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Recrutiment & Employment Confederation

Spotting the signs of employee burnout and what to do about it

Business advice



Guest blog by Howden

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” – a definition which puts the blame firmly on employers and managers.

Like in many industries, working in recruitment has been challenging over the last couple of years. At the start of the pandemic, many recruiters found it difficult to get hold of clients as they swapped their offices for home working and many roles were put on hold overnight. Now, many recruiters are burning out trying to keep up with demand.

It normally strikes when employees have exhausted their physical or emotional strength, often as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

Most jobs involve some levels of stress, but when the impacts are compounded by lack of support and resources, tight deadlines and long hours, burnout can be the result.

At other times, burnout can also result from employees' expectations of themselves or their personal circumstances.

What are the signs to look out for in others and yourself?

Burnout can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including:

  • Increased frustration or indifference towards work
  • Increased and persistent irritability
  • Anger, sarcasm, or being argumentative
  • Withdrawn
  • Tearful
  •  Exhaustion
  • Absenteeism
  • Reduced effectiveness in their role
  • A reduction in an employee’s desire to learn and grow
  • Lacking concentration
  • Making mistakes
  • Lethargic
  • Shaking

The impact on the business is serious, too. Burnt out employees may take extended sick leave, which could leave you short staffed, and if they stay at work they could be less productive. Low morale and motivation is also contagious and they could affect the people around them.

What are the reasons behind employee burnout?

Outside factors, including money worries, relationships and home life, can add to individual stress. But WHO stresses burnout relates specifically to impacts in the workplace.

Burnout is a part of a wider issue of mental health in the workplace, so having a mental health policy in place is vital.

According to the mental health charity Mind, one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in the UK.

Here are five practical ways to help employees:

  1. Having regular conversations about mental health with employees and highlighting what support is available is a good start. It can be hard for people to open up about mental health, so remove the stigma.
  2.  Providing access to counselling: this can help employees better understand and manage their conditions. The NHS offers a free counselling service, as do several charities. Bereavement care, relationship advice and victim support are all available.
  3. Promoting your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP): most UK employers offer some kind of EAP as part of Group Health or Group Income Protection Insurance. EAPs are designed to support the physical mental and financial wellbeing of employees. They often include telephone and face-to-face counselling.
  4. Making use of free services: Mind, the mental health charity, has a wealth of free resources which can be shared with managers and employees. This includes guidance for managers on how to support staff experiencing a mental health problem.
  5. Checking insurance policies to see what services are offered: Critical Illness and Group Income Protection policies often provide a range of nurse-led services or support from registered counsellors, including mental health support.

Find out more about looking after your employees

If you want to find out more about looking after your employees and which employee benefits to offer please get in touch with a member of our specialist team on 0203 553 8340 or email

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