Recognizing and Preventing Employee Burnout

Published on: July 27, 2023

Everyone at some point has probably felt like they were experiencing burnout at their job. That feeling of lack of motivation, not being able to give 100%, loss of focus, or becoming easily distracted. Burnout is the number one reason why employees leave their jobs¹.

Definition of Burnout

What exactly does the term burnout mean? Many employees may say they are burned out from their job, when really what they need is a vacation or a temporary break to step away from their job. Often an employee just needs a break to recharge the batteries. However, burnout indicates chronic job stress that does not go away simply by taking some time off. The World Health Organization defines burnout as follows:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

Causes of Burnout

According to’s article on burnout statistics for 2023, 89% of workers experienced burnout within the past year, and 77% of employees are feeling burned out at their current job. Why are work stress and burnout rates so high?

There are often many contributing factors to burnout. In transit agencies, the nature of the job can be a factor. Operators often find themselves in a high pressure situations, dealing with an increase in difficult and combative passengers. Transit administrators also have to deal with customer complaints and recruiting and retaining drivers, all while trying to ensure the agency runs as smoothly as possible. Operators are feeling the pinch of staffing issues, often working extra hours due to the lack of coverage. Oftentimes transit employees may feel like their work/life balance is inadequate. They may feel as though their manager does not give enough time off or denies vacation requests due to staffing shortages. When constant stress occurs in daily work life, it can lead to full blown burnout.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are another major contributing factor to the current levels of stress and burnout. Flexjobs and Mental Health America found that employees are currently more than three times as likely to report poor mental health than before the pandemic.

WellRight identified seven common signs of employee burnout:

  1. Emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion
  2. Disengagement
  3. Increased absenteeism
  4. Isolation
  5. Higher sensitivity to feedback
  6. Emergence of physical symptoms
  7. Decreased productivity

How Can Employers Recognize Potential Burnout? reported that 70% of employees feel their employers are not helping to alleviate burnout. Transit agencies, like most employers in the country, are experiencing understaffing, which leads to operators working extra hours. But while these issues come into play with burnout, employees also feel like they do not have access to programs that could help them deal with burnout and workplace stress. Therefore, it’s even more essential that employers pay attention to their employees and recognize the signs of burnout:

  • Does an employee appear to be sleep deprived?
  • Is an employee irritable or acting in a hostile manner?
  • Has the quality of work slipped?
  • Is the employee calling off work more than usual?

If an employer is seeing any of these signs in one of their employees, steps can be taken to try to prevent the employee from experiencing burnout.

What Can Employers Do?

Employers need to communicate with their employees and ask them how they are doing. But just asking isn’t enough — employers need to actively listen to what their employees are saying. Transit agency managers need to have an outlet for their employees to vent and this should become a part of the work culture and not something that is only addressed in the occasional staff meeting. Sometimes, if employees know they have a supportive manager they can vent their frustrations to, it can go a long way to help prevent burnout.

Because more employees are reporting mental health challenges, the way employers view the mental health of their employees is crucial. Employers need to recognize the importance of mental health care and learn how to spot signs of distress in their employees. This also means that employers need to try to create a work environment that acknowledges and supports their employees’ well-being. For example, employers can share information about mental health programs available for their employees through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or other online resources.

Allowing employees to take time off can also help employees with their work/life balance. Additionally, making sure employees take a break every so often throughout the work day can help employees refresh. Even something as simple as not contacting an employee during their off hours can help them totally disconnect from work and focus on their personal lives. While it can be difficult for employers to let employees have time off given staffing issues, it can play an important role in helping employees take the breaks they need to help prevent burnout.

Another simple act employers can take is to show gratitude for and recognition of their employees. If employees feel like their efforts are being recognized and praised and that their employer respects them, that gives employees a sense of purpose and can help renew their passion in their job.

What Can Managers Do To Help Circumvent Their Own Burnout?

While the focus of this article has been on employers recognizing signs of burnout and the steps they can take to help their employees, what can managers do to help themselves avoid burnout? Managers wear many hats and put out constant fires. One thing managers can do is the same thing that will help their employees — take a break. Many managers work long days and do not take breaks throughout the day. Managers are probably most guilty of not decompressing and disconnecting from work. Managers need good work/life balance just as much as their employees do. And your employees are looking to you for guidance, so if you don’t take time to recharge, they might not either. It’s important for managers to get adequate sleep and downtime. Not doing so can cause irritability and frustration at work the next day.

Transit managers may also need to take stock of why they do what they do in the first place. Managers should ask themselves: Why did I become a transit manager? Was it to help people? Because I felt like I could make a difference? Do not lose sight of what you are doing and why.

Managers should take time to listen and chat with their employees. Taking the time to get to know employees better not only helps the employees, but also the managers, allowing both parties to have that kick-back time to just take a break and chat with one another.

If the workload is too much, managers could try delegating tasks to other team members. Often managers feel they have to do everything themselves. Delegating work can help not only the manager, but the team as a whole.


While there are no easy solutions to a problem like workplace burnout, managers and employees can work together to help deal with the stressors by putting active measures in place to prevent burnout. With some understanding, patience, and empathy, the transit workplace can be a well-oiled machine with happy managers and employees alike.

This article was written by RLS & Associates.

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