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May 13, 2024

Employee Burnout: Signs, Causes, and How to Help

Employee burnout

Amid all the constant changes in business today, signs of burnout are everywhere in the workforce. As the economy continues to rebound and employee mobility grows, burnout is a double-edged sword wreaking havoc for organizations, with many employees feeling checked out or looking to leave their jobs. Those who remain are left with picking up the pieces, and that aftermath can cause stress and strain on them as well.

In partnership with The Harris Poll, we recently conducted research designed to gauge the extent to which American workers are thriving, burned out, or ambivalent and what drives those emotional states.

The results confirmed what many employers are seeing – burnout is prevalent – and revealed troubling cracks in the overall employee culture that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve in many organizations.

One of the biggest takeaways was this: 76% of employees and 63% of managers report feeling burned out or ambivalent in their current position. Yet managers aren’t recognizing just how overwhelmed their employees feel, with 89% saying their employees are thriving compared to the actual thriving figure of 24% a more than 3-to-1 discrepancy.

In other words, managers aren’t picking up the signs of burnout among their teams, which means employees aren’t feeling heard and getting the support they need. As a result, many are considering dusting off their resumes or opting to just get by day-to-day.

Throughout this article, we’ll explore some causes of burnout and the nuances we see. We'll also highlight new ways employers can combat the problem and build a stronger, thriving employee culture.

What is Employee Burnout, Exactly?

Employee burnout is feeling mentally exhausted, overwhelmed in one’s current role, less productive than normal, and often lacking work-life balance. Burnout for employees and managers is typically caused by constant change, unnecessary work created by leaders, high turnover, and gaps between values and culture. It results in lost productivity, high turnover, low engagement, and more.

Why Does Workplace Burnout Matter?

Staff burnout is a pressing problem for organizations, yet it is not fully recognized, even after years of research. Leaders sometimes share that they can’t control people’s work ethic or contributions to the company and quickly look to find replacements when turnover rates soar, only to find that the problem continues to repeat itself.

By not recognizing how burnout impacts a company’s ability to attract, retain, and engage its workforce, companies lose out on what many believe is truly the key to a thriving company – people who are excited and proud to come to work every day.

Our research found that constant change, unnecessary work, and shifts in focus are the primary reasons for burnout among employees. When not addressed, this can significantly cost organizations.

When organizations don’t address burnout in their organizations, they face:

  • High turnover: 33% of U.S. hiring managers predict employee turnover will increase in 2024, according to a 2023 The Harris Poll study. Studies show turnover often costs companies 50-200% of an employee’s annual salary.
  • Low engagement and lost productivity: Employees who aren’t engaged cost the world $8.8 trillion in lost productivity, which is 9% of global GDP, according to a 2023 Gallup study.
  • Business performance is at risk: 23% more profitability was seen in top-quartile business units than those in the bottom-quartile when comparing employee engagement levels, as reported by Gallup in 2023.

Many companies continue to prioritize productivity and profit over the well-being of their people, not understanding how connected the two are or how serious the consequences can be.

What Are the Causes of Employee Burnout?

Through our research, we learned a lot about what is causing burnout and, conversely, what employees need to thrive. Some of the biggest takeaways from the research are discussed below.

1. Constant Change

Constant change is the number one cause of burnout among employees and managers.

Burned-out employees strongly agree with the following:

  • There is a great deal of constant change – 43%
  • Senior leadership creates unnecessary work – 41%
  • There is a high employee turnover rate in my company – 39%
  • There are limited mental health benefits – 37%

Burned-out managers strongly agree with the following:

  • There is a great deal of constant change – 50%
  • Employees are frequently asked to shift focus throughout the day – 49%
  • There is a disconnect between my employer’s stated values and the workplace culture – 49%
  • Employees are not encouraged, or even discouraged, from taking time away from work – 47%
  • The demands of my job require me to work outside of standard working hours – 47%
  • There is a high employee turnover rate in my company – 46%

Many organizations have tracked the cost of burnout over the years, and recent signs point to the situation becoming even more acute today. As stated above, 33% of U.S. hiring managers predict employee turnover will increase in 2024. Multiple studies find turnover often costs employers 50-200% of an employee’s annual salary in lost productivity and rehiring costs.

The impacts are huge for employee culture, which is increasingly considered one of the most important ways to build a highly successful company for the long term. When turnover is taken seriously and companies prioritize well-being, employees are happier, and everyone who encounters the organization – customers, business partners, prospective employees – feels that.

2. Manager Impact

Our research found that companies need to examine their managers more closely to prevent burnout and promote thriving. We discovered that a manager “invested in their success” is the top driver of thriving employees.

While this kind of personal investment from top leadership is also important for managers, thriving for managers is even more about having leaders who translate business strategy well into their work and have strong communication skills.

