Burnout is never something to be taken lightly! In 2019, it was classified as a legitimate medical diagnosis according to the International Classification of Diseases. Unfortunately, it is an increasingly common modern phenomenon.

Defined as a special type of work-related stress, it is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that leads to reduced accomplishment and a loss of identity. As an EA, you are the linchpin of an organisation, so it is especially crucial to monitor for any warning signs to maintain productivity, well-being, and overall job satisfaction.

Below are simple preventative measures you can begin implementing and a guide on how on how to spot the signs in a member of your team so you can provide the right assistance.

Common symptoms of burnout

Episodes of a burnout can be a terrifying experience and they can also last for an extended period so be aware of the following signs:

  • Fatigue: a deep and persistent feeling of exhaustion that no number of hours can sleep off.
  • Loss of interest: the things that used to bring you enjoy including hobbies and social interaction is replaced by indifference and emotional numbness.
  • Physical symptoms: chest pain, breathing difficulties, digestive problems, and insomnia.
  • Reduced performance: the ability to concentrate and make the decisions is impacted, leading to an increase in mistakes remembering things and organising your own thoughts.

How to spot the symptoms of burnout in others and how to help

Not all employers will understand that increased cynicism, underperformance or workaholism in a member of their team can be turned around, especially when understanding and compassion is shown. It is essential you either educate them or put your HR hat on - identify the signs, get to the root cause and formulate a strategy to prevent a burnout or redundancy:

  • Changes in behaviour: has a team member become irritable, withdrawn, and negative lately? It is worth setting up a one-on-one catch-up to address their cynicism whilst providing the reassurance that you are here to support them whilst working together to get them back on track.
  • Decreased performance: have you noticed a colleagues enthusiasm decline? Are there deadlines being missed? Coach them through the steps below and suggest that they take any annual leave necessary to recharge.
  • Workaholism: whilst some underperform, others start overcompensating and putting in the extra hours! Make them aware of this issue (with examples) and ensure that they are prioritising only what is necessary for the business until they can stabilise.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Prevent Burnout

(1) Learn the Word ‘No’

A day in a life of an EA involves receiving multiple requests from The Principle and various members of staff but if you are feeling overwhelmed, it is time to draw the line as politely as possible. That is easier said than done! The concept of setting boundaries can be very difficult for many to grasp. Saying ‘no’ is like training a muscle at the gym, it takes practice before you become comfortable with strength.

Here we have outlined a step-by-step guide on how to conduct yourself professionally if you feel you cannot take on a particular task:

  • Step 1: Have a clear understanding of your current workload and what you can handle (you might need to clearly summarise this to your employer).
  • Step 2: Never give vague answers like ‘I will have a think about it’.
  • Step 3: Template answer: ‘Thank you for the opportunity, but I want to prioritise my current workload as I’ve still got X, Y and Z to complete, and I want to give it my full attention’.
  • Step 4: Offer alternatives to help your employer e.g., recommend colleagues who would be perfect for that task or give a date on when you will complete your current deadlines.

Along with that learn the difference between work and personal life! Although pop culture will have us believe that an assistant’s life revolves around their boss, out of office hours should remain out of office hours! Avoid checking emails and taking work-related calls during your off-hours. It is crucial that your time away from work is spend relaxing and recharging.

(2) Prioritise Tasks

We had recently done a fantastic article over on Links where we introduced the executive support community to our top influencers to follow to promote career growth. Marie Kondo is certainly one to investigate when it comes to prioritisation!

Organise your workload by identifying high-priority tasks and focusing on those first. This prevents the feeling of being overwhelmed. One of the most liberating feelings is approaching your desk first thing in the morning and having a pristine to-do list laid out right in front of you. Everyone’s system is different but if you are looking for ideas, dedicate the final portion of your day to making a list of what needs to be done the following day.

Prioritisation is a skill seldom taught at school or university so do not be hard on yourself if this skill takes time to perfect. Most of us will pick it up throughout our career. On that topic, continuous learning and growth are incredibly important so do not forget to invest time in personal and professional development. Enhancing your skills is a fantastic confidence booster and is guaranteed to teach you a thing or two about efficiency, making you more effective as your role.

(3) Smart Breaks

Paid annual leave exists for good reason so be sure to take your regular breaks and vacations. However, it is also time to consider whether you are taking regular breaks throughout the day.

Taking brief walks near the office can be a great stress-relieving activity but you could also consider lunchtime gym classes or meditating in a private space. We also ask that you do not underestimate the importance of hobbies. Engaging in hobbies and spending time with those that share your interests can provide a healthy balance to your life.


Seek support from colleagues or build your own supportive network with other executive assistants or colleagues.

Sharing experiences and finding common solutions can help you cope with the challenges of the role. Links is a platform offering curated content specially tailored to the needs of executive support professionals which will come in the form of blog posts, events, podcasts and a ‘little black book’ of trusted suppliers.

Key Ideas

  • Burnout is a classified medical diagnosis on the rise which manifests into a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.
  • The symptoms include fatigue, loss of interest, physical symptoms, and reduced performance.
  • If you see a colleague with the following symptoms, there are solutions available! Be sure to coach your management with these 3 simple steps or be the helping hand necessary in your team to turn the situation around.
  • Step 1: Learn to set appropriate boundaries with management and be realistic with what you can manage.
  • Step 2: Learn to prioritise! There are plenty of resources available online at your disposal.
  • Step 3: Know when it is time to take your leave and use it wisely. Use the time to recharge your batteries.
  • Ensure to use our Links platform to get the support you need. If you require more personal support, we invite you to try Ask Links where you can receive professional advice on any work-related query or concern.