Burnout is defined as a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stresses on the job. It manifests itself as exhaustion, cynicism, and diminished professional efficacy.

There is a risk of burnout when a discrepancy prevails between the expectations of a motivated employee and the reality of an unfavourable work situation. This discrepancy progresses towards burnout via dysfunctional ways of coping. Severe burnout is related to performance deficits, mental disorders, and physical illnesses. It is also related to a higher risk of work disability, as indicated by sickness absence and disability pension. Prevention of burnout is quite similar to management of work-related stress . To achieve a successful recovery from burnout it is essential to change the working conditions where burnout has developed.

 Employee burnout: Are your workers at risk?

While workplace stress in the form of deadlines, overtime and heavy workloads is often inevitable, employers need to take care to ensure their hardworking employees are not at risk of burnout.

  Lucienne Gleeson, Associate at PCC Lawyers says employers should be aware of the legal risks which could arise from employee burnout.

 “These include workers’ compensation claims, broader work health and safety issues, bullying claims and, in the most severe cases, potential tortious liability for breaching the duty of care owed to employees,” Gleeson told HC Online.

  Gleeson says more psychological injuries are being claimed from workplace related incidents than ever before.

 “Adjustment disorder and major depressive disorder are on the rise, although notably a significant portion of such claims are rejected as not being due to unreasonable management action or not being work related,” she says.

  Employee burnout can have a series of repercussions in the workplace, with short term impact of exhausted and stressed employees can result in demotivation and higher than average sick days.

  And Gleeson says employers could experience long term image and culture problems if multiple employees in a work environment are experiencing burnout, which can have adverse consequences for recruitment and client relationships.

  She says employers must take care to minimize legal risk when dealing with employee burnout.

 “If burnout is raised and not properly handled, particularly if you have an employee complain about an issue such as their longer working hours or their manager’s behaviour, and you fire them, for such complaints this could result in an adverse action claim,” Gleeson says.

  All industries can be affected by employee burnout, she warns, adding that some of the key features which are commonly present and culminate in burnout include working significant over time and dealing with recurrent deadlines with little warning.

  Employees in high conflict or high stakes roles or sectors and who significant changes in workplace systems or practices are also at risk of burnout.

 “The reason no industry is immune from employee burnout it due to the fact that each employee will experience things differently,” Gleeson says.

 “What one employee finds thrilling and mentally challenging, another employee will be highly stressed and anxious about.”

 Gleeson says HR professionals can take some simple steps to try to avoid employee burnout:

  • Work on building employee resilience where possible with training;
  • Make sure your company’s employment assistance program is well publicised and out and used;
  • Check in with employees who appear stressed or exhausted and suggest taking annual leave;
  • Think about implement mechanisms for overly stressed employees such as not checking work emails or having phone calls after hours;
  • Make employees aware of the stressors of a role during the recruitment stage; and
  • Test employee’s ability to handle stress and react appropriately during the probationary period.


From: osha.europa.eu, by: Kirsi Ahola, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.