Employee burnout

Published 10/10/2018

Cause and Effect


Burnout is an individual’s response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors within the workplace (Maslach et al., 2001).


This is what Neil Patel, co-founder of Neil Patel Digital has to say about it.



It is so common that everyone in any career – engineers, sales managers, tech support personnel, etc. – is susceptible to burnout. Despite being so common, many managers aren’t aware of why burnout happens or how to keep it from happening. But they need to know.


Being able to understand burnout, its causes, and how to prevent it is essential in order to maintain a positive environment and keep the best talent on the team.


It doesn’t simply result from working too many hours in a high-demand environment. Rather, it is a multidimensional response with many complex causes.


Below is information compiled from Maslach and colleagues (2001) on the three dimensions of burnout, its causes, and how to prevent it.


1.  Exhaustion results from the depletion of emotional resources to cope with the current work environment. This is the stressed out, overwhelmed employee.

2.  Cynicism is an individual’s distant attitude toward the job. This is the disgruntled employee.

3.  Inefficacy is a reduction in personal accomplishment. This is the stressed out employee who has developed a cynical attitude and has given up trying.


Causes of Burnout

Below is a list of common things that cause workplace burnout:


Work-Related Factors


Job Demands – overwhelming job demands (aka overload). We all know the team member with a stack of papers on their desk, a to-do list that spans two pages, and a panicked look on their face.


Role Conflict – conflicting job demands. This is the start-up co-founder who is texting his engineering team under the table while at a meeting with VCs.

Role Ambiguity – a lack of adequate information to do the job well. Time to re-think your “VP of Disruption,” “culture leader,” and “anything ninja” job postings.


Lack of Appropriate Resources – improper training and/or inadequate resources to execute the job effectively. This is the new engineer told to “go for it” with a Dell from 1995.


Lack of Social Support – lack of social support from supervisors has more of an effect on burnout than lack of social support from co-workers. Ignore and ostracize your employees if you want them to quit.


Lack of Feedback – related to all three dimensions of burnout. Feedback is like hard work; if you don’t give it, you’ll never get exactly what you want.


Little Participation in Decision Making – the less involved employees are in decision making processes, the higher the rates of burnout. Time to delegate the choosing of which donuts to buy on Monday morning.


Personality Factors


Low Levels of Hardiness (a sense of control over events and openness to change) are associated with higher burnout scores. This is the co-worker who thinks everything is out of his hands.


Burnout is higher among individuals who have an external locus of control (attributing events and achievements to external events, other people, or to chance). This is the head of marketing who credits the success of the new campaign to luck.


Burned-out individuals cope with stressful events in a passive, defensive way. This is the stressed out employee who has given up.


Person x Context Factors


Workload Mismatch – overloaded with work or performing the wrong kind of work. An example of this is the engineer who is transferred to the marketing team and feels useless and unhappy.


Mismatch in Control – insufficient control over the resources needed to do their work effectively or insufficient authority to pursue their work in the most effective manner. This is an individual working for a non-profit who lacks the funds necessary to execute her strategy.


Lack of Appropriate Awards – is associated with burnout:

1.  Insufficient financial rewards – not receiving salary or benefits commensurate with achievements.

2.  Lack of social rewards – when hard work is ignored and not appreciated by others.

3.  Lack of intrinsic rewards – lacking pride in doing something important and doing it well.


We all know the hard-working, underappreciated employee who quit after receiving news that he will be denied a raise (again) due to budget cuts.


Loss of a Positive Connection with Others – feeling ostracized and/or not sharing similar values with the group. We all know the employee that has gone rogue is usually burned out.


Unfairness – unequal workload or pay, cheating, and/or evaluations or promotions that are handled inappropriately. This is the frustration that results in the workplace when the super-friendly but under-qualified staffer is promoted by her buddy, the boss.


Conflict between values – doing something unethical or not in accordance with their own values. This is the jaded young attorney who quits his job at a cut throat firm to “fight the good fight” as a public defender.

Burnout is an individual experience that is influenced by social, organizational, personality factors, and/or an interaction among all three. The relationship of the individual with their work can be disrupted by any one, or a combination of, these factors resulting in burnout.


Effects of Burnout in the Workplace


Burnout not only affects the employee’s performance, but impacts the performance of the team and work environment. Below are 7 effects of burnout in the workplace (Maslach et al., 2001):


1.  Job withdrawal: Intention to leave the job, Absenteeism, Turnover

2.  Lower productivity

3.  Ineffectiveness

4.  Decreased job satisfaction

5.  Reduced commitment to the job and/or organization

6.  Greater personal conflict with colleagues

7.  Disrupts coworkers’ job tasks


Creating a work environment that prevents burnout and is conducive to productivity, employee engagement, and overall satisfaction is critical to having an amazing team.