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By Sinakho Dhlamini, HR Content Specialist, Top Employers Institute
By Sinakho Dhlamini, HR Content Specialist, Top Employers Institute

Burnout and How Organisations Can Help



We’re entering the another year since the emergence of the global pandemic and the feelings of work and life-related stress have continued to be an ever-present topic on the minds of business leaders, HR professionals and employees alike. We’ve written articles that have touched the case for workplace mental health and revisited the importance of mental health and well-being of employees as we entered the second year of the pandemic, and how organisations can create a culture of resilience but the topic of how to promote mental health and well-being resources never ceases to be an important topic.

As much as many of us would like to move beyond reading about issues intensified by the global pandemic, it is essential to address a factor that could be affecting many workers across the globe and that is burnout. While burnout can be felt whether you work from home or in the office and was certainly a matter before the onset of the pandemic, it has been intensified by the effects of the pandemic.

What is occupational burnout

The WHO defines occupational burnout as a syndrome that is a result of experiencing a chronic level of workplace-related stress. The noticeable effects of burnout are increased feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from your job or having negative or cynicism related feelings related to your job; and reduced efficiency at your job. Burnout is a phenomenon that is related directly to your occupation and not directly seen in other aspects of your life.

Why is identifying occupational burnout important

Workplace related stress, especially when it becomes chronic as it does when it is become burnout, can become an issue that affects a person even outside of the effects that it has on their work performance. It can create problems in every aspect of their life, even leading to an adverse effect on interpersonal and family relationships. Burnout is damaging to employees and to the organisation that they work in. The symptoms of burnout inevitably affect the person dealing with burnout but also other members in their team as they struggle to meet the level and standard of work that they have committed themselves to meeting.

What are organisations doing to prevent occupational burnout

While the identification of this phenomenon can seem like it is shining a light into a dark tunnel with no visible end, there is good news. The good news is that there has never been a time where organisations have invested more time and strategic thinking into their policies around mental health and well-being.

In our recent survey amongst certified Top Employers in 2022, we identified that almost all (95%) of them saw well-being as a key business imperative and made steps to make this awareness felt within their organisations. 92% of Top Employers had ongoing communication around their well-being programmes, with 84% of them having their senior management involved in these established well-being programmes and 88% of them having initiatives to raise awareness about emotional well-being.

The focus on raising awareness about mental health and well-being programmes is the start to creating a work environment that is actively working towards meeting the needs of their workforce’s emotional health needs. However, raising awareness only touches the surface of what needs to be done in terms of organisations taking ownership of creating a healthy, positive stress-reducing work environment that allows them to complete their day-to-day work tasks effectively. Just three of the many preventative strategies used by Top Employers in their well-being programmes are:

  • 76% offer health days for their employees.
  • 84% offer personal development and self-awareness programmes.
  • 76% offer mindfulness and meditation programmes.

 These initiatives are good steps that many Top Employers are using to be organisations that prioritise the well-being of their people, but are these more general well-being practices enough to combat the complex issue of burnout? In many ways, these general practices do help to mediate an empathetic and have a work environment that fosters a place where employees feel that they are not overwhelmed by judgement.

Concluding Thoughts

Burnout is, unfortunately, a consequence of workplace stress and can be difficult for leaders and managers to spot in their workforce. As a result, leaders need to become cognisant of making steps towards fostering their well-being practices to meet employees when they need them. That work goes beyond simple awareness and is, instead, reliant on leaders managing a culture that is sensitive to well-being and mental health efforts. There is no one way to prevent burnout, but instead, it is a careful and considered journey that is best executed as a joint effort between leaders and their employees.