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Burnout Recovery: What you need to know

Published February 10, 2023 (last updated on July 11, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer


The workforce is experiencing severe disruptions and dynamic changes across the world. Volatile economic conditions, lack of skilled labour, and the evolution of technology are pushing employees and employers over the edge. These disruptions have a significant impact on employees and employers and HR professionals. It is putting them under pressure, increasing stress and leading to burnout. Is your business being affected? And how can you deal with burnout in the workplace? How can you support burnout recovery for your employees?

The Great Exhaustion

A ‘Great Exhaustion’ is expected to impact global workforces by 2023 with 49% of the workforce saying they feel at least somewhat burnt out. The blurring line between home and work coupled with unrealistic expectations is forcing employees to push themselves and burnout before they can even settle in. Let’s look at the definition of burnout and its impact on your business.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and

  • reduced professional efficacy.

Key Facts

Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life. It is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. It is not classified as a medical condition.

Other important things to remember:

  • Burnout is a syndrome, not a disease or illness

  • Burnout is different from stress, anxiety, and depression

  • Burnout is not an individual’s fault but rather a symptom of the workplace

  • Burnout happens gradually

Symptoms of burnout

Signs and symptoms of burnout include:

  • Lack of energy

  • Reduced productivity

  • Lack of satisfaction from achievements

  • Disturbed sleep patterns

  • Inability to focus

  • High absenteeism

Burnout often happens gradually. Chronic workplace-related stress can turn into burnout if unmanaged or ignored.

Stages of burnout

There are different stages of burnout:

  • Constantly thinking about achieving more

  • Pushing yourself to work harder regularly

  • Not prioritizing personal needs, health or sleep

  • Taking things personally

  • Base self-worth and happiness on your job and work related achievements

  • Denial of emotions and needs

  • Obvious behavioural changes

  • Exhaustion

  • Burnout

Employee burnout

Burnout is on the rise with 40% of executives reporting feeling burnt out. Over four million American workers quit their jobs each month in 2022 to search for a job that supported their mental well-being. According to the State of Workplace Burnout, 2023 unmanageable workload and burnout are the top reasons people are giving for leaving an employer during the last 24 months.

The current employment landscape is so tough and complicated that even HR professionals can’t escape the brunt of burnout. 73%of HR professionals and leaders have reported feeling burnt out due to the excessive challenges of the job. Recruiting and hiring are competitive leading to HR professionals struggling to achieve targets and meet hiring goals. Conditions are so bad that 61% of HR professionals surveyed have considered quitting their job in the last year.

Impact of employee burnout

In 2022, burnout continued to increase across every demographic. But it does affect some people disproportionately more than others. Women experience higher levels of burnout than men and people in the 18-24 age group feel burnt out more than any other age group. This trend is highly concerning. It indicates that burnout is being felt by those younger and earlier in the workforce and their careers.

Those experiencing burnout also report lower levels of productivity and quality of work than those not experiencing burnout. Employees who often experience burnout at work are 63% more likely to take a sick day.

Employer burnout

Burnout can affect anyone and that includes employers. Recently, Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation stating that she did not have enough in her tank to lead the country. She mentioned the challenges of the job making it difficult for her to keep up and manage relationships in her personal life. People in high pressure jobs or management positions experience burnout due to the risks and stress of the role involved.

Business owners and employers are grappling with challenges on all fronts.

The biggest factors contributing to employer burnout are:

  • Lack of skilled labour

  • Inflation

  • Economic uncertainty

  • Keeping up with employment relations changes and updates

  • Managing workloads for employees

1 in 5 Australian small business owners have been diagnosed with a mental health condition in recent months. Business owners and employers are burning the midnight oil to keep their doors open and it is reflected in their mental well-being.

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How can employers support burnout recovery?

The first question for leaders and workplaces to consider is, why are my employees feeling burnt out? What is it about the role and the work environment that is causing them stress? How can I improve conditions and support them? And can you recover from burnout?