Thriving employees strongly agreed with the following:

  • My manager is clearly invested in my success – 61%
  • My manager is empathetic – 57%
  • Senior leadership respects the boundaries of work/life – 56%
  • Senior leadership provides clear direction – 54%

Thriving managers strongly agreed with the following:

  • My manager does a good job translating business strategy into the work I do – 65%
  • Communication from leadership is clear and authentic – 63%
  • My manager is clearly invested in my success – 62%
  • Senior leadership provides clear direction – 62%

How to Manage Employee Burnout

Leaders must do more for employees and managers. They must recognize that well-being is critical to building a stronger and more successful company. It can’t be taken for granted.

Managing burnout needs to happen at every level – from the top of the organization to day-to-day interactions with managers, and we help organizations do just that.


  • Address the perception gap between managers and employees: The research showed a significant gap between how managers perceive the well-being of their employees and their actual sentiments. This perception gap can lead to a lack of adequate support and resources for those who are struggling.
  • Develop robust strategies to manage constant change: One of the top drivers of burnout is constant change, which can lead to change fatigue and put your business at risk. Change cannot be treated as happenstance; plans and intentions must be purposeful and thoughtful.
  • Revisit your DNA and culture, updating as needed: The research showed that employees want a deeper connection between the stated values and workplace culture. Words must match actions, and actions match the words.
  • Invest in building a supportive culture: A key driver of thriving is feeling supported by senior leadership and ensuring employees feel their manager is invested in their success.
  • Adapt to the needs of today’s workforce: The younger generation reports higher instances of burnout driven by interpersonal conflict, toxic work environments, and communication overload.

Beyond what can be done at the executive level to manage and mitigate staff burnout, there’s much that can be done in other core pockets of the organization to make a big impact. Whether you’re a communicator, an HR professional, or a senior leader, consider taking these steps to drive positive change to support a thriving culture:


  • Make it a priority to communicate about well-being as part of the business strategy and as a stand-alone component.
  • Create community and clarify purpose across all communication opportunities.
  • Amplify senior leadership communication so employees feel connected to the direction and purpose of the business.
  • Ensure employees feel heard and valued by holding regular listening sessions in your organizations. This will help you determine the extent of burnout/ambivalence.

HR Professionals

  • Have a plan to equip managers at the individual level by providing proper training, encouraging open communication, and promoting work-life balance.
  • In partnership with senior leadership, revisit your DNA to ensure it reflects the culture you want and assess your culture to ensure it’s bringing to life the DNA. Build a plan to close the disconnects, including refining core behaviors, co-creating new DNA, or re-contracting ways of working across teams.
  • Create mentorship circles for younger employees, enhance conflict resolution training, and set clear expectations about communication practices.

Senior Leaders

  • Actively demonstrate your commitment to employees' success and well-being. This could include clear communication around values, regular well-being check-ins, and an active focus on prioritization. Ask your leaders to do the same.
  • Develop thoughtful change management strategies to manage resistance and build resilience in your business plan. These include clear communication about the reasons for changes, adequate training so leaders at all levels are engaged, and systems that allow for feedback and smart adjustments.
  • Be diligent in prioritizing work across your teams.

We work with organizations often to address burnout, culture, and engagement. If you’re looking for a partner to supplement your team and help you get quick wins and sustaining results, reach out.

The Impact of Employee Well-Being Programs on Burnout

Other key actions that help fight burnout are related to stronger employee well-being programs and initiatives – all designed to promote a stronger workplace culture. According to our research, employees and managers consider the following as important to creating a positive workplace culture:

  • Improved benefits
  • Offering flexible schedules
  • A workplace culture that supports emotional and physical well-being
  • More consistent and clear communication from senior leadership and managers
  • Senior leadership that genuinely wants to empower employees, not micromanage them
  • Senior leadership displaying concern and empathy for employees

Why Leadership Style and Leading with Heart Truly Matters

As we saw through the “Great Resignation,” many employees are reevaluating their relationship with work today and searching for meaningful work situations. This calls for a leadership style that’s much different and more personal than in the past. It also calls for an organizational commitment to overall employee well-being, which naturally means ensuring managers know what to do and how to do it to support their teams.

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, workplace expert and author Jennifer Moss argued that burnout needs to be looked at differently. She says it’s not an individual problem, solved by wellness techniques like yoga and better work-life balance programs. “Evidence is mounting that personal, band-aid solutions are not enough to combat an epic and rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon,” she wrote. “With burnout now officially recognized by the World Health Organization, the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organization.”

Today’s employees have made it clear that tried-and-true tactics alone of offering financial rewards, such as pay raises and bonuses, aren’t going to erase burnout in most cases. A raise is important for some workers and industries and can help drive engagement. However, the majority of employees want more. They want to feel valued and appreciated, intangible assets that many corporations aren’t accustomed to making a priority.

