what is Workplace Burnout?

Workplace burnout is a type of work-related stress, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported to be an 'occupational phenomenon'.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) lists three key symptoms of workplace burnout:

  • Energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Feelings of negativity, cynicism and increased mental distance towards one’s job;
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Why Is This Important For Employers?

Occupational burnout is linked with higher absenteeism and a reduction in productivity. It also diminishes the overall quality of life for employees which could lead them to seek employment elsewhere, leading to increased recruitment costs. 

What Causes Workplace Burnout?

There are two causes of job burnout according to recent studies:

  • Working more than 40 hours per week;
  • Working in an unfulfilling job.

Understandably, working long hours will leave many employees at greater risk of burnout, but an unchallenging job can produce a similar effect. Feeling bored and underutilised at work can make employees feel professionally and personally unfulfilled and as though their working lives lack meaning.

Workplace Stress

The ICD suggests occupational burnout is a syndrome which is brought on by chronic or poorly managed workplace stress.

recent CIPD study found that almost 40% of business have seen a rise in absences due to stress in the last year. However, the link between burnout and stress does not just stop at absenteeism.


Alarmingly, despite levels of stress and burnout becoming prevalent, the CIPD revealed some of the lowest numbers of days lost due to sickness in recent history.

This points to the problem of presenteeism. Presenteeism is where unwell employees (mentally or physically) work instead of recuperating.

Presenteeism coupled with burnout could be harmful to your business. The quality of the employees work and output will decrease. Not to mention worsening the employees’ well-being through coming into work rather than resting.

Poor Management Practises

Although poor management is implicated in the rise in burnout; are managers really to blame? The CIPD contends that many managers are not given adequate training to manage their staff effectively.

Similarly, managers may lack awareness of just how vital the well-being of their staff is.

What Can Employers Do To Combat Workplace Burnout?

It is essential to recognise that employers have a legal duty to protect their employees’ health and safety. This includes any risks from stress in the workplace.

People are an organisation’s best asset, so it is vital that their health and well-being should be a priority for employers and senior business leaders.

We outline 5 suggestions below to help reduce the likelihood of occupational burnout:

1) Create A Business Case

Outline the risks of not having initiatives in place to manage workplace stress and burnout, such as lack of productivity, reduced employee morale and poor retention rates.

2) Establish Written Policies And Procedures

Ideally included in your employee handbook; these should be designed to lessen potential workplace burnout and provide a plan of action for employees where it does occur.

3) Train Your Managers

Ensure managers are adequately trained and prepared for dealing with employees who may be suffering from stress-related problems.

You may also like to consider appointing a mental health first aider in your workplace. This can lessen the burden placed on managers and give employees the option to talk openly to a colleague about their struggles.

4) Make Reasonable Adjustments: 

This is particularly useful where burnout and stress are connected to physical or mental disability.

5) Ensure You Have Robust Return To Work Procedures For Stress-Related Leave 

Consider any ways in which you can assist with their transition back into work.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.