Burnout in the workplace

Business man holding brain-2

By Brie DeLisi

Burnout? It’s all the rage right now… Technology has had both a wonderful and terrible impact on the workplace. We’ve streamlined processes, resulting in the ability to take on more tasks in a day than ever before. Not only that but we are connected 24 hours a day to ensure we don’t miss a thing in the office, our social circles and world news, all at once.
Our brains, which are the same brains originally developed to simply ensure we are fed, sheltered, and mated, are now also dealing with the complexities of juggling responsibilities, concerns of status both socially and at work, financing the present and the future while paying off debts from the past, and don’t even get me started on what Chad said to Karen in the quarterly report out yesterday – the nerve.

The World Health Organization recently linked burnout to chronic workplace stress. The impact of our overloaded brains is directly correlated to our ability to be productive, efficient, and engaged in the workplace. Side effects may include a direct influence on personal fulfillment, quality of relationships and the ability to maintain personal safety (1).

When we experience stress, a couple things happen to the brain: First, the brain releases cortisol to handle the stressful situation (fight-or-flight). This in itself is a very normal and natural occurrence to help us deal with a situation in which our life is in danger, for example: a bear attack. However, in a high energy and demanding workplace that ‘bear’ never goes away, and the excessive amounts of cortisol become a problem for our personal health (2). Second, the brain becomes distracted by the stressors and that means we cannot focus completely on the task in front of us. If an individual is distracted due to a frustrating situation at work, that means that he or she cannot fully focus on activities that directly impact personal safety, for example – driving a car or operating a piece of machinery (3).

Companies are becoming more aware of the impact of this chronic stress on the workforce and recognizing the importance of put both preventive and reactive measures in place. Preventive measures could include reducing pressure by aligning with employee workload capacity and conducting regular check ins with employees to demonstrate that his/her well-being is a priority. Reactive measures include providing workplace assistance in the form of onsite counselors funded by the company. A number of great references are included at the end of this article on how to handle workplace stress and burnout.

At Propulo, we can help your organization identify those workplace stressors through our assessment process. Our approach includes identification of the stressors root cause and help you to develop a strategic plan for how to mitigate those stressors.


1. World Health Organization. (2019, May 28). Mental Health. Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
2. Bernstein, R. (2016, July 26). The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain. Retrieved from Touro: https://www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/
3. Wiens, K. (2017, December 21). Break the Cycle of Stress and Distraction by Using Your Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/12/break-the-cycle-of-stress-and-distraction-by-using-your-emotional-intelligence
4. Herrera, T. (2019, April 8). Smarter Living. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://static.nytimes.com/email-content/SL_12017.html?nlid=85048411
5. Knight, R. (2019, March 20). How to Help Your Team with Burnout When You’re Burned Out Yourself. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/03/how-to-help-your-team-with-burnout-when-youre-burned-out-yourself
6. Saunders, E. G. (2019, July 5). 6 Causes of Burnout, and How to Avoid Them. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/07/6-causes-of-burnout-and-how-to-avoid-them