Burnout has been a trending topic throughout the pandemic, particularly in organisations which saw an increase in demand and the introduction of remote/hybrid working. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that results from periods of prolonged stress and can lead to insomnia, fatigue, forgetfulness, increased illness, and depression. 

While burnout can stem from stress, the two terms should be considered as separate entities and there are some key differences. Stress is usually as a result of having too many pressures with employees often presenting as hyperactive and their emotions being overreactive. Whereas employees experiencing burnout are emotionally exhausted, tend to lack motivation and are likely to appear more subdued which can present as a lack of interest in their regular activities/responsibilities, isolating themselves from others and procrastinating or taking a long time to complete tasks. 

Given that employees spend so much of their time at work, it is natural that work can be a contributing factor of burnout due to: 

  • lack of control over the type of work;
  • lack of reward and recognition;
  • unrealistic deadlines or expectations; 
  • lack of stimulating or challenging work; 
  • working in a high-pressure environment.

Although work can be a factor, there are other contributing factors in an individual’s home life such as:

  • lack of support from friends and family;
  • lack of sleep;
  • not getting enough social interaction outside of work;

Personality traits or characteristics can also impact whether an individual experiences burnout. 

Employees are more likely to experience burnout if they:

  • believe that everything has to be perfect;
  • have a negative mindset;
  • always need to be in control and are reluctant to delegate to others;
  • are a high-achieving individual who strives for perfection;

The impact of burnout, if not dealt with, can have negative results such as high turnover or increased absence levels. However, one positive from the pandemic is that it highlighted the presence of burnout in businesses and created a spotlight in which it could be addressed. 

Two years on from the start of the pandemic, it seems as though the subject of burnout is still very topical, with Mckinsey & Co. reporting in 2021 that almost half of the employees surveyed could say they experienced symptoms of burnout.  

One of the challenges when dealing with burnout is the lack of employee data on the subject with Mckinsey & Co. suggesting that employees experiencing burnout are less likely to participate in surveys or have already left the organisation, given that burnout increases the likelihood of an employee leaving.

Another challenge has been the switch to flexible/hybrid working. While at first this was thought to have created a better work-life balance, due to less hours in the office and less time spent commuting, it created its own challenges such as virtual meeting overload, unrealistic employer expectations and less separation between home and work life. 

It is important for organisations to understand the factors that can be impacting their team and possibly contributing to stress and burnout and be aware of the warning signs of burnout. Although it is impossible to completely remove all stress from the workplace, our next blog will be the final in this series and will take a look at the proactive steps organisations can take to help to reduce stress and burnout and how to address this when it arises.