The complete guide to navigating “workplace burnout”

Workplace burnout is a concept popularised within the past few years. It results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, individual and situational causes, and can be prevented through various measurement practices.

Kathleen Huang


What is workplace burnout - A syndrome conceptualised due to chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

What are the signs of burnout - Burnout symptoms can come in the form of physical signs — irregular sleep schedules, exhaustion, reduced efficiency — or emotional signs — anxiety, decreased creativity, cynicism. 

Causes of burnout - Workplace burnout can be the result of both individual and situational causes, from the lack of control, work-life balance, and low self-esteem to unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, and extreme activities. 

Why is workplace stress skyrocketing - Two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago, and this can be traced back to the surge in remote and hybrid working.

Theories behind burnout - The most common theories behind burnout includes the conservation of resources theory, demands-resources model, social cognitive theory, and developmental process model.

Limitations to measuring burnout - Although measuring burnout is powerful in preventing and reducing its impact, there are limitations in regard to ethical and accuracy concerns.

How to prevent workplace burnout - To most effectively reduce workplace burnout, managers can encourage boundaries, create more relevant roles, be realistic with expectations, recognise contribution, and invest in applications to measure and prevent burnout. 

Our take - With workplace burnout surging, companies should invest in technology devoted to measuring employee wellbeing, workload and burnout risks. This will not only ensure the wellbeing of employees, but improve productivity for companies and reduce employee turnover.

What is workplace burnout?

Although burnout is not a medical diagnosis, it has been recently added into the 11th revision of International Classification of Disease in 2022. 

The ICD defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.

So what is workplace burnout exactly? It is the special type of work-related stress, a state of physical or emotional exhaustion as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

In a recent study from Microsoft surveying 31,000 people across 31 countries, it was found that 55% of hybrid employees and 50% of all remote employees reported feeling lonelier at work compared to before the pandemic. 

Despite the acknowledgement of the benefits and drawbacks of synchronous and asynchronous communication, it's still easy for employees to fall into burnout. 

“The evidence is there that people are tired of feeling disconnected and burned out, and they are seeking a more balanced and health-forward work situation,” says Constance Noonan Hadley —  the Organizational psychologist.

What are the signs of workplace burnout?

Physical signs 

Irregular sleep schedules

A recent study found chronic work stress in burnout subjects struggle more with sleep problems such as insomnia troubles, sleep fragmentation, and non-restorative sleep. These sleep troubles can also be disguised in the form of excess sleep, as fatigue from burnout may result in sleepiness during the day.


When employees suffer from burnout, they no longer experience the rare “rough days”. It becomes harder for burnout employees to get out of bed and start working, and their exhaustion can become more chronic. These exhaustions are non-specific — not tied to specific tasks, projects, or deadline — but rather a state they are constantly in. Overall, negatively impacting their state of wellbeing.  

Reduced efficiency  

Due to the reduction in motivation, problem-solving ability, and attention span due to burnout, workers have to spend more effort to produce the same quality of work. Having to concentrate hard, compounded with the lack of satisfaction in their work, further feeds into the negative feedback loop of burnout. 

Emotional signs 


Frustration comes from feeling disappointed due to the decreased productivity from burnout, and those struggling can become anxious and exhausted about their unfinished task or recent job performance. 

Decreased creativity

Creativity requires a large amount of energy, peace of mind and perspective. This becomes a particular problem when burnt out employees are overly exhausted - they completely lose their creative spark.


One of the most prominent signs of burnt-out employees is their proneness to being cynical. Burnt out employees not only suffer from physical and emotional exhaustion, but they often become cynical about their place of work. They might feel more and more detached from their teams, colleagues, and their work. This ultimately becomes another source of frustration and stress that negatively compounds the effects of burnout.

What causes workplace burnout?

Individual causes 

Lack of control

As humans, we often like to be in control. Control is associated with the ability to achieve desired outcomes, competence and boost wellbeing. So, an inability to influence decisions that affect our job — such as schedule, assignments or workload — can often lead to job burnout. 

