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Employee burnout is a problem during stable times let alone during stressful times. Lower productivity, emotional and physical exhaustion, lack of concentration, less recognition from managers, negativity and a decline in health are all signs of burnout at work. Knowing how to reduce burnout in the workplace and how to prevent employee burnout is

crucial — with employees at risk now more than ever. According to our latest research, 40% of employees cited burnout as a top reason for leaving their job.

This guide provides useful information on how to prevent employee burnout, how to reduce burnout in the workplace and manager tips for combating burnout in the workplace.

Key takeaways:

  • The most common causes of burnout at work are work overload, pressure, lack of feedback and support from managers and more.

  • Burnout can happen when highly engaged employees begin to have low well-being due to poorly managed personal and/or workplace stressors. It’s also “contagious” — it can spread toxicity across a team or spill into people’s home life

  • The good news is, burnout is preventable. With strong manager support and an understanding of what causes job burnout, employers can more readily know how to prevent burnout in employees.

So, what is employee burnout?

Burnout is defined as a response to prolonged exposure to emotional, physical and interpersonal stressors that is characterised by a chronic feeling of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.

Research indicates that employees who experienced greater levels of stress felt higher levels of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Our research also suggests that your most engaged employees feel the impacts of stress more than disengaged employees.

Your most engaged employees are the most likely to burn out.

The most common causes of burnout at work:

  • Overload — workload and time

  • Pressure

  • Role conflict and ambiguity

  • Lack of support from managers, feedback, fairness and equity, participation in decision making

  • Values disconnect

  • A “broken” psychological contract between an employer and employee

Burnout can happen when highly engaged employees begin to have low well-being due to poorly managed personal and/or workplace stressors. In order to be burned out at work, an employee has to be highly engaged. The employee has to be all in and care deeply about their work in order to get to the point of feeling burned out. This means top-performing, highly engaged employees are at the highest risk for burnout.

Without support from their manager or organisation, and/or the ability to resolve stressors for themselves, engaged employees can eventually burn out. And the consequences can be huge. Burnout results in low productivity and high employee turnover — especially turnover of the most talented and productive people that employers can’t afford to lose.

Authentically supporting employees and managers in workplace burnout prevention

Most employees say their immediate managers matter more than exec leadership when it comes to well-being support. But often, managers don’t understand how to talk with their employees about well-being.

Managers play a critical role in ensuring employees have a great experience. They’re not only responsible for the career path of the employee, they’re responsible for bringing the company values and culture to life. It’s imperative that companies help managers understand how to do this.

A great place to start is with an understanding of the strongest drivers of employee engagement. These drivers should include:

  • Challenging but achievable goals

  • Maintaining a reasonable number of work hours

  • Realising personal potential and learning new things

  • Using their greatest strengths

  • Fitting professional abilities with role and responsibilities

  • Feeling valued and respected

  • Feeling supported by a manager and organisational support

Managers who strive to create these conditions for their employees will be more likely to have employees with high well-being and who are truly engaged while proactively mitigating the risk of employee burnout.

The best way to foster employee engagement and well-being is to support employees. And one of the best ways to support employees is to focus on managers.

How to avoid burnout in the workplace

The missing link: well-being

It’s obvious why employers want to foster engagement, but few know how to foster high engagement and high well-being at the same time.

Employee well-being drives engagement, and vice versa. When employees are engaged in their work, they feel good and live with a sense of purpose.

Employees with higher well-being are twice as likely to be engaged in their jobs, employees enjoy their teams more, are more loyal and recommend their company as a great place to work. Further, highly engaged employees with high levels of well-being are able to cope with higher levels of stress without succumbing to the symptoms of workplace burnout.

When employees have high well-being AND feel supported by their organisation, it’s a win for everyone.

How to reduce burnout in the workplace

The good news is that burnout is preventable. With strong manager support and an understanding of what causes job burnout, employers can more readily prevent their top talent from burning out.

