Businessolver Blog

Sorry, Neil Young, It’s Not Better to Burn Out (at Least Not at Work)

Sorry, Neil Young, It’s Not Better to Burn Out (at Least Not at Work)
Posted on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 by Marcy Klipfel

Even before the additional stressors brought about by a global pandemic, burnout was widespread in the workplace.


According to Gallup, over three-quarters of employees feel burned out at their job at least some of the time. Of those, 21% feel burned out often, and another 7% say they always feel this way.

While less than 25% of the workforce is mostly immune from burnout, the lion’s share of employees aren’t always in a position to bring their full abilities to work, which cuts down on engagement and productivity. This is not only bad for employers, it’s bad for employees too.

Humans are wired to do work that matters to us, so being burned out disconnects us from a core human need. Burnout feeds turnover, and it can also undermine employees’ emotional and mental health.

Burnout is often associated with long hours, but there’s more to the equation. Employees can have daunting schedules yet still feel fulfilled and engaged. In its research, Gallup found these five factors contributed most to burnout:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Unclear communication from managers
  4. Lack of manager support
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

Workload and work hours clearly have a role to play in burnout, but so does the context in which employees are working. If they aren’t treated fairly, don’t have good support and don’t enjoy clear consistent communication burnout may be an inevitable outcome.

Managers and supervisors are the first line of defense against burnout, but they can also contribute to an environment that leads to disconnection and stress among their team members.

HR isn’t immune.

HR professionals are often the ones caring for the well-being of others in the workforce and that can be a tall order, especially in the face of unforeseen changes like we’re currently experiencing. HR has been instrumental in managing the shift to remote work, implementing health and safety guidelines for essential workers and even overseeing significant layoffs and furloughs. This has been a stressful and unprecedented time for everyone.

Empathy can help. 

One way to address burnout is to practice empathy, a workplace value that has been getting significant attention over the past few years because of its correlation to organizational success. Empathy may be the antithesis to burnout by creating a positive and productive environment.

Managers who are able to identify with how others feel can be more supportive and communicative. By practicing empathy, people leaders are able to treat employees more equitably, and they can more appropriately manage workloads and expectations, effectively undermining the top factors that lead to burnout.

Recognizing the signs of fatigue and stress and practicing self-care are also important tools. You don’t want to figure out there are issues when productivity tanks or after half your workforce is already out the door. With burnout, prevention is much, much better than cure.

As HR professionals, burnout is a reality we see all the time, and it’s something we also need to be prepared to recognize in ourselves. Each time we fly, flight attendants remind us of the importance of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first. This message is key: you can’t take of others unless you take care of you. 

Because at the end of the day, not only don’t you want to burn out, you also don’t want to fade away.

Want more insights about workplace burnout and how to manage stress?