How to Combat Burnout in the Workplace and Improve Employee Wellbeing

How to Combat Burnout in the Workplace and Improve Employee Wellbeing

Employees struggling with high demands and long hours at work can often fall prey to burnout, weariness, and frustration that leads them to quit or that affects their work (even leading to the infamous quiet quitting). 

Burnout is becoming increasingly common throughout the working world: A Deloitte survey has found that an alarming 77% of responding employees say they have experienced burnout at their current job. And 70% of these professionals didn’t think that their employers were doing enough to deal with burnout. 

One of the more challenging jobs for HR leaders is to keep track of the health of the workplace, including when employees are feeling stress, and how it is affecting their performance and job satisfaction. Let’s take a closer look at some important elements of burnout, why it’s harmful to the workplace, and what can be done about it. 

Stressed worker with hands on face in front of computer in a storage room.

Is Burnout the Same as High Stress?

While signs of high stress can be an important indicator of potential burnout, it’s not quite the same thing. High stress can come in many forms, but it doesn’t always lead to burnout or cause the same sort of problems for organizations that burnout causes. 

Here are a few important differences to help understand what burnout means: 

  • High stress is an emotional and physical state caused by a variety of stressors associated with working, while burnout is the result of that stress when it is not managed. 
  • High stress alone is a warning sign for an organization, but doesn’t always lead to a loss of productivity or morale in a company the way that burnout does. Many employees are able to keep functioning under high stress, at least for a certain amount of time. Burnout is associated with a loss of productivity, employees who are unable or unwilling to do their jobs, and a very high rate of turnover. Employees may think, “I can manage this,” for a certain period of time, but burnout is the phase where they give up.
  • Some types of high stress can be managed or reduced. Burnout is associated with stress that the employee cannot currently manage or control, leading to a feeling of helplessness.
  • Burnout isn’t just caused by high stress in the workplace, but from other sources too. Other types of stress can also have an impact, culminating in burnout symptoms. We saw this more often during COVID-19, for example, when many remote workers were trying to juggle the challenges of their job while also taking care of children or sick family members at home. 

How Can Burnout Affect an Organization?

Burnout has a number of negative effects on organization, and these problems tend to worsen if the issues causing burnout aren’t addressed. This includes issues like:

  • Employees mismanaging tasks or snapping at customers
  • Employees lacking ambition or a collaborative mindset
  • Employees making rushed or uninformed decisions
  • Employees actively obstructing business goals
  • Gaining a reputation for having a poor working environment
  • Health problems causing absenteeism

Methods to Prevent Burnout

Let’s take a look at some ways in which burnout may be avoided at work.

Maintain a structure of positions with reasonable responsibilities: One of the common causes of burnout in today’s modern workplace is employees struggling with too many responsibilities. This may happen if one of their team members leaves and is not replaced, moving more tasks to their workload. Or their position was poorly planned and included too many things to oversee when it was first created. 

One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to make sure every position in the organization is clearly defined, and no position requires too much from employees. Avoid any kind of escalation where employees may be steadily expected to do more, and set performance goals that are reasonable in the current state of the industry. 

Create regulated systems of breaks and time off: Burnout is far more common when employees must do difficult or tedious tasks without any breaks. Frequent breaks can make demanding work much more manageable, giving the mind and body precious time to rest. Companies should look not only at legally required work breaks, but what kind of breaks would be most beneficial for employees with stressful tasks.

Give employees more control over their work lives: A lack of control is often cited as one of the chief factors leading to burnout. Employees can grow tired of jobs where they can’t offer input, and bureaucracies that make communication and feedback difficult. Create positions that give employees more freedom and better options for dealing with situations at work. This can also help nurture employee talent.

Provide mental health services for employees in demanding positions: Burnout is also more common in specific fields that take a heavy emotional toll. These can include nursing, emergency response, child services, and similar jobs. Employees in such fields should have free or low-cost access to mental health professionals and services to help them deal with their unique stressors.

Avoid contacting employees after hours when possible: While some work arrangements are more on-demand than others, it’s important for employers to avoid contacting employees after work unless necessary. Frequent contact from employers away from work leads to significant stress for employees and can quickly lead to burnout, no matter the topic. Employers should respect the work-life balance of employees and give workers time to recharge.

Watch for signs of approaching burnout: The best way to prevent burnout is often to catch the signs of workplace stress early and act to solve the problem. Employee surveys and interviews about stress, mental health, and exhaustion can be helpful when used effectively. 

Methods to Ease Burnout

If you are managing a workplace where stress is already common, it may be too late to prevent burnout. And this is very common – remember the Deloitte study we cited, where 77% of respondents reported burnout. 

So, what can HR leaders do to help reduce the level of burnout and solve related problems, such as high turnover? Here are several steps to help organizations get started addressing this serious problem.

Restructure teams and workloads: Disburse workloads so that certain employees aren’t asked to do too much. If necessary, put together a plan to hire additional employees so that current workers aren’t asked to do too much. 

Take a look at breaks and time off: Are employees actually taking their mandated or suggested work breaks? Are they using up all their time off? In high-stress workplaces, employees often skip these important practices. It may be time for a new initiative about actually using the time off that’s provided to heal and recharge.

Encourage social connections at work: Social connections not only help improve communication, but also give employees a way to deal with tension in healthier ways and feel less isolated in their jobs. Even simple after work events can help workers deal with their stress in ways they couldn’t before.

Rethink performance reports and expectations: Burned out employees often cite confusing or poor performance metrics as one reason they feel stressed. They may not understand the requirements of their job, or they may be getting conflicting information about what they’re supposed to do. Organizations may want to rethink the ways they measure productivity and set performance goals, including clearer communication about exactly what is and is not expected of employees.

Create mental health initiatives to encourage mindfulness and other wellness strategies: Initiatives to encourage mindfulness and similar goals for mental and emotional health can give employees a variety of techniques they may not have had before. These initiatives can make it easier to find calm and focus on the job, and even help employees identify sources of stress they weren’t aware of. 

Encourage movement at work: Physical activity is another common option to help reduce accumulated stress, and it may be easier for certain workplaces to embrace an exercise initiative. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a gym at work, but rather encouraging walking breaks and similar practices.

Begin a dialogue with employees: It can be difficult for HR leaders, especially those in a new position, to pinpoint what’s causing burnout. Talking directly with employees can uncover issues such as perceived unfair practices, or policies that could help them, like remote work options.


Are you looking for more ways to guide your teams away from burnout and exhaustion? KnowledgeCity’s wide range of concise courses provide you with the concepts and tools you need. All lessons are designed for easy, on-the-go learning. This saves your organization time while introducing you and your team to valuable exercises like those in Strategies for Reduced Stress and Positive Mental Health, or actionable tips on Coping with Stress at Work. Courses such as these can help you and your employees regain the peace of mind and energy needed to reach and surpass business goals.

Previous Post
Next Post
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join 80,000+ Fellow HR Professionals. Get expert recruiting and training tips straight
to your inbox, and become a better HR manager.

Select which topics to subscribe to: