Woman tired infront of computer

Have you experienced or know someone who has experienced the following?


“I am totally exhausted. I have been going incredibly hard at work for the past several months without a break and I am mentally fatigued. When I took this position, I loved it. Now I really don’t care about what gets done because the leadership doesn’t care. They are just pushing us with no concerns to meet their unrealistic goals. How hard I work does not matter, I feel like I am not progressing and am ineffective.”


The above fits the World Health Organization’s definition of Burn-out:


“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized 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.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”


What are you seeing in your workplace and the organizations you interact with?


Interestingly, burn-out is not classified as a diagnosed medical condition but a syndrome. That syndrome certainly has exacerbated or influenced a number of adverse medical conditions. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and insomnia come to mind immediately. All a drag on workers, leaders, and organizational productivity.


In the past two years, dealing with the pandemic has created a crisis in some professions, the most prominent is health care, documented in numerous studies. Those studies came up with drivers for workplace burn-out. Let’s look at the drivers and see how they translate to your workplace.


There are typically six or seven drivers of workplace burnout:

  • workload and job demands
  • lack of control
  • lack of rewards/recognition
  • lack of community support
  • conflicting values
  • lack of meaning in one’s work


I find this list striking. Why, because every item on the list is influenced by leadership; organizational and personal leadership.

The drivers are a result of workplace culture and how well individuals fit into that culture. Using the table below consider and rate the degree that organizational leadership or personal leadership influences each driver. By organizational leadership, I am referring to the overall leader. By personal leadership, I am referring to each individual’s self-leadership, how they know and lead themselves.


Influenced by
Drivers of Burnout Organizational Leadership Personal Leadership
Workloads and job demands Low———————–High Low———————–High
Lack of control Low———————–High Low———————–High
Lack of rewards/recognition Low———————–High Low———————–High
Lack of community support Low———————–High Low———————–High
Conflicting values Low———————–High Low———————–High
Absence of fairness Low———————–High Low———————–High
Meaning of one’s work Low———————–High Low———————–High



What were your results?


Organizational leadership has a high influence on every driver. Individual disposition and perspective play a part here as well.


Take a moment and reflect on your organization and people. How would they score you as the leader and the organization on the seven drivers?


What does all this mean?


My conclusions. The number one method to combat workplace burnout is through positive effective leadership, organizationally and personally. Typically, when burn-out occurs the approach is to “fix” the individual. I see it as three-fold. First, establish positive leadership that supports a positive culture. Second, leaders need to know those they are leading, their strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and capabilities, and lastly, individuals need to know and lead themselves. Fix the organization and individuals through leadership development.


Leadership is the great differentiator. Well-led organizations focused on the leadership development of their individuals will experience less burnout. They will have less turnover, fewer sick days, greater engagement, and increased productivity.


Burn-out is a completely preventable syndrome that is needlessly costing organizations millions of dollars each year. Where should you be spending your professional development budget?