The Effects of Employee Burnout

What is it?

Employee burnout is a phenomenon that occurs in employees when they have become physically or emotionally exhausted as a result of prolonged stress. The prolonged stress is typically caused by a variation of factors, but usually the main sources of stress stem from home life, work life or a combination of the two.

Employee burnout is generally defined by three sub-factors:

  • exhaustion (being too tired to produce quality work),
  • cynicism (no longer caring about work produced), and
  • inefficacy (feeling like they work they do makes no difference).

Major contributing factors to burnout include stressful jobs, strict deadlines and heavy workloads, and feeling as if there is a lack of support or resources to aid the employee in relieving stress or meeting demands of the job (Hamill, 2018).

More often than not, employee burnout occurs due to unrealistic or high demands of a job, not because the employee is incapable or lazy. Frequently, the strongest and most productive employees are the ones who suffer from burnout – employees who were once very engaged and hard-working suddenly lack motivation and ability to get quality work done on time.

This occurs for a couple of reasons:

1.) Employees who care about their job and want to do well put higher expectations on themselves, causing more stress when they can’t meet expectations to do the job perfectly
2.) Employers tend to give more complex and difficult jobs to employees they consider more capable – this causes a higher workload for the employee
3.) Consistently productive employees realize that they have proved themselves to be a strong employee, and are constantly attempting to go above and beyond expectations to maintain their abilities (Garton, 2017).

The most common causes of burnout include:

  • Overload – lots of work to get done in a little amount of time
  • Pressure – internal and external
  • Lack of support from managers
  • Lack of feedback and validation
  • Lack of participation in decision-making
  • Disconnect of values
  • Lack of fairness and equity (Hamill, 2018).

It is important to acknowledge the causes of burnout as there are a lot of risks associated with employee burnout. Recognizing the signs of employee burnout and implementing prevention and intervention strategies prior to complete burnout can make a significant impact on employee health and productivity.

What Employees Should Know

Studies have shown that burnout can lead to more serious health consequences if not addressed. This includes cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, insomnia and depressive symptoms (Salvagioni et al., 2017). In short, burnout is more than feeling exhausted and unmotivated to do you job – it affects your physical and mental well being in negative ways. Furthermore, burnout has consequences for your occupational abilities as well. It seems ironic that working too hard at your job can cause you to do your job poorly, but with burnout that is essentially what happens. Research has shown that as burnout symptoms surface, employees productivity and job satisfaction decreased (2017). Rates of absenteeism increase by 21% when burnout levels increase, with 9% being consistent days away from work (2017).

Fortunately, there are a lot strategies employees can use to avoid burnout and to reverse the effects of burnout.

  • Figure out the kind of burnout you have – is it overload/exhaustion, inefficacy/lack of development, or neglect/cynicism? Knowing where the problem stems from is the first step to finding solutions
  • Learn to say no – know your limits and accept when you are biting off more than you can chew. If your workload is getting too heavy and someone is trying to give you more work, respectfully explain that you have too much on your plate already and cannot take on anymore work – this avoids overload
  • Make self-care a daily ritual – use downtime to do things you enjoy
  • Develop resiliency strategies to manage your home and work stressors
  • Accept that perfectionism is not attainable – no one is perfect, and if you continue to strive for perfect results you will never be satisfied and your pressure levels will be too high all the time (VanHoven, 2014).
  • Reach out to your manager or employer when your stress levels start to rise – express your need for support, either emotionally or occupationally (Davis-Laack, 2013).

What Employers Can Do

Employees have reported that they are more engaged in their working environment when their well being is looked after and when they feel their employers are supportive and understanding (Hamill, 2018). Managers who strive to make their employees feel valued, respected and supported are less likely to have employees suffer from burnout, have lower rates of absenteeism, lower turnover rates and have higher rates of productivity and job satisfaction.

Employers can make a big difference in avoiding burnout:

  • Implement the National Psychological Health and Safety Standards in your workplace.  Gowan Consulting can assist in auditing and adjusting your work practices to improve Psychological Health and Safety in you workplace.
  • Assist Managers in developing the skills to identify and support employees in distress – give training and coaching that support managers in knowing how to approach employees
  • Provide recovery time – if an employee has had a heavy workload for a consistent amount of time, decrease their workload for a stretch of time. Express that you’ve noticed their hard work and that you would like them to take it easy for a week or two to recharge and take care of their well being.
  • Provide purpose – engaging employees and reminding them why their role is important to you and the business gives incentive to care about work production
  • Get to know your employees – be wary of your employees stress levels and work ethics – implement a well-being mindset with positive discussions about the importance of self-care
  • Provide opportunities to build social connections – assist with social support in your work environment – humans are social beings and feeling connected to those in your work environment can decrease chance of burnout
  • Know the signs of burnout and disengagement – intervene when you notice an employee seems disengaged in their work or if their work production has weakened over time (Hamill, 2018).
  • Engage an Occupational Therapist to support an objective assessment of the worker’s ability to stay at work and the work demands.  The Occupational Therapist can provide practical tools, strategies and coaching to support an employee in maintaining productivity and getting the right recovery from burnout.

It’s important for employers to start the conversation about burnout with their employees. Having an open door policy and building a trusting rapport with your employees allows them to be more open and honest when feelings of stress start to arise. For severe cases of burnout and fatigue, employers may need assistance with support of their employees.

Gowan Consulting can provide sustainable solutions to ensure your employees are safe and healthy, allowing your business to be successful. Our Occupational Therapists can assess the work environment, work loads, and the employee to confirm if the abilities of the employee match the requirements of the position. We work with employers to provide informative resources that allow employees and employers to have a deep understanding of healthy work practices.

We currently are offering our two-day Mental Health and Return to Work Workshop on September 11 and 12, 2018. Mental wellbeing declines as the level of burnout increases. This workshop provides the latest information on how to manage stay at work and return to work for employees with mental distress or mental illness. Click Here for more information or Register Now to receive early bird pricing.

If you cannot get out to our workshops, consider webinars.  We have many webinars on mental health and specific to the needs of your workplace.

Contact us for more information on the multitude of services we provide!


Works Cited

Davis-Laack, P. (2013, June 24). 7 Strategies to Prevent Burnout. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Garton, Eric. (2017, April 6). Employee Burnout is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Hamill, Laura. (2018). Can You Spot Burnout? Limeade. Retrieved from

Salvagioni, D.A.J., Melanda, F.N., Mesas, A.E., Gonzalez, A.D., Gabani, F.L., & Andrade, S.M. (2017, Oct 4). Physical, Psychological and Occupational Consequences of Job Burnout: A Systematic Review of Prospective Studies. Plos One. doi:

VanHoven, Sasha. (2014). 11 Ways to Avoid Burnout. Retrieved from

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