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Workplace Burnout: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

Key Points

Understanding Workplace Burnout and Its Definition

Learn about job burnout, a chronic workplace stress, recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO defines burnout in terms of energy depletion, increased mental distance from one's job, or negative feelings about the job.

Recognizing Burnout Symptoms and Types

Discover common symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion, detachment, and decreased productivity.

Explore three types of burnout: overload, under-challenged, and neglect, each with distinct characteristics.

Unveiling Causes and Risk Factors

Explore causes of burnout such as monotonous work, unclear expectations, and lack of control.

Understand how personal factors and work-related stressors contribute to burnout.

Insights from Research on Burnout

Learn from a systematic review that highlights the role of chronic job stress and resource inadequacy in burnout.

Understand that individual reactions to job conditions play a significant role in burnout development.

Identifying Burnout Stages and Consequences

Explore the five stages of burnout, from the honeymoon phase to habitual burnout.

Understand the broader consequences of burnout, affecting productivity, health, relationships, and organizations.

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Workplace Burnout: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

Job burnout: How to spot it and take action

Job burnout, a chronic workplace stress, is a state of physical and mental health exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. It is a severe issue in today's workplace, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized it as a serious problem, formally defining it in terms of energy depletion, increased mental distance from one's job, or negative feelings about the job. Identifying burnout triggers in the workplace is essential to address this phenomenon.

Job burnout symptoms and 3 types of burnout

Burnout symptoms are vast and can differ based on personality traits and how a person typically reacts to stress. The most common symptoms include emotional exhaustion, cynicism or detachment from job-related activities, and decreased productivity or effectiveness at work.

The three types of burnout, according to Winona State University’s professor, Dr. Herbert Freudenberger, are overload burnout, under-challenged burnout, and neglect burnout. Overload burnout occurs when employees feel overwhelmed by work-related stress and job demands. Under-challenged burnout is associated with feelings of boredom and lack of personal development. Neglect burnout happens when people feel unappreciated and insufficiently rewarded.

Possible causes of job burnout

Burnout can be caused by various work-related stressors such as monotonous work, unclear job expectations, poor communication, lack of control over decision-making, and unfair treatment. In addition, personal life factors like personality traits and lifestyle can also contribute to job burnout.

What the research says about burnout

A systematic review in the field of occupational health psychology shows that chronic job stress and a lack of resources or support can lead to burnout. The research reveals that it's not just the job, but how individuals react to the conditions of the job, that matters. It underscores the complexity of burnout and the importance of examining both individual and organizational factors.

5 Stages of Burnout in the Workplace

Understanding the stages of burnout can help in recognizing its early signs:

The Honeymoon Stage:

  • Characteristics: This is the phase when employees are most passionate about their new roles. They are highly energetic, extremely committed, and often go above and beyond their responsibilities. Their job satisfaction levels are at their peak.

  • Warning Signs: While enthusiasm is high, there may be subtle signs of overcommitment, such as working long hours and constantly pushing oneself to exceed expectations.

  • Interventions: It's essential to establish a work-life balance from the outset, set realistic expectations, and ensure employees are not overburdening themselves.

Onset of Stress Stage:

  • Characteristics: Employees begin to experience inconsistencies in their performance. They might occasionally feel overwhelmed, irritable, or anxious about work.

  • Warning Signs: Increased fatigue, neglect of personal needs, difficulty sleeping, and heightened physical complaints.

  • Interventions: Managers should engage in open dialogues, encourage breaks, and ensure that the workload is manageable.

Chronic Stress Stage:

  • Characteristics: Stress is no longer an occasional visitor; it's a constant companion. Work-life balance starts to erode, and employees may begin to feel a growing resentment towards their job.

  • Warning Signs: Persistent tiredness, increased absenteeism, escaping through unhealthy habits like excessive drinking or smoking, and declining job performance.

  • Interventions: Offering counseling services, considering flexible work hours, or implementing wellness programs can be beneficial.

Burnout Stage:

  • Characteristics: At this stage, the symptoms become severe. Employees might experience significant physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Their perspective towards work may turn very negative.

  • Warning Signs: Withdrawal from colleagues or responsibilities, feelings of emptiness, possible depression, and a constant desire to quit.

  • Interventions: It's crucial to seek professional help at this stage. Employees might benefit from a temporary leave of absence, therapy, or a re-evaluation of their job role.

Habitual Burnout Stage:

  • Characteristics: Burnout becomes an ingrained part of one's life. The severe symptoms from the burnout stage are now normalized and might affect all areas of an individual's life.

  • Warning Signs: Chronic physical illnesses, feelings of hopelessness, and a deep-seated disdain for work.

