Employee Burnout Part 1: What Is Employee Burnout?

Author: Wellbeing

UK workforces are burnt out and it’s costing us all.

We’re not just talking about the £45 billion annual financial loss, but the talent, potential and overall wellbeing of employees.

What’s more: employers are failing to effectively deal with this challenge. Typical solutions like group stress management, CBT email therapy, employee assistance programs and points-based solutions only kick in once the problem has already taken root. They also offer a one-size-fits-all approach to something that is often so personal.

It’s time to rethink our approach to corporate wellbeing so we can address employee burnout, change our culture and optimise our workplaces.

BetterSpace is the first choice-based intelligent marketplace for employee mental wellbeing. Our solution is closely aligned to the six pillars of mental wellbeing and is backed by expert mental health advisors.

We’re sharing our insight into employee burnout and the toll it takes on the finances and overall health of organisations. Read on to find out more.

What is employee burnout?

Employee burnout is the complete exhaustion of a person’s psychological, emotional and physical resources as a result of workplace stress and job dissatisfaction. As of 2019, burnout is officially classified as an occupational phenomenon and a diagnosable syndrome by the World Health Organisation.

It is often misunderstood and misinterpreted as simply an employee exhibiting ‘bad behaviour’, becoming complacent or experiencing a dip in their performance, as the tell-tale signs and symptoms closely mirror what we understand to be ‘laziness’ or someone ‘being difficult’.


  • Drop in productivity
  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • Absenteeism
  • Fatigue
  • Breakdown in communication
  • Headaches
  • Demotivation
  • Reduced efficiency


If an employee is typically motivated and a strong performer within their team and has recently begun exhibiting these behaviours, there’s a good chance they’re experiencing burnout. 

Employee burnout is also closely associated with employee disengagement, mental ill health and issues with company culture.


  • Burnout accounts for an estimated US$125 billion to $190 billion in annual healthcare costs worldwide
  • It costs employers approximately £1.6k per employee across all industries.
  • This figure is highest in the finance, insurance and real estate industries, costing around £3,300 per employee. 
  • It has also been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.
  • Companies with moderate-to-severe burnout are 376% less likely to have a highly engaged workforce 
  • Burnt out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and nearly three times as likely to start looking for another job.

How many people are burnt out?

In the UK, over half of full-time employees report having experienced burnout at some point in their working lives. 

However, it’s hard to quantify the depth of employee burnout as both employees and employers fail to recognise the signs and symptoms for what they are. Older people in particular are less likely to be familiar with the idea of burnout.

It’s important to look at associated statistics for employee mental ill health, workplace stress and employee disengagement to understand the scale of the problem. 

Cultural differences can also play a role. In Continental Europe, where people tend to prioritise lifestyle over work, only 30% of employees report being affected by burnout. 


  • More than half of people from the UK (57%) have experienced burnout.
  • This figure is 50% in the United States
  • The cost of mental ill health is continuing to rise in the UK to £45 billion in 2020, a 6% increase in three years. 
  • Around half a million people in the UK are dealing with work-related stress
  • 11 million working days are lost each year because of work-related stress
  • Workplace stress and mental ill health account for over half of all sickness absences.

What causes employee burnout?

There are a number of factors that can cause or aggravate employee burnout and every employee is different. Five of the most common causes of burnout are:

  1. Work-life balance: In a digital age, we have constant access to our jobs—and our jobs have constant access to us. Drawing clear boundaries between being ‘on the clock’ or not is more important than ever.
  2. Unclear job responsibilities: Uncertainty is stressful. How can an employee be sure they are meeting their manager’s expectations when they don’t know what is expected of them?
  3. Unmanageable workload: Some workplaces have a mentality of tasks needing to get done at any cost. But the price you pay is often the mental wellbeing of the employee trying to tackle an unrealistic amount of work in a given day, often working overtime to meet deadlines.
  4. Lack of compensation: While everyone would like to imagine that employees work because they care about the company, the reality is that people work for paychecks. During stressful periods, low pay can cause an employee to ask “what’s the point?”.
  5. Favouritism: It’s normal for people to gel easier with some individuals than they do with others. But as a manager, there’s a responsibility to treat everyone equally. Not being the favourite is a breeding ground for resentment.

Of course, not all burnout can be directly attributed to the workplace: 61% of employees who have experienced a mental health problem attribute it to non-work issues. However, this doesn’t absolve the employer of responsibility. Regardless of what is causing an employee to be burnt out, it is in the interest of both the individual and the organisation to act—for financial reasons if nothing else.

Who does it affect?

The short answer: everybody. Nobody is immune to burnout, just like nobody is immune to mental ill health. This includes people at every level of the organisation, from frontline staff to the chief executive.

There are some common denominators between the most affected groups. Unsurprisingly, those who clock in 50+ hours a week are more likely to present symptoms of burnout, as are those in high-stress or public-facing roles. 

Older people report being less affected by burnout—possibly indicating a lack of awareness of the term during the highest-pressure years of their careers, a reluctance to discuss workplace stress or recent changes in workplace culture that have led to a rise in people getting burnt out. Those aged 18-29 are most likely to have experienced it or to know someone who has. 


  • 65% of those aged 18-29 have come into contact with employee burnout. 
  • This is compared with just 26% of people aged over 60. 

Burnout risk increases dramatically when a worker clocks 50+ hours a week and jumps even higher when they log 60+ hours.

Treating and preventing employee burnout

The overwhelming majority of organisations do not have an effective strategy in place for addressing employee burnout. In fact, plenty don’t have anything at all. More than half of organisations rely on employees coming forward about their mental ill health before they put support services in place.

But investing in preventative employee mental wellbeing isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s good business sense. Deloitte found that employee mental health solutions have an average return of £5 for every £1 spent due to improved productivity, lower absenteeism and reduced turnover. 

While there are some so-called ‘quick fixes’, most employers need to dramatically reshape the organisation’s approach to and understanding of mental ill health to break the burnout cycle. 


There are short-term solutions for employee burnout, such as taking time off to rest, but this shouldn’t be the only strategy in place. If that’s the case, employees are taking holiday to recover only to get burnt out again before their next break.

Treating burnout involves solving the issues that lead to it in the first place. If you recognise anything from your workplace in the causes section of this article, this is something you urgently need to address, or else your workforce is on the burnout conveyor belt.


Ideally, we want to stop as many employees as possible from getting burnt out in the first place. This is not what most corporate mental health programmes are designed to do—they are designed to respond to the problem once it has already done some damage rather than prevent it.

Our research shows that employees respond best to solutions that give them options and put them in control of their wellbeing at work. This choice-based model makes them more likely to engage in behaviours that create long-lasting improvements to their wellbeing at work. 

We also need to improve our understanding of mental ill health and the various factors that affect employee wellbeing. There are six main factors which impact our mental wellness—sleep, social interaction, exercise, helping others, meaningful activities and stress management. Imbalance in any one of these areas can put your workforce at risk of being burnt out. 


  • 73% of people who work 50+ hours a week report that their organisation doesn’t offer a programme for deterring burnout or they are not aware of one. 
  • 23% of people say that they would try to overcome their burnout without recourse to support from their company. 
  • Fewer than half of organisations take a preventative approach to employee burnout and mental wellbeing
  • 41% of employees experiencing poor mental health reported that there had been no resulting changes or actions taken in the workplace


BetterSpace is the employee wellbeing platform putting control where it belongs: in the hands of the individual employee. Our groundbreaking solution has been developed with medical and domain expertise and is aligned to our Six Pillars of Wellbeing. BetterSpace empowers your workforce to understand and fulfill their mental health needs.

Want to know more? Contact us today.