• Edwin and George

Burnout: companies need to do more


EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies


We like our 40-hour work routine so much we do two of them every week.

Australians are suffering from burnout.


It’s official.


We’re experiencing one of the highest rates of burnout compared to the global average:

  • 89% are working late – an increase of 8% in one year

  • Almost 13% work more than 50-hours each week

  • Nearly 80% have suffered burnout in the last 12-months

  • 20 % have taken time off work for mental unwellness in the last year

  • Only 15% feel their view natters at work. (1)

Fatigued and stressed:

  • How many of us feel that no matter how hard we work, we will fail?

  • How many have asked - ‘can I do this job much longer?’

  • How many are at odds with their boss or colleagues?

  • How many have missed a family event - or were late because of an issue at work?

Things are going in the wrong direction:

  • Work demands are going up

  • We attract new people in – but we quickly churn others out

  • Companies - over promising on support and development

  • Inclusion – say one thing and do another. (2)

Burnout is one of the biggest workplace issue we face.

We hear of companies that try to provide solutions:

  • Encouraging workers to schedule breaks

  • Promoting exercise and time at the gym

  • Providing sessions on well-being.

All good initiatives.

But the solution lies with changing the way companies work – not simply changing the habits of employees.

Burnout defined


‘We’re exhausted.


Burnout is a feeling that you’ve hit the wall; but then you have to climb the wall and just keep going. There’s no lasting rest – only the background hum of exhaustion.’(3)

In 2019, the World Health Organisation defined burnout:


‘An occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’ (4)


The definition is significant.

  • Burnout as an occupational problem

  • Companies are on notice

  • Psychological safety now as important as traditional health and safety.

It’s a big deal.


We have clear rules protecting employees working in hazardous conditions - shouldn’t we also protect them from working in emotionally toxic workplaces?

Despite this, only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy compared to 76% for physical safety – only 56% believe their most senior leader value mental health. (5)


Signs of burnout


In our consulting we’re seeing a spike in people who used to love their jobs - but now they say things like: ‘ I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore.’ They’re burned out – emotionally exhausted and cynical – as a result of chronic and acute work stress. (6)


Burnout is an ongoing condition:

  • Overwhelming exhaustion – ‘I can’t do it anymore,’ ‘I can’t think straight’

  • Feelings of cynicism about work, colleagues or the company you work for – doing the bare minimum rather than doing our best

  • A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

In addition, job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and presenteeism. (7)

Causes of burnout

  • Workload – too many demands for the time available

  • Time at work - working in the evenings or weekends. Trying to be everything to everybody

  • Perceived lack of control – no autonomy over your work. No choice. Being micro-managed

  • Reward – others don’t notice your good work and acknowledge it. Not being paid fairly. Lack of transparency around the pay process

  • Community – poor relationships with colleagues or the boss. Politics and a lack of trust. Being undermined in work situations. ‘Us and ‘them’ atmosphere. In-fighting and jostling for position. Blame culture

  • Fairness – unfair administration of company policies. Favouritism. Discrimination

  • Values – hazy understanding of company vision and values. Lack of clear purpose about your role. ‘What am I doing this for?’(8)

Burnout is increasing

There’s so much chronic stress, it’s happening to everyone all at once (9)


But the issue was there before the pandemic.


In 2016, research by Stanford University put the cost of stress in the US workforce at $190 billion per annum. (10)


We may not know the impact of the pandemic on our mental health for years.

However, mental health conditions currently cost Australia approximately A$10.9 billion per year. This comprises A$4.7 billion in absenteeism, A$6.1 billion in presenteeism and A$146 million in compensation claims. (11)


Burnout and company factors


When companies with high levels of employee burnout are studied, there are common factors, most to do with the way work is done:

  • Poor decision making processes – too many people involved in simple decisions. Continually requesting information. Putting decisions off

  • Complicated organisational structures – driving excessive collaboration

  • Weak time management practices. Pointless meetings. Poor understanding of where priorities lie

  • Over-engineered and bureaucratic processes. Spending a large proportion of time adhering to internal processes

In theory leaders should be shielding their teams from stress - in reality they are often a cause of it.


Millions of employees around the world suffer the consequences of bad leadership, including burnout, alienation and decreased mental and physical well-being.

Executives need to own up to their role in creating workplace stress that leads to burnout – heavy workloads, job insecurity and frustrating work routines that include far too many meetings and far too little time for creative work.’ (12)


Things companies can do


Three quarters of Australian employees believe workplaces should provide support to someone who is experiencing depression or anxiety – not surprisingly, those who have taken leave due to having a mental health condition are even more likely to agree that employers should support employees in these situations (86%). (13)


Some things companies can consider:

  1. Start measuring burnout – include a small number of regular questions in a pulse survey which highlight areas of concern

  2. Train managers to have conversations about wellbeing

  3. Improve remote working experience - people who work from home enjoy greater flexibility - but they’re experiencing higher burnout. Think about work practices and where improvements can be made – for example, the number of meetings and meeting discipline.

  4. Will employees benefit from flexible work patterns?

  5. Scan for signs of potential burnout - check-in with staff on a more regular basis

  6. Implement workplace policies, practices and programs that encourage employees to seek help for mental health conditions - promote resources designed to protect employee mental health throughout the workplace to ensure that employees are aware of them

  7. Provide mental health training for employees


Finally:


Remove toxic leaders – a simple one-on-one conversation may be enough to point out that leadership isn’t for everybody. This is important because toxic leadership behaviours spread fast.


When it comes to burnout, companies need to do more.


By demonstrating their commitment to good mental health in the working environment, corporate leaders will contribute to the reduction of stigma around the subject – and improve working practices in the process.





  1. Why some workers are burning out more than others, HR Director, 23 March 2021

  2. Reflections on inclusion at work, EGM blog

  3. Can’t Even: How millennials became the burnout generation, Anne Helen Peterson

  4. see www.who.int 28 May 2019

  5. www.headsup.org .au, The state of workplace mental health in Australia

  6. Thriveglobal.com The three myths of workplace stress and burnout in Australia, 10 November 2019

  7. Rethinking burnout, Jennifer Moss

  8. Six causes of burnout and how to avoid them, Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  9. www.headsup.org .au, The state of workplace mental health in Australia

  10. The relation between workplace stress and mortality, Management Science Volume 62 2016

  11. www.headsup.org .au, The state of workplace mental health in Australia

  12. Making compassion a habit, Anita Mckee and Kandi Wiens

  13. www.headsup.org .au, The state of workplace mental health in Australia

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