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What Causes Employee Burnout?

16th Apr 2018
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It’s easy to recognise the final stages when an employee suddenly erupts into an outburst and quits in a fit of anger. The reason behind the outburst may be trivial. But, there’s a reason it’s called ‘burnout’ instead of an explosion.

Employee burnout is an employee’s gradual accumulation of negative emotions towards their careers. It is characterised by fatigue, frequent irritability, anger and resentment directed at their superiors.

More often than not, a burnout isn’t an isolated case - one employee’s grievances can also be shared by other people in the office. In fact, medical expenses from non-executive physical and psychological distress cost up to $150bn a year in the US alone.

To better understand employee burnout, listed below are its two major causes:

1. Overworking - long hours and heavy workload are not uncommon in demanding jobs, but as all things, overworking is dangerous when done frequently and excessively. The more time an employee spends working, the less time they have to attend to their needs and take care of themselves.

Sleep deprivation as a result of fatigue causes depression, headaches, irritability, and increased blood pressure. It also causes lethargy which might lead you to look for quick and convenient sources of energy - unhealthy food, excessive caffeine, and more serious substances.

When unhealthy behaviour becomes a routine, it starts to take a toll on a person. In the long run, overworking might mean more hours in the time card, but it also results in a lesser quality of performance and serious health problems.

2. Mismanagement - high-powered people might consider demanding hours and workload as a challenge, but even the most ambitious of them can be at risk of burning out when overworking is coupled with mismanagement.

Employee burnout due to mismanagement is categorised into two issues: poor administration and poor people management.


Given the diversity of management styles and business plans, it can be difficult to assess whether a company or department is suffering from poor administration. Here are some red flags that generally apply.

  • An overly-complex organisation, red tape, and chain of command
  • Frequent reorganisation and restructuring that forces employees to constantly relearn policies
  • Misuse of resources
  • Too many staff members essentially doing the same job
  • Underutilised or over-utilised employees

People Management

Managing employees is not an easy task. If done incorrectly, it can cause employees to lose interest and loyalty. Here are some actions and characteristics of superiors with poor people management skills.

  • Creates a hostile work environment with inappropriate, unethical, and/or abusive behaviour
  • Poor communication - complaints and suggestions fall on deaf ears
  • Low morale - no incentives, employees are not being recognised for their good work
  • Employees are overworked yet under-compensated
  • Lack of job security

Knowing the causes of employee burnout is the first step towards preventing it. Unfavourable working conditions such as overworking and mismanagement increases stress and health risk and lowers performance. From the management’s perspective, an employee burnout is a wake-up call to do better for its staff.

For the employee, on the other hand, it is a wake-up call to treat themselves better. Compared to their employers, they might not have as much control in a physically and psychologically damaging situation such as this, but it is never too late to ask for help. 

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