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Beating Burnout: Mythbusting and taking action

Beating Burnout: Mythbusting and taking action

Welcome to part two of a three-part series on Beating Burnout. In this second instalment, Robyn Tyler dispels some myths about burnout and shares some actions you can take to help prevent it from taking hold. 

Beating Burnout: Mythbusting and taking action


It's the workplace.

An incredible amount of the focus is on individuals taking action to remain resilient and productive at work. Yes, people have an individual responsibility to look after their well-being. But we can't forget we're part of a larger ecosystem, which is often at the root of the problem.

There's no point treating a sick fish when the water is contaminated. When multiple people are burning out, we need to look for the systemic issues causing burnout and address those.

It's often high-performers

A five- year study in the UK found that the mental health of 20 per cent of the top performing leaders of British businesses was affected by corporate burnout. According to the study, burnout is higher among high achievers or those passionate about their work. Dubbed 'over-achiever syndrome', research indicates that this predominately occurs in 20 to 30-year-olds during the first ten years of their careers.

Numerous high-profile, high achievers have suffered from burnout, although many don't directly call it.

Top NZ business executive Theresa Gattung shared her story in this interview. In 2017 she started to feel "extremely unwell" but was due at a board meeting that afternoon. She collapsed as she walked into the room, an ambulance was called and "that was the start of a year of recovery".

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan also stepped down in conditions that sound much the same as burnout. Like many leaders, he doesn't say it's burnout, but they find ways to say it.

"The role of political leadership does not stop, it's relentless. It comes with huge responsibility that is all consuming each and every day. And combined with the COVID years, it's taken it out of me.

He said, "The truth is, I'm tired, extremely tired. In fact, I'm exhausted."

It's not just that these kinds of jobs tend to be both difficult and subject to public criticism. It's the kind of people who take on those roles. They tend to be ambitious, have a perfectionist streak, and have a strong work ethic – all risk factors for burnout.

When I think about it, we often reward our high performers with more work. High performers are often the ones assigned the most challenging projects. Because they're deemed a top performer, others are constantly asking them for help. The expectations of high performers around mentoring others are also higher. And to whom do leaders tend to give the new projects, high-priority tasks, and the most important work? You got it: high performers. 

A holiday won't fix it

Nearly a quarter of workers say the positive effects of a vacation disappeared immediately upon returning to work. Forty per cent said they only lasted days.

Rest and a complete break from work can help start the recovery from burnout, but it's not enough on its own. A common marker of burnout is taking a break and returning to work just as exhausted. This links back to the fishbowl – you're returning to the same conditions and unlikely to see a rebound. 

What can we do?


Burnout thrives on silence. Talking about burnout is the best prevention. Yet most people don't feel comfortable talking about their well-being at work. Talking about burnout is still taboo at work, and this stigma prevents people from seeking help.

But burnout is a workplace issue. Reducing stigma must be prioritised to minimise burnout rates and its significant human and financial costs.

In medical culture, burnout is highly stigmatised because physicians tend to consider their state of health, especially mental health, as an indicator of their medical competence. A doctor suffering from burnout worries they may be perceived as weak and incompetent.

It's not a leap to realise that stigma for burnout also occurs in other workplaces. This stigma leads to harm. But understanding what burnout is, what causes it, and how to address it can help reduce the stigma and enable people to reach out for the help they need.


Loneliness has a significant impact on our longevity. In terms of our survival, social connection is up there with oxygen. We are hardwired for connection. We desire to feel a sense of belonging that has been crucial to our existence since we were cave dwellers. Feelings of social connection lower rates of anxiety, depression and boost our immune system, self-esteem, and lengthen our life.

When burnout creeps in, your work friends can often bail you out. But you're at risk of isolation when you don't feel a sense of belonging or connection with your workmates. Burnout can lead us to withdraw from social events and conversations with colleagues because we feel too exhausted and/or cynical to attend. Yet ironically, making time for connection is exactly what we should be prioritising.

If you feel stuck in this burnout-loneliness pattern, prioritising connection and fulfilment at work is vital. Even if a friendship feels forced, give it a chance. And do focus your time and energy on the people you can be yourself with and who will support you through thick and thin.

