How managers can help prevent workplace burnout

Most people at some time will feel tired at work. It’s only natural in today’s working environment – stressful, fast paced and often competitive.


But what happens when this feeling goes beyond tiredness, or even stress? There can come a time when people find themselves simply unable to cope, affecting them both at work and at home.


This is burnout, and it’s now more common than ever.


What is burnout?

Workplace burnout has been described as physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment, insomnia, and a lack of focus. Sufferers experience negative feelings such as anger, cynicism and ineffectiveness.


People suffering from burnout might start to find tasks they previously enjoyed dull or overwhelming. They might feel less creative and start dreading coming to work each day.


There can be physical problems caused by burnout too, such as fatigue and chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness or a loss of appetite.


What causes burnout?

Burnout is not limited to people at work who could be categorised as ‘high flyers’. It affects the health, wellbeing and performance of employees at all levels of an organisation and is often closely linked to people’s mental health.


The likelihood of burnout is increased when employees:


 – Expect too much of themselves

 – Never feel that the work they are doing is good enough

 – Feel inadequate or incompetent

 – Feel unappreciated for their work efforts

 – Have unreasonable demands placed upon them

 – Are in roles that are not a good job fit


The difference between stress and burnout

Although the two share some characteristics, there are distinct differences between stress and burnout.


Stress is often relatively short-term, and something we’ve all experienced at some time in life. Job-related stress is often caused by the feeling that work is getting out of control and we’re struggling to keep up.


We might experience stress on a regular basis. This is especially the case when working on an important project or to a tight deadline.


However, once that catalyst has changed or gone, stress will lessen or disappear entirely. Of course, stress can be recurring and experienced on a long term basis if we constantly go through challenging situations.


One key difference is that stress could be said to someone caring too much, while burnout leads to them not caring at all. Stress can act as a motivator in the right circumstances, whereas burnout leads to cynicism and helplessness.


Burnout occurs when stress builds up to intolerable levels and takes place over a longer period. As a result, it can be a sign of a toxic workplace with an unsustainable culture.


How can burnout be prevented?

Unlike stress, which can usually be alleviated through managed workloads, flexible working, or even just a break, the prevention of burnout requires looking at job design and the fundamental make-up of an employee’s role.


These are the key factors that will help employers prevent burnout within their organisation.


Provide a mission

Without a mission, employees can drift indefinitely without any focus. This is what leads to feelings of ineffectiveness and a lack of motivation. People’s work lives are enriched greatly when they feel they are making progress on work that is meaningful, and feel that they are making a difference.


An employee’s mission needs to align with that of the organisation as a whole. Research from Gallup showed only four in ten people know what their company stands for, and less than 50% feel connected to their organisation’s mission.


Firstly, the organisation needs a well-articulated mission statement that gives employees an idea of how their work will contribute to the lives of customers, employees and the wider community.


The statement will then need to be narrowed down so employees can see how this can be done. This can be made clear through the use of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals and regular feedback to review whether the goals are being met.


Connect with others

Social relationships are vital for promoting wellbeing and acting as a buffer against mental ill health. Positive relationships with colleagues builds respect, collaboration and is a source of help and support. Friendships foster a collective sense of humour, which will always help a team come through a challenge.


Emotional intelligence (EQ) can help make this happen. It is the ability to recognise emotions in ourselves and others, and control the response we have to them. By being able to choose how we react, we can build better relationships by avoiding harmful behaviour and by being able to show empathy towards others.


People with high EQ have been reported to have higher life satisfaction, self-esteem and lower levels of insecurity or depression. Ultimately, they can handle stress better than people with poor EQ, and therefore avoid burnout.


This is because emotionally intelligent people are better equipped to recognise stress and manage how they deal with it. When they feel themselves becoming stressed, they can stay calm and not let their emotions get the better of them. They can then make changes to reduce their stress and keep themselves grounded.



Successful two-way communication between managers and staff is vital in order for employees to feel valued. It is also necessary for giving feedback relating to previously-set goals.


Research from Gallup shows that engagement levels are highest among employees who have daily communication with their manager. When strong relationships are already in place, it makes giving feedback much easier.


The feeling of being able to ‘check in’ with a manager can make all the difference when it comes to burnout – sometimes an employee knowing that they’re on the right track can be enough to reduce stress and stay motivated.


Provide autonomy

Employees who are free to make their own choices about how they do their job are happier, more committed and more productive than those who are micromanaged. Employees with a high level of control over how they conduct their responsibilities are more accountable, so are less likely to start feeling the ‘daily grind’ that leads to burnout.


For a level of autonomy to be established, an employer will need to trust employees. This can involve consulting employees about projects and tasks and allowing them to help ‘design’ their work.


The freedom to make mistakes must also be given. If the workforce is fearful of the consequences of honest mistakes, then engagement will drop and stress will rise. As we mentioned earlier, this sustained stress can cause burnout.


Give recognition

A healthy dose of praise can do wonders for an employee’s self-esteem and confidence. Research from software developer Tinypulse revealed that 40% of employees said they were unlikely to go above and beyond if their bosses took their efforts for granted.


Recognition needs to be open, honest and given in good time. A manager doesn’t need to wait until the next performance review to tell someone they’ve done a good job, for example. Hard work and achievement could even be recognised during team meetings.


What next?

If you’d like to learn how to put these measures into place in your organisation, BounceBack offers both tutor-led training and eLearning courses.


Our range of courses includes:


Workplace Wellbeing for Employees

Managing Workplace Wellbeing

Developing Resilience

How to Cope with Stress

Emotional Intelligence training

Mental Health First Aid


To find out more, please call us on 020 7060 6200 or email info@bounce-back.com.

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