  • Interventions: A comprehensive intervention strategy is required, including long-term therapy, considering a career change, or re-evaluating life priorities.

Signs and Symptoms of Workplace Burnout

Besides the above-mentioned signs, other symptoms of experiencing job burnout include a change in sleep or eating habits, feeling less capable at work, increased cynicism at work, irritability with co-workers, and feeling unfulfilled or dissatisfied with job performance.

What are the risk factors and causes of job burnout?

Risk factors and causes of burnout include job-related stress, lack of control over work, unclear expectations from the job, work-life imbalance, and a lack of social support. Other personal factors might include a high-need for control, perfectionistic tendencies, or difficulty with work schedule flexibility.

5 Employee Burnout Statistics for 2021

A 2021 study found that 1) 79% of employees were experiencing burnout, 2) 40% considered the stress of their jobs bad for their mental health, 3) burnout caused 51% to look for a new job, 4) 63% reported that their work stress had increased since the start of the pandemic, and 5) over 50% of millennials reported leaving jobs due to burnout.

7 Things You Can Do to Treat Burnout in the Workplace

To effectively treat and prevent employee burnout, employers can:

  • 1. Foster clear communication: Clear and concise communication from managers can reduce uncertainties and help employees have a clear understanding of their roles, tasks, and responsibilities.

  • 2. Encourage self-care: Promoting the practice of self-care and ensuring work-life balance is crucial. Encourage breaks, physical activity, and vacations to reduce burnout.

  • 3. Offer support: Ensure that employees feel supported by offering resources like mental health programs or flexible working hours.

  • 4. Recognize achievements: Regularly acknowledging employees' contributions can make them feel appreciated and valued.

  • 5. Promote a positive work environment: Create an environment where employees can share their feelings openly without fear of negative consequences.

  • 6. Provide career development opportunities: Providing a clear path for career growth can significantly enhance job satisfaction and reduce feelings of stagnation and burnout.

  • 7. Balance workload: Ensure that the workload is evenly distributed among team members to prevent overloading certain individuals.

Burnout in the Workplace: Implications and Responses

Experiencing burnout at work is not just about the occasional stress or fatigue; it's a profound sense of physical and emotional exhaustion that can affect an employee's performance and well-being. While the mere feeling of burnout is not a direct and legitimate ground for termination, the consequences of it, such as a decline in work quality or a consistent negative attitude, can indeed raise concerns for employers. In many jurisdictions, employment laws safeguard employees from being unfairly dismissed based on health-related challenges. However, the indirect effects of burnout can sometimes blur these lines.

Ideally, forward-thinking employers should approach burnout with empathy and understanding. Recognizing the root causes, whether it's an overwhelming workload, limited resources, or external personal stressors, is crucial. Instead of adopting a punitive stance, providing support through counseling or wellness programs can be more beneficial. Taking punitive measures might only serve to further demoralize the workforce, leading to an increased turnover, which is not in the best interest of any organization.

Chronic stress, the precursor to burnout, manifests in various ways. Physically, individuals might grapple with recurring headaches, unexplained body pains, elevated blood pressure, and irregular sleep patterns. On the emotional front, feelings of being overwhelmed become common, and episodes of anxiety or depression might surface. Behaviorally, one might notice changes in eating habits, increased procrastination, and in some cases, a heightened dependency on substances like alcohol or drugs as a form of escape.

Moreover, it's worth noting the far-reaching implications of sustained high stress. It isn't merely about the immediate emotional toll; prolonged stress can significantly elevate the risk of severe health conditions. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer have been linked to chronic stress. Additionally, mental health is at stake too, with chronic stress contributing to conditions like depression and anxiety disorders.

In essence, while burnout might not directly lead to job termination, it's a significant concern that both employees and employers should address proactively. A comprehensive understanding and timely interventions can create a harmonious, productive work environment, safeguarding the well-being of all involved.

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Consequences of job burnout

The negative consequences of job burnout can extend beyond the individual to affect co-workers, family members, and the organization as a whole. This can include lower productivity, higher staff turnover, and increased healthcare costs. In the personal realm, it can lead to strained relationships and an overall decrease in life satisfaction.

How do you diagnose work-related burnout?

Burnout is primarily diagnosed through self-reporting of symptoms. Healthcare providers may ask about your work and personal life, physical health, mental well-being, and feelings related to your job. They may also use certain standardized questionnaires to assess your risk of burnout.

10 ways to treat and handle burnout at work

To handle and reduce burnout at work, consider the following strategies:

  • 1. Set Boundaries: Don't let work seep into your personal life.

