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Burnout, Management and Mental Health

The Word Health Organization (WHO) expanded their definition of burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” giving credence to a set of conditions that many have experienced but not been able to name. According to WHO, burnout is characterized by "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." Leading executive search firm, Korn Ferry, reports 7 in 10 employees are feeling burnout – a statistic that increased dramatically since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Without proper support, employees dealing with burnout may choose to look for a new job in the hopes that symptoms will decline in a new environment. Managers can retain employees struggling with burnout by leading by example and empowering teams to approach the solution as a group.

Mental health is a topic that may feel off limits at work; many employees don’t feel comfortable sharing personal information like this with even the best of managers. Instead of waiting for employees to come knocking on your door or inbox, managers can proactively take actions to show their team what healthy boundaries look like at work. This may include allowing employees to take time away from work when needed, whether that is for a doctor appointment or a needed mental health day. It can be the little things that help an overwhelmed employee so consider how you can help employees disconnect at the end of the workday. Instead of sending late night emails to your team, try using the “delay delivery” feature. An inbox filling up after hours may put an expectation on employees to respond during their down time. Give staff the ok to focus on other parts of their lives. Rest and recovery are important when dealing with burnout.

Good relationships are built on trust and respect. Practicing transparency with your team when you are feeling down or distracted from your work can lead to a more positive working atmosphere. While sharing something this personal may sound scary at first, your vulnerability will help others feel more comfortable being open with the team as a result. Workers need to give a voice to their concerns and pressures without fear of retribution. Managers can further support employees by showing compassion when employees raise their hand and offer additional support through the company’s employee assistance program.

Finally, managers can encourage their team to tackle self-care as a group. Ask the team to look for opportunities to add healthy activities to the agenda. Add time during your department meetings to practice meditation. Ask members of your team to collect healthy tips to distribute in a weekly email roundup. Create a healthy team mantra that offers a shared mission for the group to circle around. Managers can help employees struggling with burnout by modeling healthy behavior to the team. An added benefit is that these same actions also support a manager who is feeling burnout themselves.


Hayes, J. (November 20, 2020). The World Health Organization Officially Recognizes Burnout as a Medical Diagnosis. Inc.

Knight, R. (March 20, 2019). How to Help Your Team with Burnout When You’re Burned Out Yourself. Harvard Business Review.

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