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How to Support Your Employees with Burnout

After over a year of stumbling through a global pandemic, it’s no surprise that many are reeling from burnout. The whole idea of maintaining some semblance of work-life balance seems like a faraway dream. Boundaries? Work-life balance? Yeah, they packed up and gave me a friendly wave as they dashed out the door months ago. But what is burnout exactly?

While burnout is not considered a medical condition, it’s been speculated that it may be a subset of depression. There’s strong opposition to this notion, however, as outlined in a recent article by Psychology Today. As someone who has navigated the deep waters of both, I find that I agree with the perception that burnout doesn’t automatically equate to depression.

I’ve personally found there to be a distinct difference in the weight of each one. Depression is an incredibly heavy, debilitating medical condition that can completely stifle someone’s ability to function in all areas of life. A person with burnout will typically experience substantial resistance specifically surrounding their ability to work. Burnout can be a stepping stone to depression, but they are not one and the same.

An essential component of burnout is its association with the workplace. After prolonged exposure to stress, there are three principal factors that, combined together, generate employee burnout. 

They are:

  • – Emotional exhaustion
  • – Depersonalization
  • – Reduced sense of personal accomplishment

Let’s take it a step further – here are a few ways burnout can present itself:

  • – An increase in irritability, impatience, cynicism at work
  • – Fatigue, exhaustion, inability to focus
  • – Decreased productivity or quality of work
  • – A lack of energy to be consistently productive
  • – Restlessness or insomnia
  • – Increase in physical illness or discomfort

Any of that sound familiar? Things can begin to spiral once you begin to notice the effects of burnout in your life. If you’ve gone through it before, you know it’s much harder to recover after the fact than it is to be proactive and get ahead of the curve.

Here is where you come in, employers! It’s necessary to play an active role in continuously cultivating a healthy work environment to prevent the occurrence of burnout. While it may seem like a daunting task, there are many things that you can do. These are three ways to start:

1 – Encourage Mental Health Days 

One of the best ways to alleviate stress is by taking time off to unplug and reset, but an employee may hesitate to request time off for fear of not being seen as a team player. A creative way to demonstrate your appreciation for your employees’ efforts would be to institute a quarterly Wellness Day policy, where employees are free to take one day off when they need to decompress.

2 – Be A Proactive Leader  

Create a space for open dialogue, and educate your staff about burnout. Show your team through your own actions that the workplace is a safe space for open communication by conducting periodic check-ins or allotting office hours for employees to come to you for any support they may need with their workload.

3 – Practice the 80/20 Rule

This method requires employees to know their top priorities and narrow down their focus to spending 80% of their time and energy on only 20% of the tasks that are deemed the most important. Doing so prevents an employee from spreading themselves too thin and burning out.

Here’s a bonus tip that you can implement right this second – celebrate your employees’ wins! Even a small acknowledgment of an employees’ efforts can go a long way in restoring or boosting their motivation and morale.

While burnout is the focus of this piece, I find it important to note that it is also necessary to normalize the conversation about depression in the workplace. Employers can support struggling employees by providing access to mental health resources and understanding the challenges that come with this medical condition. This will play a massive role in the overall well-being of your employees.


How to Prevent Employee Burnout (SHRM)
How to Douse Chronic Workplace Stress Before It Explodes into Full Burnout (SHRM)
Job Burnout: How to Spot it and Take Action (Mayo Clinic)

Written by Harleen Bola