workplace to blame for burnout Great People Inside

Burnout Speaks Volumes about the Workplace not the People

There is a tendency to think of burnout as an individual problem, that can be solved by doing yoga, better breathing techniques, practising resilience and the list goes on and on. But the evidence is mounting that by simply applying your very own ‘band-aid’ solutions to a fast-paced work environment can actually be detrimental to your health. Given the fact that ‘burnout’ is now officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organisation. Leaders and managers beware, it’s about time you start building a burnout prevention strategy.

The Emotional and Financial Toll

When Stanford researchers looked into how workplace stress affects health costs and mortality in the United States, their foundings were incredible: a net spend of nearly $190 billion (close to 8% of healthcare cases) and nearly 120,000 deaths each year. Worldwide, 615 million suffer from depression and anxiety and, according to a recent WHO study, which roughly translates into an estimated $1 trillion loss in productivity levels.

If those statistics haven’t scared you yet, think about the fact that companies who cannot afford healthcare plans for their employees, which ultimately leads to very high turnover, low productivity. In high-pressure companies, healthcare costs are 50% higher than in any other firm. In a recent study done by the American Psychological Association (APA) has been revealed that burned-out employees are 2,6 times as likely to be looking for another job, 63% to have a sick day and 23% have more chances of visiting the emergency room.

When experts still struggle to define burnout, how can we ask the managers and leaders to prevent it?

It’s Not Me, It’s You

According to the foremost expert on burnout, Christina Maslach, social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, we are attacking the problem from the completely wrong angle. She is worried about the new WHO classification in the IDC11. “Categorising burnout as a disease was an attempt by the WHO to provide definitions for what is wrong with people, instead of what is wrong with companies,” she says.  “When we just look at the person, what that means is, ‘Hey we’ve got to treat that person.’ ‘You can’t work here because you’re the problem.’ ‘We have to get rid of that person.’ Then, it becomes that person’s problem, not the responsibility of the organization that employs them.”

To further prove Maslach’s point, a survey of 7,500 full-time employees done by Gallup found that the top 5 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

The list above clearly demonstrates that the root causes of burnout do not necessarily lie with the individual and that they can be averted — if leadership would start their prevention strategies much faster along the way.


Ask Better Questions

When investing in burnout prevention strategies, it’s best to narrow the company’s efforts down to small, micro-pilots, which mean a lower budget and less risk. It is recommended to start with 1 or 2 departments or teams and asking one simple question: If we had this much budget and could spend it on X many items in our department, what would be the first priority? Have the people vote anonymously then share the data with all of them. Discuss what was prioritised and why and start working down the list. Employees may not have the perfect solution, but they can most certainly tell you what isn’t working — and that is often the most invaluable data.

Organisations have a chance, right now, to fix this type of thing. Burnout is preventable. It requires good organisational culture, better data, asking more timely and relevant questions, smarter (more micro) budgeting, and ensuring that wellness offerings are included as part of your well-being strategy. Keep the yoga, the resilience training, and the mindfulness classes — they are all terrific tools for optimizing mental health and managing stress. But, when it comes to employee burnout, remember — it’s on you leaders, not them.


There is a real value in providing companies with the tools to carry out regular organisational assessments and this is where Great People Inside comes to your aid. Our online platform offers the best solutions and tools for your company to thrive in every type of industry and any possible situation your organisation may find itself. In terms of lowering your employee turnover rates, we recommend our GR8 Full Spectrum assessment for hiring and 360° Survey for retention. Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It requires deep knowledge of your own organisation’s culture and a keen understanding of the candidate’s personality, strengths, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you find employees who can flourish and reach the highest performance required to constantly bring your company forward.

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