Work-life imbalance

If work takes up so much of the employee's time and effort that they don't have the energy to spend time with their family and friends, they might burn out quickly. Difficulties in setting limits and boundaries will add an excessive workload on employees, leading to work-life imbalance and burnout. 

Checkout our blog to find out how employees can maintain a healthy work-life balance here

Low self-esteem

When employees suffer from low self-esteem, it can easily turn into a driving factors in personal lives that can affect work performance. This, in turn, increases work related stress and increase chances of burnout. 

Situational causes 

Unclear job expectations

Without clear expectation of the degree of authority the employee has, or what their supervisor or others expect from them, this might lead to excessive stress and confusion from the lack of expectations. 

Dysfunctional workplace dynamics

With 9-5 work taking up the majority of the day for most employees, being in a dysfunctional workplace dynamic can build up to chronic work stress. Examples of these dysfunctional dynamics may include workplace bully, being undermined by colleagues, or micromanaged by managers. All of which contribute to an uncomfortable and unhappy work environment for employees.

Checkout our blog to find out how to work with different personality type effectively here

Extremes of activity

In different positions or different industries, some professionals may be more prone to burnout given their roles. For instance, if a job is monotonous or chaotic, the employee would need constant energy to remain focused. This might lead to fatigue and job burnout. Or, if the employee is working at the managerial level with the constant need to context switch — to multitask and jump between projects — they also might develop workplace burnout more easily. 

What is the difference between burnout and stress? 

In a survey of over 1000 respondents by Deloitte, 77% say they have experienced burnout at their current job.

Stress is the emotional state one encounters adverse conditions, which usually happens when we are in a situation where we don't feel we can manage or control. Burnout is a condition caused by prolonged exposure to stress. It is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. 

This is partly the driving causes behind the most recent workplace trends — “quiet quitting” among gen Z  in the workplace or deciding to become a digital nomad

Why is workplace stress skyrocketing?

According to a new Korn Ferry survey, nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago. 

“There are many factors that cause increased stress levels at work, including keeping up with changes in technology, increased workloads, and interpersonal conflict,” says Dennis Baltzley — the leadership-development expert. 

One of the biggest pushing forces toward burnout, however, is the increased isolation and loneliness since the pandemic, remote work, and the reliance on communication through tech applications. As human nature craves social connection, when we don't get the amount we need, this can have a tremendous impact on our psychological and physical health. Knowing workplace personality types helps with understanding which employees need more social connections than others.

Theories behind burnout 

Conservation of Resources Theory

Proposed by Dr. Stevan E. Hobfoll in 1989, the basic tenet of the COR model is that people strive to retain, protect, and build resources. If there is potential or actual loss of  resources, then this results in psychological stress.

In the workplace, burnout is likely to occur when resources —tasks or projects — are threatened, lost in unforeseeable situations or a problem is encountered in acquiring new resources.

Demands-Resources Model

The Demands-Resources Model suggests that demands express the needs of work in terms of physical, social and organisational aspects. There is a psychological cost (such as burnout) of these requirements.

According to this model, demands are workload, time pressure, relations with clients, physical environment, and shift work. Resources are feedback, awards, job control, participation, job security and principal support.

Excess demands can lead to burnout in people, and lack of resources can lead to employees breaking away from the work. Therefore, in cases where there is less demand and the resources are sufficient, work engagement and job satisfaction increases.

Social Cognitive Theory

The social cognitive theory states that self-efficacy and burnout impacts perceptions of performance on a specific task. Based on this theory, social support and workload are two important factors affecting burnout.

This is because the Social Cognitive Theory highlights the influence of individual experiences, the action of others, and environmental factor on employee’s health and behaviour. Therefore, suggesting workplace burnout stems from the employee’s perception of the office environment — with causes of burnout being more situational rather than individual. 