Before we dive deeper into the answer, a thing to remember is that recovering from burnout requires an in-depth solution and strategy. It is not cured by yoga or free snacks or a fancy office. Recent research suggests that the onus for managing burnout lies on the company, not the individual. It is the company and workplace that can help someone recover from burnout.

An effective strategy to help recover from job burnout is simply asking people what they need. This doesn’t mean big-picture stuff or expensive rehauls of your office. You need to ask your employees some important questions to assist them in burnout recovery.

What can I do to make your daily work life easier?

80% of employees said they want flexibility. While most conversations and workplaces are focusing on location centric flexibility, the question of when people work seems to be significant. Employees want more than the conventional 9-5 can offer them. 94% of employees want schedule flexibility, basically choosing their hours of productivity. Schedule flexibility is linked to positive employee emotions, satisfaction, and performance. Employees with schedule flexibility show the highest scores across the board for quality of life, better work-life balance, and have an improved ability to focus. Workers with schedule flexibility are 26% less likely to be burned out and report more than five times greater ability to manage work-related stress. Offering schedule flexibility could be one way to reduce burnout and increase employee engagement. Employees with no schedule flexibility are more than twice as likely to look for a new job in the coming year.

If we have X budget for our team, what would be your recommendation to spend it on?

You can conduct an anonymous survey and collect data. Once the data has been collected, review it, analyse it, and share it with the team. You also need to follow through with the suggestion that receives the most votes. A mistake companies end up making is conducting regular surveys and not doing anything useful with the data collected. If you ask for suggestions and never follow through, your employees will stop answering truthfully or engaging meaningfully with the company.

Managers and burnout

Managers are the people directly influencing employees daily. They are in charge of daily stress levels and managing workloads. If employees are experiencing burnout or job stress due to workplace demands, personal relationships with managers can help.

Managers are also the first in line to understand and deal with burnout symptoms. They can help relieve stress and prevent burnout before it happens by supporting employees and their mental health. Employees who have the opportunity to do what they do best are 57% less likely to experience burnout frequently.

Steps managers can take for a successful recovery from job burnout:

  • Have self-awareness- Managers report more stress and signs of burnout than individual contributors. They have demanding jobs and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed due to the responsibilities and pressure. Self-aware managers who understand healthy coping strategies are key to supporting employees.

  • Set realistic expectations- Employees value honesty in the workplace environment. As a manager, you should set realistic expectations about the job demands and workloads. Your job as a leader is to help your employees manage their stress, maintain energy levels, and set boundaries with internal and external stakeholders. You can do this using goal setting, regular feedback sessions, and ensuring efficient work performance.

  • Put well-being first- Are your managers willing to discuss the risks of burnout or burnout symptoms? Have they engaged in coaching conversations about handling stress levels or stress management techniques? Are they getting enough sleep and regular exercise? How is their overall health?

  • Listen- Sometimes all you need to do to help reduce stress is listen to your employees. If they are experiencing self-doubt, how can you as a manager support them to improve their well-being? Are they experiencing severe burnout or chronic fatigue or constant stress? What do they need from you?

Wellbeing and mental health

A crucial part of recovery from burnout is maintaining a work-life balance and helping employees manage stress. Long-term stress can impact employees and lead to them feeling emotionally exhausted. If businesses or employers want to implement an effective burnout recovery plan, then they have to build a people-first culture. A people-first culture in reality talks about occupational consequences, handling stressful situations, goal setting, and engaging employees and helping them relieve stress.

By looking at employees subjectively, you understand how you can help them handle severe work-related stress or even identify the physical signs of burnout. Well-being is a gradual process. As burnout doesn’t happen overnight, so does well-being. The recovery process takes consistent efforts and for someone who has experienced burnout, it can mean different things. For some, it might mean focusing on their health while for others it can be preventing burnout by recognising the physical symptoms of burnout and stress.

