself and your employees in the workplace?

Looking after yourself, both mentally and physically, is crucial – especially when you’re in a high-pressure environment.

It’s all too easy to get carried away with important tasks. No doubt many of us are guilty of occasionally prioritising work over our own wellbeing. However, this can lead to deep-seated feelings of stress and exhaustion. What’s more, how can you effectively look after your fellow colleagues or employees if you’re not taking good care of yourself?


What are the causes of burnout?

Burnout can be caused by a multitude of factors, but Mind It focuses on three primary factors:

  1. Work – The conditions of your workplace can have a huge impact on your wellbeing. If someone feels that they are not being recognised for achievements, are receiving no clarity from colleagues and are finding day-to-day tasks overwhelming, stress can ensue.
  2. Lifestyle – Your lifestyle can also contribute towards burnout. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, have too much work and too many responsibilities on your plate, you may start to feel the effects of burnout.
  3. Personality – A person’s character can increase the chance of stress arising. If you’re a perfectionist who likes to be in control, you may experience symptoms of stress a little more than others.


How can I spot the signs of burnout?

It’s important to look out for symptoms of burnout. After all, the earlier you spot the warning signs, the quicker you can seek help or make positive adjustments.

Mind It advise that someone may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day seems like a bad day
  • They feel that caring about work or home life is a waste of energy
  • They’re exhausted all the time
  • The majority of a day is spent on tasks they find either dull or overwhelming
  • They feel like nothing they do makes a difference or is appreciated

Remain mindful of these behaviours and keep your eyes peeled for signs of burnout within yourself and your office. It’s worth noting that remote working can make it more difficult to spot social cues among colleagues, so if you’re not in regular touch with your team, remember to schedule in occasional catch-ups so staff feel supported and have the opportunity to share any issues.


How can I limit burnout?

Have you started to notice signs of workplace burnout in yourself or others? Here are some handy suggestions from Lucile Allen-Paisant at Mind It to help you address the issue:

  • Decrease the stressors – The first step is to try to decrease the number of stressful things in your life, whether this be in your home or work environment. Obviously, this may be easier said than done. Therefore, it’s worth considering which elements of your life are ‘fully out of your control’. If there’s nothing you can do about a particular stressor, try not to worry about it. Be kind to yourself, and only share your mental space with elements over which you have a degree of control.
  • Say ‘no’ – Consider which people, tasks or situations you could simply say ‘no’ to. It’s so important to implement boundaries at work – if you don’t have the time or capacity to do something, be honest.
  • Consider what you could stop or delay doing – This will help you to reframe the way you look at tasks. Not everything in life is super urgent or needs completing immediately. Try to order your to-do list in terms of priority and be realistic about your timeframes.
  • PRIORITISE YOU! – The most important tip of all: in times of stress try to prioritise your own wellbeing and don’t struggle alone. Your team should be there to support you!


If you would like more information on burnout, head over to ‘The Cure for Burnout’ TED Talk with authors, Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Drawing on their own experiences with burnout, they advise on how you can better deal with stress as well as how to approach a manager at work if you need help.

In the words of Amelia: “Anyone can experience burnout, but your specific way of experiencing it is probably going to be different depending on who you are.”

Thank you to Mind It for taking part in this blog post. If you would like to find out more about what Mind It offers, click here.