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What Really Causes Burnout at Work?

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

In previous articles and blogs, I have made much of the business benefits of having engaged staff: lower staff turnover, fewer sick days and accidents, greater resilience and agility, etc. Higher profitability is the obvious outcome.

In this blog I am going to look briefly at the costs and causes of burnout.

A 2019 report by Gallup ( found that 28% of employees experienced burnout 'always' or 'very often' (a further 48% experienced it 'sometimes'). The same report noted that burned out employees were 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively looking for another job. It is self evident that there is also a significant, adverse impact on performance.

Fifteen main causes of burnout were identified, of which these are the top 5:

  1. Unfair treatment at work

  2. Unmanageable workload

  3. Unclear communication from managers

  4. Lack of manager support

  5. Unreasonable time pressure

Gallup's conclusion is that "The manager matters most", and that "When people feel inspired, motivated and supported in their work, they do more work -- and that work is significantly less stressful on their overall health and wellbeing."

Whilst I agree with the main findings of the report, I do not think that it is the manager that matters the most: it is good leadership that makes the difference! Managers are important, but leaders are essential, especially in highly volatile and threatening times such as we are in now when the loads on teams are higher and uncertainties are rife. Leaders have ultimate responsibility for ensuring there is equitable treatment in the workplace, and that goals are aligned to strategic objectives which have been clearly communicated. Those 2 measures alone will significantly reduce the likelihood and impact of burnout.

Here are some additional steps that can reduce the risk further:

  1. Make staff wellbeing a part of the organization's culture, e.g. by making it an area for evaluation on leaders' and managers' annual reports.

  2. Educate managers and ensure they are providing the fair treatment and clarity all deserve.

  3. Consider individual strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, etc. to reduce the risk for every employee (one size does not fit all).

  4. Break down silos and encourage teamwork.

  5. Make space in the work environment for relief (everyone needs to get away from the buzz sometimes).

Taking these and other steps is not just the right thing to do, it is a sound business decision that will positively impact your company's bottom line (and reduce your own workload, stresses and frustrations in the process).

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss how to develop the skills necessary to provide more of the leadership your staff need. Imagine the difference it will make as they become more engaged and less prone to burnout.

Be a leader, not a boss!

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