Why We Get Burnout Wrong 

startup recession stress

Being burnout is becoming somewhat of an epidemic. 

You hear it everywhere.

From friends, family or even acquittances, the word is commonly flooding our workplace vocabulary.

Personally, I have definitely felt burnout over the years as I was working. I have taken vacations to ‘heal’ me from this problem with the same problem occurring again once I was back. The symptoms of stress, headaches, mental and emotional exhaustion.

But what is burnout firstly?

According to helpguide.org, burnout is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands”. 

Officially part of the International Classification of Diseases

It sounds weird but the WHO (World Health Organization) announced that it was including burnout as part of its classification of diseases list. Many jumped on the bandwagon that this was now an actual medical condition which WHO was quick to rectify.

“Burn-out is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition… reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.” — WHO

Although the World Health Organization has recognized this is a worldwide issue, it is still confused at what the exact solution is.

Generally, we tend to think of burnout as an individual problem. I am not denying that it could boil down to the individual.

But many solutions that are offered to counter this problem include a recommendation of vacations, yoga or self-help classes (something which I did). 

But these are only temporary solutions that do not contribute to solving the actual problem at hand.

Evidence is slowly pointing towards one other thing that is causing this workplace phenomenon and it’s not towards the individual.

It’s towards the workplace itself. 

It’s a bigger problem than you think

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

When Stanford researchers looked into how workplace stress affects health and mortality rates, it was alarming to see the final results. Findings were discovered that at least in the United States, it led to spending on health-related costs of up to $190 billion a year and mortality rates amount to over 120,000 deaths.

Worldwide, it was estimated it cost the workforce over a trillion dollars in lost productivity each year. Ultimately, the roles that are more at risk are ones in more caregiving roles such as one within the medical fields (nursing, doctors, etc).

This is alarming considering not only the economic side of things but also the loss of human life.

So What Are The Reasons Causing it?

A survey of 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup found the top five reasons for burnout are:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

If you haven’t noticed, a common theme is appearing around these reasons. 

The roots of the problem of burnout are stemming more so at how employees are individually being treated or how a business is operating which trickles down. This includes leadership and management practices within the organization as well.

Even for sole business owners, having a lack of clarity of what you want to achieve, enforcing strict deadlines on yourself as well as unreasonable workloads can cause burnout issues in the long run. 

So What Can We Do?

First, understand why.

Often, employees will see the negative sides of a business rather than the positives. It’s engrained almost that if we spot something bad, we tend to focus a lot more on it than anything positive.

This is often referred to as negative bias (or negative effect). 

When of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.

Identifying these issues and cleaning up the ‘mess’ will tremendously help with the workplace. These could be simple things like running out of tea and coffee in the break room to management procedure issues.

It’s also important to not waste spending money on things that their company may not need. As an example, if your business bought a table tennis table but no one uses it, it might be seen more like a waste of money than anything.

Focus on why your employees potentially are feeling this way.

So Start Asking Questions

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Data is king and understanding what your employees actually want is essential.

It’s not about finding the magical solution but identifying what things are not going right and rectifying those low hanging fruits first.

With feedback more accessible than ever, organizations have a chance to fix these issues now. Having good organizational hygiene and asking relevant questions to understand what employees want is important.

Having good wellness offerings are great but it’s up to management to understand what truly employees want and keep them happy. 

Have an easy way for employees to reach out and discuss potential issues within the business in a safe open environment.

Start Using 1on1s more efficiently

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Every business has some kind of informal or formal meeting between manager and employee. This could be weekly, bi-weekly or even a monthly occurrence.

This can be a great first step to getting employees to open up on potential problems with the business, their workload or more.

On the flip side, if you’re an employee of a business, you can also use this as an opportunity to raise your own concerns. Managers are there to help your day to day and even if some management practices can’t change, they can help at least focus on things they can influence.


Most people understand what burnout.

But most also fail to get the causation behind this epidemic. 

As a business, having burnout employees can cost you more than you think. Keeping your employees happy is effectively increasing their productivity.

The most important part to note is you can also take it into your own hands to make a change. As a manager, employee or the CEO, there are many ways you can influence change yourself.

The most important part is asking why and doing what you can to make an impact for yourself or others.

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