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Burnout is about more than workload

Updated: Feb 28

Workplace burnout is a big conversation. And there is good reason – a study by the American Psychological Association revealed that 79% workers are feeling it. My observation is that burnout rates for leaders – who hold space for other’s emotions, lead change, communicate difficult messages and have budget responsibilities – is particularly high.

And all of this has MASSIVE consequences on business (lack of engagement, lost productivity, turnover, conflict and reduced profitability) and personal fulfilment (work impacting our personal life, leading to various impacts on physical and mental health).

Despite the deep importance of this topic, most of the information about burnout focuses on workload – this is an important component – but not the only component of a much more complex puzzle.

Setting aside the hype, if we look to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a scientifically validated burnout assessment tool, we learn that burnout is actually driven by 6 primary areas of our work life.

Below is a list of the areas of work life, as well as some reflection questions to consider if you are someone who suspects burnout on your team, or yourself.

⚙️ Workload - the amount of work in a given time ⁠

Reflection questions: Is the workload reasonable? Are we expecting people (or ourselves) to do “more with less” or are we continually adjusting priorities and accountabilities given the available resources and capacity? Consider how you can apply an "essentialist" perspective of "what are the most important things that need to get done". What are the personal trade-offs and consequences when we don't apply this essentialist perspective to our work?

🖱️ Control - the opportunity to make choices and decisions ⁠

Reflection questions: Do the leadership styles and company policies allow for people to have agency over how and when they do their work? Are there areas where we can create space for people (or ourselves) to have this agency? What conversations need to happen?

💲Reward - financial and social recognition for contributions ⁠

Reflection questions: Do we have a total compensation package that is fair relative to people's contributions? Do we know how each person likes to be acknowledged (think "love languages" for work)? Do our people know how much their work matters? For ourself, do we know what fair compensation is for our role, and are we clearly communicating what our contributions are? Does our boss know how we like to receive acknowledgement?

🫶 Community - the quality of a company's social environment ⁠

Reflection questions: Strong human connection acts as a binding glue in teams, especially during conflict and hard times. What are we doing to architect this connection amidst the “hustle” that occurs in many workplaces? Do our employees know each other as humans, or only by their titles and role? Do we jump right into "business" at our meetings and other gatherings or do we allow space for connection?

🟰 Fairness - the extent to which there are equitable rules ⁠

Reflection questions: Do people perceive that they have an equitable and fair experience, both on their teams, and in their overall work experience? For you as an individual, how is fairness or lack of fairness impacting your engagement and performance? How important is this to you in the big picture of your career?

🧭 Values - the alignment between personal and company values ⁠

Reflection questions: Does the organization (team) clearly communicate its values, and "live them" in its everyday actions and behaviors? Do those values align or conflict with what is important to employees as individuals?

Every single time I share this framework with clients (I share it a lot), the most common response is “I feel so validated”.

Its only once we understand the drivers of burnout, that we can start adapting our leadership and creating solutions to keep people more engaged – and well - in their work.

Email me at if you would like to chat about solutions for your team, or for you.

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