What are the main causes of burnout?
By Madison Hanscom, PhD
Burnout is deep and pervasive. It is marked by emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, cynicism towards others, and depleted mental resources (1). The main causes:
The five factors that were most strongly related to burnout (as indicated by a survey of nearly 7,500 full time employees) are unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from the management, and unreasonable time pressure (2). There is something these burnout correlates have in common — they are issues with the workplace, not the person. Although teaching employees strategies to deal with these burnout factors can be valuable (e.g., meditation, resilience), it is not addressing the root cause. It is up to management to fix the system and culture in order to make deep, meaningful change happen.
The bad news: Burnout has negative effects on everyone. It is related to turnover, lessened productivity, counterproductive work behavior, lower motivation, and negative health outcomes (3). The side effects of burnout can last a long time. Burnout in time is associated with diseases in the long term (e.g., musculoskeletal, cardiovascular) and mental health consequences such as depression, insomnia, and anxiety (4). Helping a workforce suffering from burnout is not an easy task.
The good news: Burnout does not appear overnight. It often takes time to develop. This can allow leaders to get ahead of problems, check in often, and try to mitigate the situation before it becomes a larger setback. Healthy employees are key to having a resilient workplace, and they are worth the investment of your time. Identify the antecedents to burnout in your company or work environment and get ahead of them.
A safe workplace means employees who are psychologically and physically healthy. At Propulo Consulting, we care about the health and wellbeing of all workers. We partner with you to improve the world of work using the latest insights from research. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture.
(1) Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Sanz-Vergel, A. I. (2014). Burnout and work engagement: The JD–R approach.
(3) Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 397-422.
(4) Salvagioni, D. A. J., Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani, F. L., & de Andrade, S. M. (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PloS one.