Six Employee Burnout Causes and Cures


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For a long time, burnout was considered a “stress syndrome,” one that can have a significant impact on mental and physical health. But in 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” that occurs as a result of chronic workplace stress that is not effectively managed. 

And as we’ve discussed in a previous post, unmanaged burnout can impact not only individuals but an entire team as well.

So, can managers help mitigate burnout in their teams? Yes, and it starts by understanding the reasons why burnout happens. 

Here are the six most common employee burnout causes, and what managers can do in each situation. 

1. Deadline Burnout

The ability to get work done on time can become a challenge when deadlines are set too aggressively. Managers are often tasked with addressing deadline burnout because many employees don’t feel comfortable pushing back on deadlines or raising their hand for help. So, managers must be in tune with their teams to recognize burnout symptoms early and take action before it’s too late.

However, taking action around deadline burnout does not always involve moving the deadline. A more helpful approach is for managers to engage with employees directly to acknowledge the situation, get more information by asking questions, and provide support while working toward a solution to meet the deadline in the most effective way possible. 

2. Culture Burnout

Culture burnout stems from team-wide exhaustion, but it’s not necessarily the result of long hours. Instead, it can be a result of team-wide dynamics that deplete employees’ energy, engagement, and commitment levels required to achieve their goals. 

Whether it’s unclear communication from leadership to employees, lack of transparency, or inconsistency in the strategic direction or approach of work, it’s critical to identify the root cause. Once identified, managers need to take a series of deliberate and consistent steps to build back trust with their teams. 

Worth noting: The causes can be interrelated and, if left unchecked, culture burnout in one team can quickly spread to surrounding teams, and become pervasive throughout the organization.

3. Personal Burnout

Personal burnout is often the result of inconsistent communication and guidance, unclear expectations, or role misalignment and fatigue, among others. Personal burnout requires careful attention and empathy from managers. If left unmanaged, it not only can threaten employee wellness, but it can also influence team dynamics and lead to culture burnout.

To mitigate personal burnout, managers need to engage with employees directly to acknowledge the situation, show compassion and empathy, ask questions, and provide support. If an immediate solution isn’t feasible — which can happen — managers should establish a clear timeline for revisiting the conversation.

4. Passion Burnout

Passion burnout occurs when the deliberate and chosen exposure to a particular skill or topic becomes too strong and leads to a desire to detach from the activity. Without a clear direction, or with ambiguous deadlines, it can lead employees to get so deeply immersed in their specialty areas that they burn out before reaching the company-defined goal. 

Managers need to provide clear direction and time-bound milestones so employees can stay focused while channeling their interests to achieve impactful outcomes. 

5. Skill Burnout

Skill burnout happens when individuals face skill deficiencies — or skill excess — in their specific roles. This type of employee burnout often leads to employees feeling frustrated and misplaced within the organization. 

Skill burnout can be managed, but it requires managers to have regular one-on-ones with employees to recognize where any skill gaps or surpluses may exist for their particular work. For skill gaps, explore which trainings may be needed; for a surplus, explore ways to offer employees greater challenges. 

6. Alignment Burnout

Alignment burnout happens when there is a disconnect between what something is intended to be and what something actually is. This lack of alignment can create ambiguity, anxiety, and frustration that leads to burnout over time. For example, limited, unclear, or inconsistent goal-setting, or the absence of job descriptions and career paths across the organization, are common causes of alignment burnout.

Mitigating alignment burnout requires managers to actually listen and understand their team. Getting feedback from the team and clarifying expectations — sometimes with involvement from the senior leadership team — can ensure greater alignment. 

Don’t Let Burnout Become an Organization-wide Issue

These are the six most common causes of employee burnout, none of which are mutually exclusive. In fact, the prevalence of one type of employee burnout can inspire other types of burnout, which is how burnout can become an organization-wide issue. If managers don’t know how to recognize signs of burnout and take action early, it can become increasingly more challenging to manage it. 

For more insights into effectively recognizing and mitigating burnout in your team, download the Manager’s Guide to Burnout.

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