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Why are companies responsible for employee burnout?


First of all we should clarify what Burnout Syndrome is.  The term burnout was used for the first time by an American psychologist called Herbert Freudenberger. He described it as the consequence of very high stress levels that are frequent in certain types of Jobs. Thus burnout can be definedby exhaustion and depersonalization (negativism/cynicism) and is found predominantly in caring and social professions (e.g. social workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists)”.

Even though it’s more prominent in the occupations mentioned above, nowadays we notice that the phenomenon is spreading to all types of careers and being felt all over the world, in some cultures more than others.

Studies found that the main reasons for this include being swamped daily at work and having unrealistic goals or expectations. In a study conducted by Gallup, they found out that “employees who are very often or always burned out are 63% more likely to take a sick day, 23% more likely to visit the emergency room”and also they are three times more likely to leave their current employer.

In extreme situations, burnout leads to depression and even suicide.

But if you think this is a personal issue, or due to character features of the person, you are wrong. Burnout is a problem with the companies and their organizational culture, and usually bosses tend to ignore it.

Why are they responsible for it and what can they do to change the phenomenon? Let’s find out!

Image by Jcomp via Freepik.com


  1. Managers focus on the group, not on the individual
  2. More than organizational, this is a societal problem. And it happens in all the contexts where you have a leading figure, such as in education. A leader should pay attention to its subordinate’s individuality. He or she should be able to understand the value of each individual and be interested in their difficulties helping them to cope with it.  Employees whose manager is always willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62% less likely to be burned out

  2. Lack of autonomy and flexibility
  3. Autonomy is the key for motivation and the lack of it is the worst enemy of fulfillment.  The problem is that sometimes companies tend to control too much their employees and place no trust in them. A controlling environment is restraining and suffocating and won’t bring any benefit neither to employees nor to the company.
  4. According to a meta-analysis of 30 000 workers worldwide, there are some practices companies can use to enhance employees’ motivation, an healthy psychological functioning and performance such as:
  • - Giving opportunities for employees to make their own choices;
  • - Encouraging self-initiated behaviors;
  • - Having interest to ear employees’ point of view;
  • - Encouraging ownership over goals;
  • - Avoiding micro-management and avoiding rewards or sanctions based on desired job behaviors.
  2. Conflict of values
  3. If one’s personal values go against the company ones it can cause a very uncomfortable feeling that can lead to burnout. When more employees feel the same way, it’s time to rethink company’s values. In fact, sometimes company’s organizational culture is out of date. It’s important to evaluate the satisfaction level of employees on a broader level to understand what might be the problem.  
  4. Usually, the lack of internal coherence between company’s values and its behavior might frustrate employees and cause an internal conflict that can escalate to high levels of anxiety.
  5. It’s also extremely important for recruiters to explain in detail the values of the company when hiring new professionals. Talent is not enough if there is no cultural fit.
  7. Lack of financial rewards
  8. Money is the primary reason for working. If the salary doesn’t match the job responsibility it might make workers feel unmotivated. Furthermore, if the situation prevails during a long period of time, the feelings of exasperation can intensify leading to burnout.

  2. Excessive collaboration or lack of it
  4. On one hand companies sometimes have too many decision makers which can fill people with reunions, emails, and calls and end up in exhaustion. According to Harvard Business Review “The average frontline supervisor devotes about eight hours each week (a full business day) to sending, reading and answering e-communications—many of which shouldn’t have been sent to or answered by those managers
  5. One way of breaking this habits is by changing and adjusting organizational structures and routines. For instance, untangling unnecessary complex relations and tasks.
  6. One the other hand, some companies have lack of communication and spaces of collaboration. The feeling of isolation and not being able to work and make decisions in team is prejudicial for employees’ well-being.

  2. Employees are not taught on how to manage their time
  4. Rather, usually the faster and better they work, the more responsibility they have until a point of collapse. Overwork is the most studied reason for job burnout. Today, in a large number of companies, overwork is still seen as the norm and usually is well acknowledged by people. The first practice to demystify is “The more the employee works, the better professional she/he is”. Actually, productivity is inversely proportional to overwork.
  5. Fortunately companies are finding new ways of addressing this problem. For instance, some are trying to reduce working hours in order to improve worker’s well-being and consequently boost productivity.
  6. Amazon for instance has a pilot schedule where it gives the option for the employers to work 30 hours a week with 3 quarters of the 40 hours a week payment and with the same benefits.  It’s time to start to give more importance to work-life balance!

After all, we proved burnout is in fact avoidable. Let’s be optimistic and count on technology and the future to bring important weapons to fight employees’ burnout!

By: Joana Correia

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