  • 2. Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can help reduce stress.

  • 3. Get Plenty of Sleep: Proper rest is essential for mental health.

  • 4. Eat a Healthy Diet: Proper nutrition can boost your mood and energy.

  • 5. Practice Mindfulness: Techniques like meditation can help manage stress.

  • 6. Seek Social Support: Speak with friends, family members, or a counselor.

  • 7. Take Regular Breaks: Short breaks during work hours can help maintain focus and productivity.

  • 8. Prioritize Tasks: Use a 'to do' list to manage tasks and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

  • 9. Seek Professional Help: Therapists and counselors can provide strategies to manage stress.

  • 10. Consider a Job Change: If the burnout is too severe, you might need to consider looking for a new job.

Bottom line: Don't push through burnout

Pushing through burnout without addressing the underlying causes can lead to severe physical and mental health complications. Organizations need to recognize burnout as a critical issue and take the necessary steps to create a supportive and healthy work environment.

Let employees know they matter

One of the most powerful ways to prevent burnout is by making employees feel that they matter. This goes beyond providing positive feedback and recognizing achievements. Letting employees feel heard and appreciated for their uniqueness, showing empathy and genuine concern for their well-being, and taking an interest in their professional development are all significant in this regard.

Clear path to career growth

Creating a clear path to career growth is also a critical factor in preventing burnout. When employees feel they are stagnating with no career progression, it can lead to feelings of hopelessness and burnout. Employers should have regular career planning discussions with their employees, setting clear expectations and providing opportunities for skills development and promotion.

Create a positive, fun work environment

Creating a positive and fun work environment can alleviate work-related stress and prevent burnout. Encouraging employees to take regular breaks, promoting team-building activities, and ensuring a physically comfortable and appealing workspace can contribute to a positive work environment. A positive, fun work environment promotes employees' well-being, boosts morale, and reduces stress.

Focus on the positive

By focusing on the positive, managers can help prevent burnout. This includes regularly acknowledging employees' achievements, providing constructive feedback, and maintaining an optimistic outlook. A positive work environment encourages productivity, fosters a sense of accomplishment, and enhances job satisfaction.

Make work purposeful

Making work purposeful is another way to prevent burnout. Employees who see their work as meaningful are less likely to experience burnout. Managers can help make work feel more purposeful by connecting individual tasks to the larger goals of the organization, highlighting the impact of the employees' work, and encouraging employees to develop their skills and talents.

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Dig Deeper: Further Reading

"Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle" by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

This book explores the concept of burnout and provides insights into how stress affects individuals. It delves into the science of stress and offers practical strategies to complete the stress cycle and prevent burnout.

"Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It" by Jeffrey Pfeffer

Jeffrey Pfeffer examines the negative impact of workplace practices on employee well-being. The book addresses burnout, its causes, and the role of organizations in creating healthier work environments.

"The Burnout Society" by Byung-Chul Han

This philosophical book explores the concept of burnout in modern society, examining how the constant pursuit of self-improvement and productivity contributes to exhaustion and burnout. It delves into the cultural and societal factors that drive burnout.

"Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time" by Brigid Schulte Brigid Schulte investigates the modern work-life balance and the impact of busyness on well-being. The book discusses the challenges of juggling work, family, and personal interests and provides insights into addressing burnout and finding a healthier balance.


Workplace burnout is a serious issue that can affect employees' mental and physical health, job performance, and personal life. Employers play a crucial role in preventing and managing burnout by fostering a supportive and positive work environment, providing clear communication, promoting work-life balance, and making work purposeful. Additionally, employees should practice self-care and seek help when needed. Remember, burnout is a systemic issue that requires collective efforts to address effectively.


About the Author

Cody Thomas Rounds- Clinical Psychologist

photo of author Cody Thomas Rounds

Cody is board-certified clinical psychologist, but he sees himself as a lifelong learner, especially when it comes to understanding human development and the profound impact of learning on our well-being.

He's delved deep into the nuances of the human mind and is convinced that education isn't just a luxury—it's a catalyst for personal growth.

Through his journey, Cody has seamlessly intertwined his knowledge with a genuine passion to guide others in comprehending their own mental landscapes. The goal? To pave the way for personal growth and enhanced well-being for everyone he works with.

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Feeling Burnout out, Stressed?

Explore your wellness with the Burnout Recovery Workbook. This workbook is designed by professionals utilizing the best of the clinical literature on self-improvement to assist you in achieving your wellness goals.


LDG is an affiliate partner. When you purchase through links on our site, a commission is generated. This income helps us in our commitment to provide you with high-quality future services. Thank you for supporting LDG with your purchases.

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