So, how can employers respond to these trends? We recommend two main approaches for improving overall employee well-being: a “heart first” approach to leadership and a greater focus on manager effectiveness.

Taking a Heart-First Approach to Leadership

If companies shift focus to a more Heart First Leadership style, they can better attract, develop, and retain top talent. Heart First Leadership is about leading with authenticity, empathy, vulnerability, self-disclosure, listening, and setting and re-setting expectations. This approach to leadership helps leaders build a strong foundation on which the employee/employer relationship can be built.

A Focus On Manager Effectiveness

Managers may struggle to identify burnout for various reasons, such as lack of training, high workload, or simply not knowing the signs and symptoms of burnout.

Companies can help managers improve by providing proper training on recognizing burnout, encouraging open communication between managers and employees, promoting a culture of work-life balance, and offering resources for mental health support.

Companies must prioritize the well-being of their employees and provide the necessary tools and support for managers to effectively address burnout in the workplace.

One of the best ways to help managers get started is to encourage well-being check-ins with their team. We have two resources to help with this:

The Power of Charting the Course for Culture Change

A global marketing organization's new CEO and leadership team knew they needed company culture to change to survive. The old ways of working were no longer serving the company – they were increasingly a disadvantage. They tapped us to guide the change efforts on this journey, including:

  • Working with the leadership team to align on a strategic framework
  • Engaging leaders and employees to co-create a shared mission, vision, values, and behaviors that they believed in and owned
  • Codifying the new strategy and culture in a branded and memorable way
  • Equipping the top 100 leaders to champion the culture and new ways of working with an experiential
    workshop, culture Field Guide, and gamification

The organization launched its new culture and behaviors before a major crisis and change struck – and it was just in time. Because they did the research and identified compelling and authentic values and behaviors, they were able to rally around the new culture, using it to unite teams worldwide in the face of enormous challenges. Instead of just being “words on a poster,” the new culture strengthened the company and is now an integral part of how they work.

Examples of Programs that Work to Fight Burnout

We’ve seen companies make considerable strides in helping their employees feel a much greater sense of thriving, even amidst a lot of change that otherwise might bring high burnout. 

Some of our favorite examples include the following:

Boosting inspiration and connection

Associates at a global pharmaceutical company were experiencing change fatigue, which resulted in rising feelings of uncertainty and anxiety – all impacting burnout. To address this, we worked with them on “A Dose of Inspiration” event, which served as a reset moment to pause and acknowledge changes, recenter on the mission, and inspire associates about the future of the organization and their role in that success. A mix of internal and external speakers helped everyone find inspiration from their patients and one another. A post-event survey provided revealing insights into the power of coming together as a company around a shared mission to inspire associates and have a positive impact.

Enhancing manager effectiveness

We worked with a leading national accounting firm to develop a creative solution for enhancing manager effectiveness. We developed a high-performance “leader playbook,” which clearly defined what it means to be a great leader at the firm. We created the guide in just one week in collaboration with a group of high-potential leaders, who provided the core concepts, strategies, and tips as part of a leadership training experience. The guide was designed with beautiful infographics and images, making it highly accessible and a reliable go-to resource for emerging leaders at the firm. It provided essential strategies, tips, and tools to enhance leadership and communication skills.

Building leader communication capability

In today’s challenging work culture, setting the right tone as a leader goes a long way toward engaging your team. One of the best ways that we’ve found to address this pain point is by building a customized leader communication training and development program. We’ve done this for various organizations, from the aerospace and defense industries to tech, healthcare, medical devices, food, etc. These interactive sessions focus on employees' evolving needs today and how leaders can evolve how they connect with and engage teams in ways that resonate and navigate them through times of change and uncertainty.

The Bottom Line

Our daily work with leaders and recent research on employee burnout drive home just how prevalent burnout is for today’s organizations.

Employees and managers are not ok. And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. Our research underscores that there are proven tactics for moving many employees from disengaged to thriving, with stronger manager/employee communication and relationships and a healthy respect for employee well-being.

When employees feel genuinely supported and that they matter, they not only become less of a turnover risk but also contribute to a high-performing employee culture, thrive, and become one of your company’s greatest assets.

Building a highly engaged organization requires intention, investment, and dedication.

If poor engagement and well-being are big issues in your organization and you need to relook at your culture and DNA to improve metrics like engagement, productivity, and performance, we can help. Contact us today to get started.

How might addressing burnout positively impact performance at your organization?

—David Grossman

Our new research, conducted with The Harris Poll, proves widespread burnout is real. Download the report, Burned Out & Checked Out: What Employees and Managers Need to Thrive, to uncover the biggest drivers of burnout and how to move employees from burnout to thriving.

White Paper - Burned Out & Checked Out: What Employees and Managers Need to Thrive

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