The Concept of Employee Burnout is not a new one in corporations around the globe, but in Eric Garton's recent article, Employee Burnout is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person, a different culprit has been identified. As Mr. Garton points out, the Employee Burnout issue tends to be a challenge "...that companies tend to treat as a talent management or personal issue rather than a broader organizational challenge." In fact, Mr. Garton argues that there are some common organizational causes of Employee Burnout that can be identified fairly readily.

Before we get more into a discussion of the causes of Employee Burnout, it might be useful to understand the breadth and depth of the problem.

Employee Burnout: How Big is the problem?

A January 2017 study by Kronos (The Employee Burnout Crisis: Study Reveals Big Workplace Challenge in 2017) asserts that Employee Burnout is the "...biggest threat to building an engaged workforce in 2017...." The study concluded that "95 percent of human resource leaders admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention." An October 2016 article by the World Economic Forum indicated that the "annual cost of burnout to the global economy..." is an estimated "£255 billion [approaching $500 Billion]. Such costs have led to the World Health Organisation predicting a global pandemic within a decade."

Let's just say, it is not a small problem.

Employee Burnout: Causes and Remedies

So are organizations causing these Employee Burnout challenges? Yes, there appears to be a lot of evidence that organizations, as a whole, and senior executives are bringing these challenges onto their employees. In her World Economic Forum Article, Ms. Tottle refers to the "three main dimensions of burnout according to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the most commonly used burnout scale: exhaustion, cynicism and a sense of personal accomplishment, with exhaustion being the most obviously displayed." The authors of the Kronos study cite several more specific organizational attitudes and burnout factors:

Organizations “burn and churn” talent, making it tough to build an engaged workforce.

According to the survey, nearly half of HR leaders (46 percent) say employee burnout is responsible for up to half (20 to 50 percent, specifically) of their annual workforce turnover.

Almost 10 percent blame employee burnout for causing more than 50 percent of workforce turnover each year.

Though burnout touches organizations of all sizes, larger organizations seem to suffer more. One in five HR leaders at organizations with 100 to 500 employees cited burnout as the cause of 10 percent or less of their turnover while 15 percent of HR leaders at organizations larger than 2,500 employees say burnout causes 50 percent or more of annual turnover.

Too much work and too little pay are problematic, but many issues fueling burnout are in HR’s control.

Unfair compensation (41 percent), unreasonable workload (32 percent), and too much overtime / after-hours work (32 percent) are the top three contributors to burnout, per the study.

Still, HR leaders also identified key burnout factors falling under talent management, employee development, and leadership that should be in their control, including poor management (30 percent), employees seeing no clear connection of their role to corporate strategy (29 percent), and a negative workplace culture (26 percent).

Insufficient technology for employees to do their jobs was identified by 20 percent of HR leaders as another primary cause of burnout. This is more prevalent at larger organizations with more than 2,500 employees, where it was cited by 27 percent of respondents.


There are significant barriers preventing HR from improving retention in 2017.

 Despite 87 percent of HR leaders calling improved retention a critical or high priority over the next five years, one-fifth (20 percent) said there are too many competing priorities to focus on fixing the issue in 2017.

Outdated HR technology is another problem: nearly one out of every five HR leaders (19 percent) reported their current tech as being too manual – i.e., lacking automation of repetitive administrative tasks – detracting from their ability to act strategically to fix big problems.

The C-Suite must step up their commitment, too, according to HR leaders in the study, who say lack of executive support (14 percent) and a lack of organizational vision (13 percent) are additional obstacles to improving retention in 2017.


Despite well documented costs of employee turnover, organizations are more apt to invest in recruiting new employees as opposed to retaining existing talent.

The survey found that 97 percent of HR leaders are planning to increase their investment in recruiting technology by the year 2020, including nearly a quarter (22 percent) who anticipate a 30 to 50 percent increase in such spending.

However, budget was continually cited by HR leaders as a deterrent to programs that would benefit retention of existing talent. This includes 16 percent who say a lack of budget is the primary obstacle to improving employee retention in the next 12 months; 15 percent who say a lack of funding is the biggest challenge to improving employee engagement; and 27 percent who say funding is the biggest hurdle to implementing new HR-related technology, such as tools that would reduce manual or administrative work to act more strategically.

But all of this seems to me to be quite preventable, and, as Dana Wilkie's points out in her January 2017 article entitled Workplace Burnout at ‘Epidemic Proportions’ , "both lack of investment in retention as well as a disconnect between how executives view their workers' engagement and how engaged workers really are" are likely quite significant factors in all of this. Have you ever noticed that senior leaders are really not aware of how bad burnout is? Ms. Wilikie quotes Mollie Lombardi, co-founder and CEO, Aptitude Research Partners, (the emphasis is mine):

Often there is a disconnect between a senior leader in their desire to 'put people first' and what actually gets executed. In a study we did recently, we found that 53 percent of senior leaders felt that performance expectations were clearly communicated, but only 34 percent of the rest of the organization agreed. Forty-four percent of leaders felt that there was a clear, cohesive understanding of the organization's culture, but just 28 percent of the rest of the organization felt the same way."

So maybe that's the key to solving burnout. It seems rather obvious, but senior executives apparently have a lot of work to do to begin to honestly understand the extent of the burnout issue, and, from there, it seems there is a lot of good data now as to burnout root causes, which it is certainly to their advantage to address these root causes.


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