Burnout: symptoms and prevention of burnout

Burnout was cited as one of the top three reasons why young people are leaving their jobs, according to the global survey which found that some 40% of Gen Zers (ages 19-24) and 24% of millennials (ages 28-39) would like to leave their jobs within two years.

According to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and millennial report, burnout is one of the top three reasons why young people are leaving their jobs as 46% of Gen Zers and 45% of millennials say they feel burned out due to their work environments. This burnout is responsible for numerous sick leave, absenteeism, loss of productivity, and a decrease in the level of commitment. Not to mention the consequences for the employer brand! But to prevent burnout in the workplace, you need to start by understanding its causes. Discover our complete guide on burnout at work to take care of the mental health of your employees.


What is burnout?

Physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion

According to the World Health Organisation, burnout is defined as "a feeling of intense fatigue, loss of control and inability to achieve concrete results at work". In concrete terms, the definition of burnout in companies, therefore, corresponds to a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion linked to an increase in chronic stress, which is itself linked to a deterioration in a person's relationship with his or her work (new or unforeseen situation). 

Inadequate working conditions

A drop in motivation and self-esteem can also occur because of a gap between the expectations of an employee (the representation they have of their job) and the reality of their work. The distressed employee will double his or her investment to try to regain satisfaction and self-confidence, while the working conditions are already emotionally demanding. This creates a vicious circle leading to a decrease in commitment to work, with a notable detachment from everything related to the profession and a mismatch between the worker and the job.

Causes of burnout in companies

What are the causes of burnout in companies? Burnout is generally caused by the working conditions and environment from a global point of view:
  • overwork and burnout;
  • lack of organization (undefined objectives, unclear information, contradictory information, etc.);
  • lack of autonomy and recognition ;
  • lack of development opportunities ;
  • conflicts within the framework of work relations (interpersonal conflicts, lack of support from the workgroup, pressure from management, lack of communication);
  • job insecurity.

The employee is exhausted and overworked when faced with a heavy workload, which puts him or her in a state of physical exhaustion that then leads to a state of emotional and mental exhaustion: in cases of severe burnout, this can result in a depressive episode. It is therefore crucial to learn to identify these psychosocial risk factors (PSR).

Symptoms of burnout at work

What is important to understand is that burnout is not a mental illness. Burnout is not a depression, although it is common to end up with one if working conditions do not improve. It is therefore important to learn how to recognize the symptoms of burnout and treat them as quickly as possible:
  • Physical exhaustion: permanent and extreme fatigue, pain (digestive disorders, RSI, insomnia, migraines, muscle tension, and cramps). And even if these physical signs disappear spontaneously, this is not systematically synonymous with a lasting improvement in health.
  • Intellectual exhaustion: lack of energy leading to concentration and memory troubles, difficulties in making decisions, and feeling overwhelmed by the work to be done. All of this affects people's ability to manage stress and reduces their productivity.
  • Emotional exhaustion: emotional emptiness, chronic stress, and anxiety, hypersensitivity (crying spells, anger, despair).
  • Empathy depletion: cynicism, resentment, and coldness in personal and professional relations (impatience, aggressive behavior, tension, etc.), with a tendency for isolation and hostility towards other employees.
  • Loss of interest in the job: reduced productivity, enthusiasm and motivation, frustration and feelings of failure with excessive detachment from the business, and low self-esteem.

People affected by burnout at work also often find it difficult to recover, and periods of rest (evenings and weekends) are not enough to retrieve physical and mental well-being. In personal life, work-related burnout can then lead to eating disorders and addictions (alcohol, drugs, medication). Chronic fatigue can trigger depression, which in turn aggravates burnout.

How do prevent burnout at work?

1. Involve managers

To prevent the risk of burnout as much as possible, managers must take responsibility for the well-being of their teams. It is necessary to adapt management to set achievable goals, ask employees about their mental health and check that their tasks are suitable for them (professional alignment). To reduce stress at work and therefore the causes of severe or mild burnout, it is necessary to create a relationship of trust to allow employees to confide in each other if they feel stressed or overworked: they must feel comfortable refusing tasks that would put them in a situation of overwork or intense stress. Management should take a proactive approach and support employees in solving their problems through a feedback system, with encouragement and rewards for employees' efforts and performance.

2. Promoting professional development

Another tip for preventing burnout symptoms is to allow each employee to develop their professional skills and make a career within the same company. These career opportunities allow employees to project themselves and become fully involved in the organization's performance, which in turn helps to foster commitment and self-esteem. Don't hesitate to offer new assignments that correspond to employees' needs to show them that you care about their well-being and professional development.

3. Eating well in the workplace

According to the International Labour Office, poor food hygiene could cause a 20% decrease in productivity. Eating better is important to improve your mood and therefore prevent burnout. Choose healthy snacks, make your employees aware of healthy eating, offer a balanced catering solution, and create a pleasant and friendly space for lunch breaks.

4. Providing physical activity and well-being in the workplace

Sport has a positive impact on the health of employees and on the performance of the company: physical activity and well-being help to reduce stress and increase happiness. In the context of burnout prevention, a sports activity allows one to take care of one's physical and mental well-being and avoid physical and emotional exhaustion. Whether it is a relaxation and meditation activity or a company sports and team challenge, it is ideal for motivating teams and taking care of their mental health.

5. Raising awareness and educating

Not all employees recognize the signs of burnout even when they experience its symptoms. Raise awareness among your teams through conferences and workshops led by experts: this will help employees to become aware of the importance of this subject, but also to identify and prevent burnout by learning good reflexes (learning to say no, better managing stress, better managing your workload, etc.). In addition, do not hesitate to communicate regularly internally about good practices and good habits to have at work in order to remain productive while listening to the signals of your body and mind.

6. Encourage a work/life balance

With the rise of WFH, hyperconnectivity is on the rise, employees tend to check their email or respond to messages after working hours. Insist on the right to disconnect and lead by example as a manager to ensure that evening remains a time of rest, during which your employees can engage in outdoor activities that do them good and enjoy their loved ones.

7. Improving the working environment

Finally, the last piece of advice for reducing the risk of burnout in the company is to rethink the work environment so that it is conducive to professional fulfillment. For example, you can create a restroom that allows you to recharge your batteries and encourage informal exchanges between teams. Also, encourage team cohesion with team building activities and the organization of internal events: these levers encourage commitment and a sense of belonging.

What are the differences between brownout, boreout and burnout?

Boreout VS burnout

Boreout is a form of burnout through boredom: chronic boreout can be the result of underwork, which leads to burnout characterized by negative experiences, lack of stimulation, or disengagement. Feeling bored at work does not systematically lead to boreout, but this feeling remains a psychosocial risk that can lead to boreout if it is felt too often.

Brownout VS burnout

Brownout is a form of burnout due to the loss of meaning at work: boredom remains the main risk. But unlike burnout and boreout, the worker suffering from brownout remains functional, which also means that his or her malaise may be more difficult to discern. The main cause of brownout is 'bullshit jobs', i‧e. jobs that involve a lot of unnecessary, superficial, and meaningless tasks. The main symptoms of brownout are as follows:
  • feeling of absurdity and uselessness at work ;
  • professional and personal questioning (existential crisis) ;
  • progressive demotivation ;
  • feeling of lassitude ;
  • loss of attention when performing tasks ;
  • deterioration of professional relations (withdrawal, loss of sense of humour, cynicism, etc.);
  • reduced self-esteem ;
  • high anxiety.