Workplace burnout


We all have bad days at work but what is “workplace burnout” and how does it differ from just having a bad day?  Mark and I talked about this, Sunday morning on Radio Live this week. (Click here for audio of the interview)

Burnout is a growing area of study, at least partly because it seems to be on the rise.  In fact just yesterday organizations like the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) have begun to ask if we need to an “anti-stress law” in New Zealand…

“Imagine a world where those stressful after-work calls, emails and texts were illegal.
The radical idea is sweeping parts of Europe with calls for an ‘anti-stress’ law in Germany, burnout legally recognised in Belgium and an email-banning labour agreement in France.
Many officials, including the German Employment Minister, believe smartphones and email are creating a dangerous culture where employees are constantly on call and unable to separate their private lives from work, leading to a rise in stress levels and mental illness.
Similar problems exist in the Pacific, with a Statistics NZ survey in 2012 showing one in five Kiwi workers struggle with work-related stress and one out of every 10 are unhappy with their work-life balance.”  (Click here for the whole article)

It’s easy to think of burnout as simply being a result of working too hard.  But the reality is a bit more complicated than that.  It seems clear that both personal and situation factors play a role, and that burnout can happen to the worker in the most menial of jobs, all the way through to CEO’s of large companies.

Researchers have identified six key causes of workplace burnout, and only one of them is over work:

  • Lack of Control over work tasks and role
  • Values Conflict between worker and organization
  • Insufficient Rewards, financial and otherwise
  • Work Overload
  • Unfairness of rules and work policies
  • Breakdown of Community and relationships between teams


And so what are the common signs of burnout?  Well helpfully there’s a list of those too

  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Frustration, Cynicism and Other Negative Emotions
  • Cognitive Problems
  • Slipping Job Performance
  • Interpersonal Problems at Home and at Work
  • Not Taking Care of Yourself
  • Being Preoccupied With Work … When You’re Not at Work
  • Generally Decreased Satisfaction
  • Health Problems


It can be hard to know what to do if you feel burnt out, especially if you work in an unsupportive workplace.  But many organizations have Employee Assistance Programmes, that fund anonymous counselling for staff.  And for some it can be as simple as taking a break from work, and refocussing on home and work outside of life.

However it can also be an oppurtunity to review how and why we work, and to learn some simple stress management techniques, and to better manage those professional beoundaries.  Because even though work and money are increasingly important in this day and age…

“No one ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ ” — Harold Kushner”


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