Employees and pensions

How can I recognize burnout symptoms among employees?

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In our fast-paced world, employees often have the feeling of being overwhelmed, and exhaustion and burnout are on the rise. Recognize the symptoms at an early stage and strengthen the mental health of your employees. We show you how. 

What are the first signs of a burnout? What do employees suffering from depression need? How do staff stay healthy over the long term despite exacting demands? Our blog answers questions like these. Attach the necessary importance to the subject of mental health at your company – not only will you be doing something good for your employees, you will also be boosting the performance, motivation, and productivity of the entire organization. 

What types of psychological stress are there at work? 

A high level of pressure at work and management and team problems can all be relevant causes of mental stress and exhaustion. However, a lack of appreciation from managers, a lack of trust, or unresolved conflicts can also adversely affect the mental wellbeing of employees. The stress is often not just due to the situation at work. It arises from the serious interaction of stress at work and problems in an employee's private life. Even if psychological problems have their root cause in a personal situation, they are not only a private matter and can also have negative effects for the affected person at the workplace. For this reason, it is always also the responsibility of the employer to recognize symptoms, and react appropriately. 

The most common causes of psychological issues at work 

  • The way in which work is organized (e.g. company culture, outlook, participation) 
  • Tasks and responsibilities that don’t correspond to the skills of the employee (e.g. either overwhelmed or underchallenged). 
  • Persistent, unresolved conflicts within the team and/or with managers 
  • Unclear communication and leadership (e.g. no clear decisions or responsibilities) 
  • Excessive volumes of work and pressure over an extended period of time (chronic stress) 

How can I tell if someone is suffering from a burnout? 

Managers normally sense changes in behavior, work conduct, or in the social interaction of an employee very quickly. Some symptoms don’t seem disconcerting in the beginning. But as soon as these accumulate, increased attention is required. 

Signs of burnout at work 

The symptoms of a burnout are varied and can have different causes. To ensure you can respond at an early stage, you as the boss should look out for the following early indicators of mental stress in your employees: 


  • Rebellion against managers 
  • Avoiding employee review meetings 
  • Lack of motivation, decreasing creativity 
  • Working without a break, even in the evening and on weekends, often without added value of the work performed 
  • Many short absences and frequent sick days 
  • Increasing fluctuations in performance and rate of errors 
  • Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness 

Social life 

  • Increased irritability and conflict 
  • Social withdrawal  
  • Relationship problems  
  • Neglecting hobbies, health, and outward appearance 
  • Difficulty making decisions 

Emotional and physical condition 

  • Difficulty sleeping, if known 
  • Increase in physically illnesses, especially migraines or stomach problems 
  • Mood swings 
  • Apathy and hypersensitivity 
  • Impression of helplessness and hopelessness 

If an employee is headed toward a burnout, they will usually show several of the symptoms listed above. This list is not exhaustive.  

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When and how do I talk to the employee about the problem?

In the work environment today, the subject of psychological stress is still often taboo. Those affected fear being stigmatized and losing their job. Ignoring obvious problems exacerbates the situation for all involved. It is therefore important to address the issue if you suspect one of your employees is affected by mental stress.  

Even with the best of intentions, it is not easy to talk to someone about their apparent problems. It requires empathy, discretion, and good preparation. Managers cannot afford to underestimate the signs of burnout syndrome or any other mental illness. The earlier you react, for example by talking to the employee, the better. At best, it can even mitigate the possible progression of the disease and improve the employee's chances of receiving successful therapy.

What should I do if the mentally ill employee does not want to be helped?

Not every employee will want to talk about their problems at the workplace. There is a real fear of a stigma, and maybe even of repression, if a mental illness like burnout or depression is diagnosed. This prevents the employee from addressing burnout and its treatment with their manager. It is the right of every person to disclose as much about themselves as they want. Exerting pressure would only make matters worse. 

In this case, encourage your employee to get support from an independent help center. Depending on the size of the company, there may be an inhouse care contact for employees. Or you can refer the employee to an external contact like Pro Mente Sana.

If the employee has suffered from mental problems for a longer period of time, and has even taken sick leave, then depending on the situation, care and case management  may be able to provide further assistance in reintegrating the employee.

Guidelines for employers and managers: Employee meeting in cases of burnout symptoms

In general, it is important that you as a manager create a basis of trust and an open and appreciative culture within your team. Invest in an open culture during "good times" and create the basis for open discussion for when the employees are not feeling well.  

If you observe symptoms of a burnout, depression, or other mental illness among your employees, actively seek dialog with the affected person. Talk privately to your employee, explain that you are worried, and arrange for a meeting in a calm atmosphere and without time pressure.

  1. Make space and time: You as the manager should ensure a calm, stress-free atmosphere. Hold the meeting in a separate room or take a walk with the affected person. Plan enough time so that you do not have to suddenly end the conversation due to another meeting. It is important that you ensure at the beginning of the conversation that there is no reason for the employee to fear they may lose their job. Emphasize that your goal is to find a solution together.
  2. Listen without prejudice: Avoid drawing conclusions too quickly (e.g. making a diagnosis) and listen to what the person has to say.
  3. Use “I messages”: “I am worried about you.” Show that you want to help and mention specific support programs, which you have researched in preparation of the meeting with the employee:  
  4. Make an appointment for another meeting: The first conversation can be very intense and emotional. Both sides now need time to process what has been said. In another meeting with the employee after three to five days, you can ask for feedback and talk together about additional measures and support.

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