How to recognise brownout, the stage before burnout

After burnout, bore-out and fade-out, a new concept emerged within the field of business psychology: brownout. Employees affected by brownout feel overworked, demotivated and disengaged – which is essentially the stage before burnout. Learn to recognise the signs and reverse the situation.

A junior sibling to burnout

The term ‘brownout’ originally means a voltage dip in the electrical grid resulting in a temporary outage. Translated to a business context, it refers to employees working long hours without any real interest in their job, leading to disengagement, discontent, and lethargy.

Work and private life

While the symptoms of brownout may be much more subtle than with burnout, the condition is much more prevalent. In 2015, US coaching firm Corporate Balance Concepts looked at 1,000 managers and estimated that 5% suffered from burnout while 40% suffered from brownout.

As with burnout, the condition of brownout often spills over into the home life, where people can become withdrawn and less engaged. The good news is that brownout is usually fairly mild, and reversible. But only if you act early enough.

Look out for the signs of brownout

  • Your employee is working long hours but is no longer showing any real interest in their job.
  • He or she is doing the least amount possible in meetings, takes little initiative and is often the person who pours cold water on other people’s ideas.
  • Your employee uses any excuse not to show up to work.
  • He or she finds it hard to let go of work and is glued to their smartphone on weekends and holidays.
  • Your employee is starting to suffer physically and is out of shape, eats junk food and is not getting enough sleep.   
  • He or she is often surly or irritable.

If you recognise these symptoms in one of your staff, then you can help figure out the real problem by conducting a one-on-one meeting  or call on the help of our experienced and highly trained experts.  

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