Organisations with a strong community and a thriving culture have a 99% probability of employees feeling like they belong at an organisation. This sense of belonging leads to better retention, higher engagement, and less burnout.

Finally, given we work in a hybrid manner, consider how we keep our culture and connection alive digitally. There's a lot that managers can do to help build positive cultures that are inclusive and where people can feel a sense of belonging, regardless of whether they are in-person, online or hybrid.

Organising work

"How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything – for better or for worse." – Simon Sinek

We often wear busyness as a badge of honour, upholding the idea that work is virtuous, and rest is lazy. In fact, most organisational cultures value doing over being – pushing forward at all costs, a bias for action, the strive for constant growth.

When employees believe their companies think the bottom line is more important than people there's a 185% increased chance of burnout.

To address the burnout problem, the first step is understanding that burnout is about your organisation, not your people.

Yoga, vacation time, wellness tech, and meditation apps can help people feel optimised and healthier. But when it comes to preventing burnout, suggesting that these tools are the cure is dangerous. Employers need to stop blaming employees for not being resilient enough and, instead, change the policies and workplace cultures that cause burnout in the first place.

Out of all the burnout busters, the strategy of organising work has the biggest impact for preventing burnout. How we organise and prioritise what gets done impacts what people do, the quality of work, how many hours are worked, and even the relationship we have to our work. Done right, this will directly address the six main causes of burnout.

In the workplace we can look at the macro level:

  • Technology is often seen as a silver-bullet solution, but careful consideration must be given to how it's integrated into workplace culture. When done well, we can see a 35% decrease in incidences of moderate to severe burnout (refer page 61).
  • Integrating recognition into workplace culture, ensuring it happens frequently and in personal ways, leads to a 44% lower chance to employees suffering from burnout (page 88).
  • Leaders develop in cultures that believe everyone is a leader. These cultures allow everyone to develop leadership skills. When an organisation believes every employee is a leader, it increases the likelihood of many positive culture metrics including success, inclusion, appreciation and wellness. It also reduces the chances of burnout by 55% (page 194).
  • Improving the degree to which people have a say in the way their work is done gives a sense of control and involvement that protects against burnout.
  • Ensuring responsibilities and expectations are reasonable is crucial. This is something especially impacting leaders who feel stretched thin as they face new challenges in their roles and act as 'shock-absorbers' in an organisation. The impact of conflicts between what their leaders want and what their direct reports want leads to a 222% increased chance of burnout for leaders (page 50).
  • How the executive team approaches prioritisation in the organisation impacts workload for everyone. Far too often I see executive teams prioritising too much work and overloading their people and their operation system. The result is slower progress and frustration for all.
  • Looking at processes and systems to ensure people have the resources they need to do the job and can they easily get it done.
  • Paying people what they are worth and recognising that higher pay doesn't decrease burnout. In fact, the pressure that comes from higher salaries can make it worse. Finding other ways to reward can be more meaningful for people.
  • Consulting with leaders on change management plans and giving them the resources to manage change. This reduces the likelihood of them being placed in difficult positions and increases the success of the change.
  • Creating an environment that helps with relationship building and the creation of support networks, both formal and informal.
  • When organisations establish a strong community for their hybrid and remote workers, they create both a better work experience for these employees and positive business outcomes including: employees feeling an improved sense of belonging (hybrid: 5,021% and remote: 1,106%), and a reduction in burnout (hybrid: -28% and remote: -24%) (page 27).
  • A recent study demonstrated the importance of flexible working options for well-being.
  • Commitment to a recruitment process that prioritises hiring for values-match and being committed to these values as an organisation.

We can also look at the manager's role with their direct reports:

Then, as individuals we can think about:

  • What we need to be set up for success in a role and how we can advocate for that.
  • Our ability to make good prioritisation decisions in our work, including prioritising our need for rest and social connection.
  • Our ability to manage up including escalating the need for extra resourcing and asking for the context of how things connect to the bigger picture.
  • How we take care of our whole self.


Part 1: Beating burnout: What it is and what causes it?
Part 3: Beating Burnout: What to do if you think you're burned out


This blog series is inspired by the free webinar Beating burnout (myths, insights and strategies). The recording is available to watch now on our Insights page.

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