Signs of burnout: How the let-down effect hurts worker wellbeing

Signs of burnout can range from quiet quitting to getting sick more often. Sickness in an office is contagious. Whether it’s a physical or a mental illness, it can have a ripple effect across the workplace.

Someone’s lack of energy or productivity can make the rest of the team feel lethargic or demotivated, particularly if the person who is ill is in a senior position.

There’s no time this is more likely to happen (other than in winter in a cramped office) than after a huge project has come to an end. This is called the let-down effect, and it’s one of the major signs of burnout.

What is the let-down effect?

The let-down effect is when you get sick after completing a big project or dealing with another source of stress like exams.

When we work on a huge project, we run on the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. They ramp up to keep us going, helping us fight off things that might get in the way of us achieving our goals, like a pesky cold.

And as soon as the project is over, those hormones stop.

And as soon as the day after, signs of burnout can start to appear and we can get sick.

The let-down effect hit me back in November. I had so much to do in October. Client deadlines, a writing class to teach, a book reading, and a book to edit. Lots of prep, lots of stress. I was excited, but I was definitely running on adrenaline.

I kept saying to myself, “just make it to the end of October, then you can rest.”

That was a big mistake.

The morning of November 1st, I woke up with the flu. 

I don’t think I’ve ever been that ill, and I’m not entirely sure I’m completely over it six months later. 

It led to infections, chronic pain and fatigue flare-ups, allergy flare-ups, new allergies, insomnia…I could fill a blog post with all my symptoms since November, but you get the point.

The let-down effect can lead to new or worsening physical or mental health symptoms. It can worsen signs of burnout, and there’s no telling how long it will take to recover.

So what can you do about the let-down effect at work?

How to avoid the let-down effect in the workplace

Stress hormones have a role in our bodies, but it should only be a short-term one. The longer they build up, the more detrimental they become. 

They can lead to chronic inflammation and a weakened immune system, which is why chronic health issues can flare up after a big project, or it feels like we have a never-ending stream of illnesses.

The people most prone to burnout are the ones who care the most about what they do. That’s because they often work harder to achieve their goals. 

When someone enjoys something, it doesn’t feel so much like work.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t still lead to stress. Everyone needs a break sometimes.

So, one of the key things you can do to manage it is to check in with your employees.

Watch for signs of burnout. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need from you.

Would they prefer to work from home, where it’s quieter? Or come into the office later and stay later?

Or do you need to have an honest discussion about a deadline because it’s just not achievable? 

It may even be a case of needing to hire new employees to help you meet a deadline or avoid signs of burnout in the future.

Encouraging employees to reduce their stress levels slowly is also vital.

Instead of doing what I did, and saying, “Just make it to this date, then I can rest,” ensure employees pace themselves during stressful periods and ease back from the situation slowly.

Activities like exercise or cold showers can temporarily increase stress levels and help to avoid the sudden shock to the body from a lack of stress hormones.

How to support employees through the let-down effect

Sometimes, employees push themselves too hard or fast even when you tell them not to. Inevitably leading to signs of burnout, and ultimately, the let-down effect.

When they reach that point, it’s important to have an honest conversation with them. Some people can’t see that they’ve pushed themselves too far until their mind or body can’t function anymore. Ideally, you want to prevent this from happening.

Encourage them to rest. Despite what society tells us, rest is good for productivity

This could mean taking more breaks during the working day (away from their desk, not at their desk reading news articles), or it could be a week off to recover.

It may also mean channeling their energy into something else, like a new project that’s less pressure.

Recovery will look different for everyone.

It involves a lot of patience and self-care, which can be difficult for people who are used to pushing themselves hard and fast. 

You could organize workshops to help everyone recognize signs of burnout, as well as the causes, symptoms, and solutions of the let-down effect so that they know how to handle it. 

It also means that they’re prepared to help both themselves and their colleagues.

Connection is important, too. 

Helping employees network with like-minded folks who are equally driven—but perhaps further into their journey so they know when to slow down—will teach them valuable lessons on managing high-pressure projects.

You could facilitate this through mentoring, coaching, or employee groups. Each has different benefits depending on your organization.

You could even set up employee groups for stress-reducing hobbies such as reading, meditation, exercise, or puzzles.


The let-down effect can impact anyone within the workplace, particularly after a long, challenging project.

To support employees through it and manage down signs of burnout, make sure they feel comfortable telling you how they feel and requesting what they need. This could be more time off—either a day at home or a vacation—accommodations such as working on lower-pressure projects for a while, or even a new role.

Whatever you choose, Workrowd can help you organize your program and get the most out of it for you and your employees. Contact us today at to book your free demo.

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