Occupational burnout in the workforce

Shop Talk
A wooden scale balances the words work and life. The work side is touching the counter.

In today’s fast-paced business landscape, the wellbeing of your employees is paramount.

While you can provide subsidised gym and health insurance access, offer free massages and healthy food at your business premises, and work to reward employees effectively for their hard work, keeping your personnel thriving comes down to keeping issues at bay, too.

As a business owner or manager, you’ve likely heard the term “occupational burnout” thrown around, but do you truly understand its implications and how to prevent it in your workforce?

Understanding occupational burnout

Occupational burnout is not just ordinary workplace stress. It’s a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, often accompanied by feelings of cynicism, detachment from work, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.

Consequently, burnout can result from prolonged exposure to excessive job demands and insufficient resources or support.

The stages of burnout

Burnout typically progresses in stages, making it crucial to identify early signs. Here are the three main stages:


The initial stage involves feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and physically fatigued due to excessive work demands. Also, this is often accompanied by sleep disturbances and mood swings.

Cynicism and detachment

In particular, individuals may become increasingly detached from their work, colleagues, and clients at this stage. As a result, they might develop a cynical attitude and a sense of hopelessness.

Reduced accomplishment

Finally, there is a noticeable decrease in productivity and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. Also, employees may question the value of their work and experience low self-esteem.

The risks of ignoring occupational burnout

Decreased productivity and performance

When physically and emotionally drained, employees struggle to maintain their usual work standards.

As a result, this reduction in output directly impacts the bottom line as projects get delayed, and errors become more common.

Increased absenteeism and presenteeism

As burnout takes its toll, employees are more likely to take time off work due to health issues or simply to escape the relentless demands.

Increased absenteeism then also places additional stress on colleagues who must shoulder the workload.

High employee turnover

A workforce plagued by burnout is more likely to experience high turnover rates, which are not only costly in terms of recruitment and training but can also harm team morale and disrupt the flow of projects.

Negative impact on mental health

Prolonged exposure to chronic stress and exhaustion can lead to more severe mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

Damaged reputation

If reports of burnout and a lack of concern for employee wellbeing become public or are known within the industry, it can tarnish the organisation’s reputation.

Legal and ethical consequences

Labour laws and regulations in many countries require employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment. As a result, failing to address burnout can result in lawsuits, fines, and damage to the company’s reputation.

Lost innovation and creativity

When employees are burnt out, their ability to think creatively and contribute fresh ideas diminishes. This loss of innovation can be especially damaging in industries that rely on creativity and adaptability to stay competitive.

Increased workplace conflicts

As employees become more stressed and irritable, disagreements may escalate, impacting teamwork and collaboration.

Health care costs

Burnout can lead to various physical and mental health issues, resulting in increased healthcare costs for employees and the company.

Decline in customer satisfaction

Dissatisfied, stressed employees are more likely to convey their frustration to customers, leading to a decline in customer satisfaction and potentially lost business.

Spotting occupational burnout

Recognising the early signs of burnout is crucial for prevention. Keep an eye out for the following indicators:

Increased absenteeism

Employees experiencing burnout often take more sick days or unplanned absences.

Decreased performance

A decline in work quality, missed deadlines, and a drop in productivity can signal burnout.

Changes in behaviour

Watch for changes in behaviour, such as increased irritability, withdrawal from team activities, or reduced participation in meetings.

Physical symptoms

Burnout can manifest physically with symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and increased susceptibility to illness.

Emotional signs

Be attuned to signs of emotional distress, such as frequent frustration, sadness, or anxiety.

Insomnia or sleep issues

Burnout can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or poor-quality sleep. Employees may arrive at work fatigued and unable to concentrate.

Preventing occupational burnout

Preventing occupational burnout requires a proactive approach and a commitment to creating a healthy work environment.

Here are some practical steps you can take:

Foster open communication

Employees should feel comfortable discussing their workload, concerns, and ideas for improvement.

Set realistic expectations

Ensure workloads are manageable and provide the necessary resources and support for tasks.

Empower employees to say no when they are at capacity.

Encourage work-life balance

Promote work-life balance by offering flexible work arrangements, encouraging employees to take breaks, and respecting personal time.

Provide training and resources

Invest in training and professional development opportunities to enhance employees’ skills and confidence.

Plus, provide access to resources such as counselling services or stress management programs.

Recognise and reward achievements

Regularly acknowledge and celebrate employees’ achievements, both big and small.

Recognition boosts morale and reinforces a sense of accomplishment, reducing the risk of burnout.

Promote a healthy lifestyle

Encourage healthy habits by offering wellness programs, access to fitness facilities, or healthy snacks in the workplace.

Implement time management strategies

Teach employees effective time management techniques to help them prioritise tasks and reduce work-related stress.

Create a supportive environment

Encourage team collaboration and mutual assistance, reducing the sense of isolation that can contribute to burnout.

Monitor workload

You should get into the habit of regularly assessing employee workloads to ensure they remain reasonable and aligned with their skills and capacity.

Lead by example

Lastly, leaders and managers should model healthy work habits and demonstrate a commitment to employee wellbeing.

When leaders prioritise self-care, employees are more likely to follow suit.

Consequently, occupational burnout is a challenge that every business owner and manager should address.

Finally, if you prioritise the wellbeing of your employees, you can create a more productive, engaged, and goal-kicking team now and in the years to come.

This article was originally published on myob.com and has been edited for brevity and republished here with permission.

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