6 Ways to Identify Burnout in Your Top Performers

Employee burnout is a growing concern that can poison your workforce. Here’s how to spot it early.

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6 Ways to Identify Burnout in Your Top Performers

The concept of employee burnout is not new. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more rampant than ever. The pandemic has had a drastic effect on the entire populace, and employees are no exception. It has put a strain on the physical, mental, and emotional capacities of workers. Levels of employee burnout are at an all-time high, according to the 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association.

Workplace burnout is characterized by a state of excessive physical and emotional weariness that leads to a loss of professional competence, increasing cynicism, a lack of engagement, and a lack of energy. According to a Deloitte workplace burnout survey, over 70% of employees say they’re burned out and feel that their bosses aren’t doing nearly enough to help them deal with it.

The top performers in your organization are usually the most efficient and effective workers you have. Given the harsh realities of the pandemic, companies have realized that this is no time to lose their best hands, and many businesses have responded by expanding their benefits packages. But, more specifically, high-quality, science-based mental healthcare for employees is now essential to attracting, recruiting, and retaining top talent.

According to a Deloitte workplace burnout survey, over 70% of employees say they’re burned out and feel that their bosses aren’t doing nearly enough to help them deal with it.

Burnout: a medical illness and mental health concern

Workplace burnout was recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 as a medical illness that can also be classified as a mental health concern. Since there is still a stigma associated with mental illnesses in and around the workplace, many employees are hesitant to tell their boss about their struggles with burnout and mental health. As a result, they shoulder the responsibility on their own, resulting in fast declines in productivity, performance, happiness, and mental health. Employees who are very stressed will likely have a harder time regulating emotions like anger and sadness — which can result in outbursts and substance abuse.

It’s critical to create a culture that’s supportive of employees with mental health needs. Directly saying — and continually reminding — your company that you see mental health as important and necessary can make a significant impact. Management and company leaders should reinforce the same messaging.

How burnout affects different types of employees

Employees can experience burnout at any time and at any stage of their careers. It makes no difference if they’ve worked for the company for 6 weeks, months, or years. Even the most intrinsically driven individuals are susceptible to burnout. According to Deloitte’s survey, 87% of employees are passionate about their jobs, but 64% are frequently stressed. This goes to show that regardless of the personality of the employees, burnout affects them all in similar ways.

However, employee burnout is more likely to occur when they are no longer invested in their jobs. When there’s a loss of drive or the will to work, and the employee no longer buys into the mission and vision statements of the organization, then it would be very easy for such an employee to be burned out. And the low energy levels of a burned-out employee can affect workplace morale and the productivity of others.

For self-driven employees who love their jobs, burnout can build up over time. The struggle to adequately manage work, life, and the mental pressure created by the pandemic, for example, could lead to these feelings. With this group, burnout could take years to develop, especially if it is not addressed. Self-motivated employees often work harder and for longer periods while taking fewer breaks. This could result in burnout in the long run.

Employee burnout signs

It is managers’ job to notice changes in employees’ behavior and signs of burnout.

There are several indicators to look out for. If you see any of your employees exhibiting one or more of these 6 signs, they’re likely suffering from burnout.

1. Detachment from the workplace culture

Even if a burned-out employee attends meetings and events, they are not present. Their lack of participation and contribution demonstrates this. This is especially noticeable if such employees used to be actively involved in workplace activities. A sudden or even subtle change in this regard could mean they are getting burned out. This is why managers need to know their staff, so when changes like this occur, they notice it immediately.

2. Decreased productivity

When a top-performing employee begins to miss deadlines and displays a sharp decrease in productivity, burnout has probably set in. Decreased productivity would mean a corresponding decrease in customer satisfaction. Coming from your top performers, this could be really bad for your organization.

3. High turnover rates

Higher staff turnover and attrition rates, as well as employees leaving the company more quickly, can lead to a shortage of talent as well as higher overall recruiting costs. When you notice that the turnover rates are high, it is time to look inwards and check if you’re not burning your employees out.

4. Increased absenteeism

When top employees take frequent sick leaves, come in late, and are not as productive as they usually are, they are likely exhibiting signs of job exhaustion.

When your top employees begin to call in sick more often than not, then they may be getting burned out. Stress builds up over time, and when it gets to a certain level, even the strongest will cave in. Be vigilant. When top employees take frequent sick leaves, come in late, and are not as productive as they usually are, they are likely exhibiting signs of job exhaustion.

5. Low customer service ratings

If you notice a sudden dip in the customer satisfaction ratings, you need to check your employees and make sure they’re not being burned out. Beyond your employees, your customers are the most important part of your business. An efficient workforce equals happy customers, and an exhausted workforce equals unhappy customers. Burnout could be the reason your customer service rankings have been declining. It’s possible that your employees aren’t approaching or responding to clients in a pleasant manner.

7. Irritability and heightened sensitivity to feedback

The importance of feedback cannot be overstated. It gives employees an assessment of what they are doing right or wrong. It involves acknowledging them for the things they’re doing right and also dishing out criticism where necessary. If you begin to notice your top employees having an irritable or sensitive demeanor during performance reviews or feedback sessions, they may be stressed out.


Your employees are the backbone of your organization. They are the face of your business as they come into direct contact with your customers. To maintain efficiency and ensure productivity, you have to keep your employees, especially top performers, in tip-top shape. Employee burnout can be challenging, so be on guard and be ready to step in the moment you notice any of the aforementioned signs.

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