Here are four ways managers can help prevent burnout at work:

1. Provide recovery time

Everyone needs a break to recover. Employees pushing themselves to the limit at work is not only unproductive, it leads to burnout. Managers should adjust workloads, create realistic expectations and be aware when someone has been going full throttle in overdrive for too long. While recovery time or breaks help deal with the symptoms of burnout, they don’t provide a real solution. Make sure managers focus on the root causes too.

How managers can help

Managers should meet with each of their direct reports each week for a one-on-one meeting. In this weekly meeting, managers should be sure to check on the employee’s overall well-being and address any issues that arise as quickly as possible. Design a plan for your employees to achieve their goals — balance is key.

2. Foster a well-being mindset

How people think about stressors has an impact on their ability to handle and recover from them. What’s stressful to one person can be energising to another — it’s subjective. For some, stress is enhancing and exhilarating, while for others, it’s debilitating. When managers know how employees think about stress, they can help them cope with it better and prevent burnout.

How managers can help

Give employees permission to set emotional boundaries with their work by identifying limits and recognising feelings. Without boundaries, employees are vulnerable to crippling disappointment when they receive critical feedback. When managers or executives support well-being improvement, employees will follow.

Help employees find their “sweet spot” of stress. Acute (good) stress keeps you on your toes, ready to rise to a challenge. Chronic (bad) stress, and our response to bad stress, can lead to many health problems both physical and mental. Encourage employees to leave an hour early after a particularly stressful day or to take a break when needed.

3. Build social connections

People are wired to be social. And the more we can rely on each other for support, the better off we are. In fact, social support positively relates to important factors that impact stress, health, well-being and engagement. Employers have the unique ability to foster community among employees by boosting team support and social networks. These social connections will help employees get the support they need and help guard against burnout.

How managers can help

Challenge employees to create a plan to connect with a friend, family member or colleague at a scheduled time each week. Schedule weekly team lunches, go on a walking meeting, or plan a team-building activity together. Celebrate your employees, and bring teams together to refresh and rejuvenate as a company to prevent work burnout. This will lift their mood and help them feel connected.

4. Purpose

Helping employees connect to their purpose is key for workplace burnout prevention. When people have a real emotional connection to their work, they’re more connected to the company and their own purpose. This helps put things into perspective when work gets hectic.

How managers can help

Connect each employee’s role to your organisation’s mission and values. Connecting roles to how jobs directly contribute to the goals of the company helps reinforce why each employee’s role matters.

Help employees take ownership in crafting their job. Job crafting involves intentional reflection on how the employee frames their job and the purpose and meaning derived from it. This exercise will help employees think through small changes they can make to take more ownership over their role, and uncover their unique set of skills and strengths that make them great at their job.

How can companies help employees recover from burnout?

Employees have to be on fire to burn out. But how do you know when they’re feeling the heat?

Employees don’t burn out overnight. Burnout at work happens over time. Knowing the phases of burnout is the first step in helping employees, at any phase, recover from burnout.

Organisations and managers need to simultaneously help employees address and manage their stress and workload while enabling them to allocate time to replenish and build their resources. Resources are the physical, psychological, social or organisational aspects of the job that help achieve work goals, reduce job demands or stimulate personal growth, learning and development. Think of resources as the well-being drivers that people draw from to help combat the negative effects of stress.

Resources can include:

  • Time to relax and disconnect

  • Time and space to focus on building good relationships

  • Prioritising care of emotional and physical health

  • Helping people reconnect meaning to their jobs

Employees who are completely burned out have lost sight of meaning in their work. Managers and organisations must recognise burnout and help re-establish meaningfulness in employees’ lives and work. Employee burnout is real and it’s affecting millions of workers globally. It’s imperative that companies understand the impact burnout has on employee engagement and business results. It’s up to organisations (and managers) to spot signs of burnout and intervene as quickly as possible.

Companies should strive to prevent workplace burnout in the first place by focusing on employee well-being and manager support. When employees are burned out, companies and managers need to take an active role in helping the employee recover. Burnout is not a personal issue, it’s an organisational issue. Burnout needs to be addressed at all levels of the company in order to effectively prevent and combat it.

If you would like to discuss this further with us, or look at ways in which we can support your business. Please get in touch

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