Workplace Wellness

What is Workplace Burnout and Eight Tips to Help Employees Manage It

Written by Kate

Workplace stress has become an alarmingly common phenomenon, with 44% of workers reporting feeling stressed day-to-day, according to a 2022 Gallup poll. Chronic stress can lead to burnout, which then causes devastating physical, mental, and emotional effects if unchecked. 

In 2007, Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion, burnout, and lack of sleep. When she fell, she hit her head on her desk, broke her cheekbone, and ended up in the hospital. This incident woke her up to the pervasive effects of burnout and made her a crusader against it. 

What is Workplace Burnout?

The term “burnout” was first coined by American psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger in the mid-1970s. He described it as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” The World Health Organization updated its definition in 2019 as a “syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

When it comes to workplace burnout, some key characteristics include:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion. Feeling completely drained with little to no source of motivation or uplift.
  • Cynicism and detachment. Having an increasingly negative, cynical outlook toward one’s job and developing a detached, callous attitude.
  • Sense of inefficacy. Feeling increasingly ineffective and questioning one’s competence, accomplishments, and overall value in the workplace.

Keeping these feelings in check isn’t hard if you know what to look out for – with the first place being the causes. In their book, The Burnout Challenge, pioneering researchers Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter identified key causes of workplace burnout, including: 

  • Excessive workloads
  • Unrealistic deadlines
  • Lack of control and autonomy
  • Job insecurity
  • Organizational changes
  • Inequity at work
  • Insufficient reward for work done
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Communication breakdowns

Eight Tips to Help Employees Manage Burnout

“Burnout is a signal warning you of danger ahead,” Berkeley psychologist Christina Maslach explained in a recent documentary. “If you start seeing problems with burnout, it’s telling you not just who is burning out but why.” Here are eight tips that could help employees manage and prevent burnout in the workplace:

1. Set Healthy Boundaries

An article in the Harvard Business Review notes that the inability to say “No” and mean it is a major cause of stress in many people’s lives. While it may diffuse tension in the short term, it often leads to loss of control, and that’s what eventually leads to burnout. 

Boundaries give you back the power. Whether they’re hard (non-negotiables) or soft (those you’re willing to compromise on), boundaries allow you to make choices that better serve you in the long run. Here’s how you can start: 

  • Clearly define when you are available for work and when you prioritize personal time. 
  • Shut off email/chat notifications in the evenings and weekends. 
  • Say no to excessive requests that would compromise work-life balance. 
  • Protect time for restorative activities like hobbies, exercise, etc.

2. Take Frequent Breaks

No matter how dedicated you might be to your job, you only have so much capacity at any given time. If powerful machines like rocket boosters can and do burn out after extended use, how much more does the body need to rest? 

Research shows that frequent breaks are beneficial to your work as well. For instance, a study by Korpela, Kinnunen, Geurts, de Bloom, and Sianoja (2016) noted increased levels of energy at work in employees who detached from work and took frequent lunch breaks. Other benefits included faster recovery, improved mood, and reduced fatigue. 

Here’s what you can do: Every 90 minutes, step away from your work for 5-10 minutes. Go for a short walk, stretch, or do deep breathing exercises. Use the breaks as mini “recharge” periods.

3. Practice Mindfulness

76% of respondents in the American Psychological Association’s 2022 Stress in America™ survey reported experiencing health impacts, including feeling overwhelmed, due to stress in the preceding month. Of these, 30% said they worried about the future constantly. 

Mindfulness can help you stop worrying. 

Mindfulness training cultivates awareness of the present moment, which can help counter negative thought patterns associated with burnout. Try apps offering guided meditations, or just spend 5-10 minutes per day practicing deep breathing while clearing your mind.

practice mindfulness

4. Move Regularly

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity.” The benefits of regular physical activity include reducing stress, boosting mood, lowering the risk of depression and anxiety, and helping you sleep better, among others. 

Aim for movement breaks every few hours – even just a short walk or some stretches at your desk for a quick endorphin release. 

5. Identify Stressors

Get specific about what triggers burnout for you – whether it’s persistent interruptions, deadlines, difficult colleagues, etc. Articulating your personal stressors is the first step to managing them better.

6. Communicate Concerns

To quote an old adage, “a problem shared is a problem half solved.” Don’t suffer through burnout in silence. Voice workload issues to your manager proactively before they become unmanageable. Suggest possible solutions and check what support is available.

7. Prioritize Sleep

Adequate sleep is necessary to reset the brain and optimize its function. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults need at least 7 hours of a good night’s sleep for efficient functioning. Lack of quality sleep directly impacts your cognitive performance and resilience, making it harder to even cope with minor stressors. In fact, sleep deprivation compounds burnout.

Here are some helpful tips to avoid that:  

  • Aim for seven to nine hours per night, consistently
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine to improve sleep quality
  • Avoid screen time for 1-2 hours before bed, as the blue light can disrupt your circadian rhythms
  • Create an ideal sleep environment: a cool, dark, quiet, and free of distractions like TV/phones

8. Keep a Healthy Diet

What you eat has a direct impact on your energy levels, focus, and ability to manage stress and burnout. Generally, a high-sugar diet with little nutrients is linked to low energy, memory impairment, feelings of disconnectedness, and increased anxiety and mood disorders. By contrast, nutrient and vitamin-rich diets are linked to increased mental resilience, stronger immunity, balanced mood, etc. 

To reap maximum dietary benefits:

  • Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs for lasting energy.
  • Limit processed/fried foods, added sugars, and saturated fats, which can exacerbate fatigue and mood issues.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Dehydration can increase feelings of tiredness and irritability.
  • Skipping meals can lead to blood sugar dips that impair focus. Eat balanced meals/snacks throughout the day.


As we’ve explored, workplace stress and burnout are not just personal issues. They’re organizational challenges that require comprehensive solutions. At IncentFit, we understand the critical role a healthy work environment plays in overall productivity and employee satisfaction. Our range of health and wellness products is designed to support and reward your employees for making healthy choices, from achieving fitness goals to establishing better work-life balance.

Don’t let burnout undermine the health of your employees and the productivity of your organization. Schedule a call with one of our Benefits Specialists today to learn how our tailored wellness programs can help your team thrive. Together, we can build a healthier, more vibrant workplace where everyone can perform at their best.

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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