Managing Burnout

Managing Burnout: Recognizing Signs and Implementing Prevention Strategies

Ezra Cabrera | July 10, 2024


    The lifeblood of every small business is its employees. When you have only a few people doing all of the heavy lifting of serving customers and building your business, it’s essential that they are happy and healthy in their work. But what happens when the demands of the job exceed the hours in the day and the capacity of your staff? Burnout. Before your employees reach their limit, it’s critical you recognize burnout and take steps to implement prevention strategies. Here’s how.

    What Is Burnout?

    Burnout refers to the overwhelmed state caused by prolonged stress. It can be physical, mental, or emotional, and it happens when employees have more work than they can handle for a prolonged period. Although it’s normal for small businesses to experience times of high demand and stress, employees can quickly become burned out when this is the default operating procedure.

    What Are the Signs of Burnout?

    When stress becomes overwhelming and constant, employees lose motivation and interest in the job. There are three key signs to watch out for. 

    • 1. Physical and Emotional Exhaustion

      Employees complaining about being tired all the time and showing signs of fatigue are some of the first indications that burnout is fast approaching. Some might still be doing their jobs at the same level, but they might say they feel drained or depleted.

      Emotionally, this physical exhaustion shows up as anxiety, depression, or irritability. Formerly cheerful people might become quiet and less outgoing, or their mood might change when it’s time to get to work after a break.

    • 2. Cynicism and Detachment

      Some days at work are better than others. It’s just part of being human. When your employees start having a pessimistic outlook at work or feel disconnected, it’s time to look closer. Cynicism and pessimism are two signs of burnout that can be infectious. Employees who feel detached from their jobs might start speaking negatively about their work, their colleagues, and the business in general.

    • 3. Feelings of Ineffectiveness

      Running a small business often feels like a Sisyphean task. The work is never finished. In many cases, reaching the mountain is its own reward, and there is a sense of accomplishment as employees fill orders or provide customer service. However, when employees are burned out, they often experience less satisfaction in doing their jobs. They may feel ineffective or like their work doesn’t matter. This can quickly lead to decreased productivity and a “Why bother?” attitude.

    Implementing Burnout Prevention Strategies

    Don't be a terrible boss when you recognize the signs of burnout. Small businesses can become like second families, and caring for your employees and treating them well is important. Job satisfaction leads to a better bottom line, but it’s your duty as a business owner to help employees stay balanced and happy in their work. Here are nine burnout prevention strategies to implement today.

    • 1. Advocate for Work-Life Balance

      Offering benefits, such as paid time off and flex time, can encourage employees to step away when needed. Don’t be so focused on the financial horizon that you lose sight of the people helping your business grow. Some companies mandate mental health days. Others use flexible work hours and telecommuting options to help employees balance their lives.

    • 2. Keep Workplace Culture Positive

      In some cases, stress at work is healthy. It means the people you've hired care about what they are doing and want to do it well. But even healthy periods of stress can be overwhelming and must be addressed. Think of positive workplace culture as the check valve that releases the built-up steam of stress. A supportive workplace that promotes regular check-ins with employees, recognition for hard work, and positive social interactions can go a long way toward preventing burnout.

    • 3. Set Realistic Goals

      A small team can only do so much, and asking for more than they can handle is a recipe for disaster. You must be realistic about what's possible to achieve with the people you have. Involving employees in the goal-setting process is an excellent way to gauge whether your plans are realistic.

    • 4. Provide Necessary Resources

      Even the best-laid plans can be quickly derailed if employees don’t have the resources they need to do their jobs. Ensure employees have everything they need, including material resources, time, and training.

    • 5. Encourage Open Communication

      The last thing you want is disgruntled, burned-out employees muttering behind your back and gossiping about your business. Employees who do this may feel like their concerns are not being heard. Combat this by encouraging open communication and asking employees to share their concerns. Suggestion boxes are good if anonymity is an issue, but you can also schedule regular feedback sessions and one-on-one meetings to see how employees are feeling.

    • 6. Provide Employee Development Opportunities

      Employees who feel like their employer is invested in their success are more likely to be invested in the business. Provide regular training and professional development that is meaningful and relevant to employees. This time away from their regular work is refreshing and indicates your confidence and commitment to them.

    • 7. Monitor and Adjust Workloads

      Pay careful attention to how much work each team member takes on and redistribute tasks as needed to keep workloads manageable. This is especially important when employees have major life events that coincide with an increase in work.

    • 8. Encourage and Model Physical and Mental Wellness

      When possible, offer wellness programs that include counseling programs, paid access to fitness centers, and mental health days. Participating in these programs yourself demonstrates your commitment to your employees’ physical and mental wellness.

    • 9. Consider Professional Assistance

      Starting a small business isn’t just about slogging through your working years so you can retire comfortably. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned employers need help preventing burnout for their employees and themselves. Consider hiring experts in stress management to deliver seminars or design programs for employees.

      You might also consider hiring a business consultant to help you become more organized. They might be able to identify areas in which you are running in place and using resources in a less efficient way. This can help you better utilize your employees' talents and time to meet your goals.


    As a small-business owner, the health and well-being of your employees is the most important part of your business. Burnout can affect your team’s productivity, engagement, and overall satisfaction at work, which can negatively impact your bottom line. Preventing burnout can help create a positive, vibrant, productive, and profitable workplace.

    About the Author

    Ezra Neiel Cabrera has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a major in Entrepreneurial Marketing. Over the last 3 years, she has been writing business-centric articles to help small business owners grow and expand. Ezra mainly writes for SMB Compass, but you can find some of her work in All Business, Small Biz Daily, LaunchHouse, Marketing2Business, and Clutch, among others. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in bed eating cookies and binge-watching Netflix.