Burnout. Can you afford to ignore it?

I recently gave a presentation about the need to build resilience in the workplace. I discussed shifting the focus of the organizational change management competency within the organization from ‘doing’ to ‘strategizing’ and engaging and equipping a truly capable change network across the enterprise. This network enables the organization to obtain, maintain and sustain resilience.

Anyway, at the end of the presentation a member of the audience spoke up and said: 

“...and where do you expect the money to come from?”

My response: 

“…how can you afford not to do this….today?”

Excuses, excuses

Unfortunately too many organizations are still putting the people side of change to the bottom of the bucket.

The excuses have to stop. 

“…let’s wait until we see what is in next year’s budget….”

“…we have already spent money on quiet spaces in the office…we can’t spend anymore…”

“…this is an HR matter….I’ll let them know…”

"...we have no spend left this year..."

The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Game change

Psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger coined the term ‘burnout’ back in 1974.[1] Despite his clear definition of burnout as a "state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one's professional life” there really hasn't been widespread organizational acknowledgement as this as a real and serious condition.

Burnout copy.jpg

However, the game has changed.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified burnout. In the International Classification of Diseases burnout is listed as ICD-11 QD85.

“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.”[2]


Now that it is an official chronic workplace condition, organizations will have to take it seriously.

Burnout is now in the spotlight. Organizations will be under closer scrutiny in regards to their efforts to alleviate burnout in their workplaces.

A focus on employee wellbeing is no longer a nice to have. This is not the time to wait to take action.

What will you tell shareholders when they ask what action was taken to reduce burnout and improve the bottom line?

What will you tell potential new employees when they ask what action was taken to reduce the burnout they had read about on social media?

What will you tell consumers when they ask what action was taken to reduce burnout that led to a reduction in customer service?

What will you tell the (future) Royal Commission on Workplace Mental Health when it conducts its inquiry? 


In case you are still not convinced, here are some facts and figures about the cost of burnout in the workplace.

Gallup - Global

Organizations are facing an employee burnout crisis. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.

Although burnout has become "just part of the job" for many workers, the hard organizational cost of burnout is substantial: Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job. And even if they stay, they typically have 13% lower confidence in their performance and are half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager.

In short, employee burnout can trigger a downward spiral in individual and organizational performance.[3]

Beyond Blue – Australia

“One in five Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. 

It is estimated that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year.“[4]

Public Library of Science - Global

A 2017 systematic review in the journal PLoS One cited major health risks related to job burnout, like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.[5]

Goh, Pfeffer, and Zenios Research (2015) - USA

“Workplace stress is responsible for up to 8 percent of national spending on health care and contributes to 120,000 deaths a year.”[6]

“The psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees, cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S.”[7]


You cannot overlook the organizational costs of burnout.

When employees are burnt out so are your decision-making, customer service, quality control and innovation motors.

Employee burnout is a consequence of the increasingly fast pace of change today. 

It is preventable if you invest in creating an environment in which your workforce can be resilient in the face of constant change.

Employees will be healthier and happier. Organizations have sustained, long-term productivity and growth.

Organizations that get to grips with the burnout syndrome will gain a distinct advantage over their competitors

You can and should alleviate burnout to improve organizational performance.

You can and should alleviate burnout to improve employee wellbeing.

 It is the right thing to do.

Can you afford not to?








Karen FerrisComment