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Why has burnout hit ‘record levels’, and what can be done to stop it?

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Burnout has hit new highs, according to the experts. This can have damaging effects on workplaces and individuals alike, which is why care must be taken to reduce issues.

According to Gartner’s vice-president of research and advisory, Aaron McEwan, burnout is the worst it has ever been: “We’re seeing record levels of burnout across the whole workforce.”

So, what’s causing this? Well, according to Mr McEwan, it’s “a predictable part of a pandemic cycle”. A cycle that comes in four waves. “A lot of people talk about pandemics coming in four waves,” explained Mr McEwan:

  1. “The first wave is the immediate impact on people’s health.
  2. “The second impact is as the health system … that disrupts the availability of health care.
  3. “The third wave is all of the kind of untreated chronic illnesses that just don’t get addressed, whilst the healthcare system is oriented to the first two.
  4. “The final one, which is believed to have not just the biggest footprint but the longest-lasting footprint, is all of the psychosocial impact of the pandemic.”

All of these factors have come together to place enormous pressure on our workforce: “That’s a combination of mental health issues, burnout, but also what we call psychic or psychological injury,” Mr McEwan said.

There are other issues at play, however. One major one is the state of the economy, which has many people stressed as inflation soars and the cost of living climbs. This is just another offset of the pandemic as the world struggles to get back to normality.

Mr McEwan commented: “A really big component of that is economic injury. So, we know that the whole workforce is dealing with that fourth wave now, and it shows up in lots of mental health issues across the workplace.”

With these issues in mind, there are some positive reactions happening across workplaces. Ongoing support is crucial as people are hit from all sides in stressful and uncertain times.

“Organisations have done a lot to step up to the plate and help their workforces with that. We saw a really significant rise in the provision of mental health support across workplaces,” he said.

While mental health support for employees is a great initiative to assist during difficult times, leaders must remember they are just as susceptible to these issues and need to look after their wellbeing.

“There’s an old saying about cobblers in their shoes. So, HR functions, but also leaders have often put their workforces before them, so they’re dealing with all of those stresses that their workplace are dealing with,” Mr McEwan outlined.

“But on top of that, the whole way that we do work has changed. We’ve gone to this widescale adoption of hybrid and remote work. Leaders had to essentially learn a completely new way of leading their teams in many cases. So, on top of all of the background disruption, they’re also dealing with these massive changes to the workplace and the way work is done.”

He continued: “And then, of course, you’ve got all of this economic instability and volatility, and leaders are obviously at the front lines dealing with how they navigate their organisations through all of that uncertainty. So, no surprise, they’re a bit burned out.”

Addressing workplace burnout among leadership should be a top priority as, if left untreated, it can permeate through the business from the top down.

“It’s just like kids. If the parents are stressed out and arguing, it definitely flows through to the kids. And I think in a similar way, employees definitely pick up when there’s conflict at the senior levels of the organisation, but it’s also going to show up in shorter tempers, a little bit more aggressiveness at work. And there’s some emerging data that suggests that that is being experienced in workplaces,” Mr McEwan said.

Stamping out burnout should be of top importance to both the individual and the business. To help mitigate issues, Harvard Business Review outlined four key steps:

  1. Prioritise self-care.
  2. Shift your perspective.
  3. Reduce your exposure to job stressors.
  4. Seek out connections.



Employees experience burnout when their physical or emotional reserves are depleted. Usually, persistent tension or dissatisfaction causes this to happen. The workplace atmosphere might occasionally be the reason. Workplace stress, a lack of resources and support, and aggressive deadlines can all cause burnout.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.