Managers and employers should remember to keep communication lines open, so employees know what to do when dealing with a stressful event or suffering from emotional exhaustion.

Improving the employee experience

Organisations can actively prevent burnout by designing an engaging employee experience or improving it.

Are your employees regularly suffering from overwhelming stress? Can they manage workloads efficiently? Are high targets causing pressure within your team?

Employee experience is the sum of all touchpoints and interactions an employee has through the employee life cycle. A positive and engaging employee experience focuses on the employee and helps them set boundaries within the workforce. If you have a systematic review of your employee experience and can see which touchpoints are being ignored or causing stress or burnout, it can help you fix those flaws. It can be that it’s a new job for the employee and uncertain expectations are leading to burnout and stress. Or it can be that managers do not have adequate work resources available to achieve intended targets.

The employee experience comprises various stages and at each stage, you have an opportunity to spend time with the employee, connect, and see how you can support them moving forward.

Tips for burnout recovery

  • Identify your stress levels- Chronic or unmanaged stress can have severe consequences on your health. Are you constantly feeling worried or feeling tired? If you pinpoint the source and identify your stress levels, you will be better positioned to manage stress and recover from burnout.

  • Notice physical symptoms- Burnout can manifest in physical symptoms such as fatigue, lack of sleep, forgetfulness, unexplained muscle pain, and difficulty maintaining personal and professional relationships. By noticing physical and common symptoms of burnout, you understand the signals your body is trying to send.

  • Pinpoint the source– Exploring the contributors of stress is very important for burnout recovery. Burnout is usually related to demanding job and professional factors, but you can also potentially experience burnout when managing different schedules or tasks, dealing with personal problems, or having to care for a loved one with a serious health condition. Trying to do everything on your own can cause emotional exhaustion and lead to burnout faster. Pinpoint the source of your burnout and you can figure out burnout recovery.

  • Talk to someone- Burnout can be so overwhelming and exhausting that you may not be able to address it individually. Burnout prevention is also rare since we may not be even aware that we are inching toward complete burnout. By reaching out to a loved one you can feel supported and rediscover joy. Friends, family members, mentors, managers, and partners can help you brainstorm other strategies to tackle burnout. They also know you well enough to notice common symptoms that others may have ignored. While different personality traits may handle burnout differently and not everyone will feel comfortable enough to talk about their health, you never know what might help.

  • Take charge- An important part of burnout recovery is taking back control of your life and emotions. External factors may have contributed to burnout, and you blame those factors, feeling helpless and powerless. For those looking to recover from burnout, you have to take charge of how you deal with stress. Delegate the tasks that you can so it leaves you time to focus on personal health. You also have to put yourself first and be firm about your needs and emotions.

  • Setting boundaries- One of the mistakes people make is accepting commitments that can overwhelm them. Before you agree to take on the responsibility or accept an invitation, pause and take a moment. Consider what will be required of you if you agree. Review the impact it may have on your existing schedule, relationships, workload, and emotions. Does taking this additional task/responsibility add considerable value to your life? Does it help improve your life? People who successfully recover from burnout know how to say no. They understand that you can’t pour from an empty cup.

  • Get professional help- Burnout can give rise to feelings of hopelessness, and despair, and also potentially lead to depression. The road to recovery from burnout is not simple and doesn’t involve easy cures like more exercise or deep breathing. While those strategies play an important role in supporting your recovery, you need more than just that to achieve good health. Getting professional help such as therapy will allow you the necessary professional guidance and insight you need to identify causes, understand stress management techniques, and navigate life challenges. You can also consult a therapist to help you develop a recovery training program.

It is possible to recover from burnout and get back to feeling like yourself. You have to get rid of the hustle mentality and illusion that burnout is the price you pay for success. If you are an employer, you need to put your people first and give them the tools they need to succeed.

This document is intended to act as general information. It does not constitute as medical advice. Please consult a qualified professional for any medical advice or information.

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