Developmental Process Model

In this model, burnout is a three-dimensional construct, including emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment.

The Development Process Model states that emotional exhaustion results from a demanding work environment. This in turn contributes to an increase in depersonalisation, as this is often a coping response. This response often occurs after the emotional resources have been largely depleted.

How is workplace burnout measured?

Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) 

First published in 1981 and now with its Manual in its fourth edition, the MBI is the first scientifically developed measure of burnout and is used widely in research studies around the world.

The MBI measures burnout as defined by the World Health Organization and in the ICD-11.

Using MBI, burnout is assessed using a 22-question test, each item with scores of 7 — from “never” to “daily”. The 22 questions measure three main components: exhaustion (9 items) depersonalisation (5 items) and personal achievement (8 items).

Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI)

OLBI was developed as a measure of burnout, containing statements that cover both ends of the exhaustion-vigor and cynicism-dedication continua. The inventory has been extensively used in research to measure job and academic burnout.

The OLBI [23] is a 16-item burnout instrument that includes two dimensions—exhaustion and disengagement. Items are scored on a four-point Likert scale, ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (4).

What are some limitations to how burnout is measured 


When used correctly, these tools to measure burnout can greatly benefit employees and organisations. However, when used incorrectly, it can result in more confusion about what burnout is.

Even more troubling is the misuse of burnout scores to identify, sometimes publicly, people who are diagnosed as "burnt out" and therefore need to be dealt with in some way. Workplace teams can incorrectly tell others to “seek counselling,” or “your team needs to shape up,” and even “you should quit if you can’t handle the job”. 

Research studies consider this non-confidential use of burnout scores within organisations to be unethical. Given that there is no clinical basis for assuming that burnout is a personal disability, and no evidence for established treatments for it, the use of an individual’s scores in this way is often said to be unethical.


Respondents are almost always self-selected. With this comes potential inaccuracies. This may stem from the fact that non-stressed employees do not feel the need to fill in the survey. Data may therefore become skewed.

Additionally, not everyone who receives a survey is likely to answer it, no matter how many times they are reminded or what incentives are offered. Therefore, it is important to remember that survey-based burnout score is not a 100% accurate representation of all the employees in the company. 

How to prevent workplace burnout?

Encourage boundary

Re-establish the boundary between work and personal life, and communicate these boundaries with teams as employees settle into remote or hybrid work arrangements for the long term.

Reassess roles

If employees aren’t enjoying their work, this can make them feel frustrated and discouraged and set them on a faster path to burnout.

Make the extra effort to communicate the roles of employees and what is expected of them. This is especially important if you have employees working remotely all or part of the time.

Be realistic

Burdening employees with overly ambitious or unclear assignments is the undisputed path to burnout.

Closely communicate and monitor the workplace and encourage your teams  to say “no”. This is one of the most simple yet effective ways to eliminate burnout.

Recognise contributions

Always remember to say “thank you” and congratulate employees if their work deserves recognition. This can go a long way toward preventing work burnout.

Use technology

The root of burnout often stems from employees taking on more than they can handle and over working, resulting in excessive stress that evolves into burnout. 

With innovative solutions, at Omnifia we're measuring creating state of the art technology that enables individuals to measure work-life balance, productivity, engagement, and most importantly risk to burnout.

Our take 

In the US, the Harvard Business Review estimates that the annual healthcare expenditure due to workplace burnout is anywhere from $125 billion to $190 billion. It’s undeniable that stress and burnout has become a huge global problem over the past years. 

Companies can, however, spot the early signs, understand the causes and prevent burnout from impacting their teams.

Tools can be a great enabler for this. Companies can run simple surveys that have been researched by the leading researchers on burnout. They can also use state of the art technology to flag up risks to burnout before it takes hold of a company. However, tools and technology are not magic bullets. They must be used effectively and carefully. Those that have the best practices in place for burnout will hire and retain the best employees, significantly increasing their chances to achieve their business goals.