Employee burnout is a multifaceted problem that requires a holistic approach. Learn strategies that can help support work-life balance and inclusivity in your organization.

Authors: Kevie Mikus Christian Schrader Kathleen Schulz


Constant change and the pressure of too many expectations, in one or more spheres of life, can wear on the mind and body. Though work weariness can be a precursor to job burnout, other sources of stress contribute, and they need to be managed together.

Science has long regarded the body's fight-or-flight response as necessary to learning important adaptive behaviors. Positive stress is common, can support healthy development and usually doesn't last long or have adverse long-term effects. Negative stress, whether acute or chronic, isn't so helpful. As employers increasingly recognize burnout as a top issue, they continue to see that helping employees manage distress is crucial to preventing potential health problems.1

Awareness of the health risks of stress has grown along with employee access to resources for managing it. While effective tools are essential, many employers overlook the opportunity to rethink policies and processes — with the intent of getting to the root of burnout and addressing work-related factors more effectively.

Burnout arises from a variety of influences, and stress from overwork is a key culprit. Specifically, strenuous micro efforts required to meet job expectations often contribute to untenable conditions for employees at the macro level. Misalignment with the organization's views on how work should be done or recognized can be demotivating. And it's especially relevant in an era when flexibility can be a make-or-break proposition for attraction and retention. No less important are interactions with people, support systems (such as technology) and the physical environment. All of these experiences may trigger an emotional response, for better or worse.

Culture counts too. But it's the sum of an individual's unique experiences that either minimizes or maximizes their exposure to stress, their susceptibility to burnout and their resiliency.

6 main causes of burnout: excess workload, lack of autonomy, lack of reward, lack of community, injustice, mismatched skills

Problem-solving through a focus on the root causes of burnout

With many industries and regions still impacted by labor shortages, retention remains a high priority despite economic and labor market conditions that often make a clear path elusive. This goal can also be compromised by cycles of burnout and turnover among employees. Another risk is that investments in attracting and onboarding new talent will leave tenured members of the workforce feeling shortchanged. Strategic decisions aren't any easier for organizations when unfilled roles lead to capacity issues, and the most feasible solution to production gaps is slotting existing staff into vacant positions. Workable solutions for resolving this conundrum, and the tension that comes with it, may require new ways of addressing old problems.

Solutions designed to reduce burnout are abundant. In fact, investments in employees' mental health had already ramped up before 2020 — a trend that accelerated during the pandemic and continues today. One poll taken in 2022 showed that stress and burnout are the most pressing wellbeing concerns for 78% of professionals.3 And a concurrent study found that considering how employers support mental health will be important to 81% of employees when they look for work in the future.4 Based on this information, it's reasonable to speculate that the emphasis on physical and emotional wellbeing benefits isn't likely to change anytime soon.

The availability of adequate resources and programs is a good start, but variety is only part of the solution. Utilization and effectiveness sometimes fall short of expectations, delivering a disappointing return on the investment of employees' time and employers' money. By focusing first on the root causes of burnout in their workforce and supporting employees on their individual journeys with resiliency, organizations are better able to analyze their needs more precisely and preventively address this dilemma through a more targeted approach.

Listening as the starting point for effective work and benefits design

Strong policies and practices enhance the employee experience from onboarding to departure, and when course correction is needed, an analysis of this cycle provides an important baseline. Insights gathered from listening sessions and workforce interviews help lay the groundwork for constructive change. They can tease out high- and low-performing aspects of the employee experience and improve survey design. Narrowing the initial focus to a single population segment, such as a department or critical talent, also makes the process more manageable and educational.

Case studies, among other approaches, apply a broader framework to identifying practical solutions for evolving policies and improving resiliency. Revisiting work design — workload, variety, autonomy, barriers to agile decision-making, etc. — is also essential. Using any and all of these methods, employers can identify quick wins that enhance the employee experience and build momentum toward positive change. When employees have a voice, they're more likely to engage with the organization and stay onboard.

Traditional benchmarking data, combined with an understanding of employee benefit preferences and other qualitative metrics, offers a more complete picture of the optimal benefits package. Global operations has the added responsibility of helping to ensure that corporate policies and employee support tools consider local as well as broader needs. Through close alignment of benefits with employee values, the organization's concern for wellbeing is made more apparent.

Preventing and managing burnout meets employees where they are, helping them succeed in their work and personal lives.

Time away from work is also fundamental to preventing and managing burnout. By reviewing HR data, employers can get insights on paid time off (PTO) behaviors and related topics to include in employee preference surveys. Competitive PTO and leave policies not only consider how many days to allot, but also whether that number will allow enough time to step away and recharge. Importantly, a system and standards that support the use of these days — and encourage employees to fully disconnect — helps to build resiliency and increase retention.

The role of managers and leaders in preventing and reducing burnout

Unpredictable business disruptions are inevitable at some level, but proactive planning and preparation position organizations for success. Protection from accidents and environmental risk supports both physical and emotional wellbeing, while adhering to or exceeding requirements for safe working conditions can help reduce stress and burnout. Wherever work gets done, a commitment to the safety of all employees is paramount.

Employers are realizing the importance of preparing managers to recognize and support the needs of their direct reports as multi-dimensional people, not just employees performing a role. It's evident in the emphasis on emotional intelligence, human skills and personal attributes when hiring executives and other leaders. While innate abilities can vary widely, developing leaders as good stewards of employee wellbeing benefits the entire organization. Prioritizing, enabling and incentivizing leadership styles that reduce work friction help to improve the employee experience and reduce burnout.

When performance or productivity slips, open conversation and collaborative interaction usually leads to better problem-solving. Sharing accountability for issues and showing empathy helps managers bring humanity to difficult situations, and eases feelings of vulnerability for the employee. Dedicated efforts to strengthen professional relationships also empower employees and the organization to realize their full potential.

Respecting personal commitments and cultivating productive environments

Preventing and managing burnout meets employees where they are, helping them succeed in their work and personal lives. A common contributor to stress is the need to care for dependents, which can arise at any time. In this situation, pressure from conflicting priorities often weighs heavily on mental health. Supportive policies, practices and supplemental benefits will offer a measure of relief, allowing employees to cope more effectively.

Goals for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies and practices can only be actualized when they're consistently applied, practiced, evaluated and optimized. Otherwise, mental and emotional health, productivity, and retention and attraction are at stake, and employers risk devaluing their employee value proposition and diminishing the employee experience. Protecting the workforce against harassment and discrimination helps cultivate an inclusive work environment.

Mental health and burnout affect all spheres of life. Because they can't be compartmentalized, eliminating the negative effects of friction, anxiety and stress at work is unrealistic. However, helping to ensure that employees understand their work expectations and priorities, and equipping them with the knowledge and resources they need to meet these goals, goes a long way. When tactical support is needed, awareness of where to find it also alleviates concerns while improving productivity. Incrementally, these steps add up to better health outcomes for both employees and the organization.

Author Information


1"Stress and the Brain," Let's Talk Science, 29 Jul 2020.

2Saunders, Elizabeth Grace,"6 Causes of Burnout, and How to Avoid Them," Harvard Business Review, 5 Jul 2019.

3Gallagher, LinkedIn poll results, Jul 2022.

4 "Workers Appreciate and Seek Mental Health Support in the Workplace," American Psychological Association, Jul 2022.


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