Are you Suffering from Occupational Burnout?

portrait gemma collins doyle


EHS Consultant


What’s our normal response now to someone when they ask, “how are you?” For so many, the response is “Good, busy!”. I hear it all the time. I don’t remember the last time I heard a different answer from family, friends or work colleagues. “Busy” has become our default state. It has become our go-to answer in response to how our lives are going. So, as we rush onwards trying to manage our “busy” lives, the more we try to cram into our lives, the more we work the more mental weight, stress and responsibilities we pile on ourselves until we reach burnout.

The most common kind of burnout is of course, occupational. We spend most of our time in the workplace and it is there that can really become challenged in every way, mentally, emotionally and physically.  Burnout in the workplace is obviously bad news for the employee, but also for the company. It is crucial then that both parties understand what it is, how to recognise it, how to prevent it and what to do if it does occur. “Occupational burnout can be defined as “long-term, unresolvable job stress”

What is occupational burnout?

Occupational burnout can be defined as “long-term, unresolvable job stress”

Symptoms can manifest themselves as physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. These usually occur after a long-term period of strain in the workplace, in turn, it causes the employee to begin to detach from their work.

Employees who are suffering from burnout can experience the following:

• Low energy

• Poor sleep patterns

• Tiredness

• Negativity

• Feelings of sadness

• Depression

• Anxiety

• Poor appetite

• Anger

Obviously, the impact of these symptoms effects an employee’s home life, as well as their performance in work and can lead to absenteeism. Burnout can creep up an individual, so it is important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms.

Counting the costs:

Inevitably, there will be financial and performance costs associated with any employee who suffers burnout.

For some employees, burnout will lead to sick days and possibly long-term absenteeism, which will bring obvious costs to the business. However, many employees will soldier on and keep coming into work, even though their heart and soul is not in it, this can impact on their ability to think clearly, their relationship with other colleagues and with customers or clients.

To add to this, an employee’s home life, personal life and health will be negatively impacted, and their quality of life will be impacted in a serious way.

It is also important to remember that in Ireland, under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 2005 and 201, requires employers to prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk.


Causes of Occupational Burnout:

It’s important to remember that burnout goes beyond typical stress. While stress has a part to play in all our lives, burnout goes beyond typical stress.

The following factors can lead to employee burnout:

• An increase in demands
• Loss of resources – such as people, finance, time, equipment and leadership support
• Poor leadership
• Working long hours
• Unrealistic volumes of work or targets

A company has a legal obligation to provide all employees with a safe place to work, this includes ensuring that the workload is realistic and that there are proper resources in place.


How to prevent Burnout:

The first step is always prevention. No one wants to spiral into burnout, as it is can be difficult to reverse.  Prevention should come from both parties, employer and employees.



• Take breaks
• Take holidays
• Make time for hobbies/things they enjoy outside work
• Get enough sleep
• Eat well
• Exercise
• Spend time with friends and family
• Create a task list in work and eliminate any that are not essential
• Inform management if workload or targets are unrealistic



• Promote engagement
• Encourage building networks and support systems
• Be aware of workplace conditions and address any that are adverse
• Create a culture of positive reinforcement
• Make job responsibilities and expectations reasonable and clear
• Commit to an employee health and well-being policy
• Provide a positive culture for employees to voice their concerns
• Encourage employee support systems
• Reward or acknowledge employees for a job well done
• Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) to provide confidential counselling and guidance
• Management training


To sum it up

Burnout has three main elements, which are decreased efficiency, exhaustion and cynicism. It can develop over time, firstly starting with mild symptoms and severe symptoms if left untreated.

We only get one shot at this amazing life, so an employer, make sure you are giving your employees the best possible workplace that will never cause them to experience occupational burnout. For an employee, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, acknowledge the issues and seek help. If needs are, take some time off, re-evaluate your goals, regain your health, get clear on what is acceptable to you from a work point of view.

Consider new employment opportunities and if a new role is what it takes, then make that change.

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