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Protecting your team from burnout

Rahat Joshi
Date Published:
January 2023
minute read
Protecting your team from burnout

"Burnout is a syndrome of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy that’s the opposite to engagement."

That's what American social psychologist Christine Maslach, one of the world’s leading researchers on occupational burnout has to say. So if your team is burned out, it truly has negative impact of their health, as well as their engagement. Let's elaborate a little bit more... if employees are disengaged (that's a huge cost you can calculate here), they’re less productive, more absent, and more likely to quit. If you're curious to find out more reasons to why employees decide to wave goodbye, you should read the Fighting Turnover report.

Burnout clearly is a big problem. Unfortunately, a recent Microsoft study aiming to better understand burnout found that 48% of employees are already burned out at work and 53% of managers are burned out. Managers can and should have a huge positive impact on the team’s wellbeing and team spirit, so it's worrying to see that they sometimes sacrifice their own health.

Let’s talk about how you as a manager can protect your team from burnout, without adding to your own workload. Here’s a checklist of seven questions to ask your team right now.

1. Is your team stressed?

The concept of occupational burnout originated in the 70's but it was in 2019 that the World Health Organization classified it as a disease, describing it as ''a syndrome conceptualizsed as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed''. So stress is an obvious warning sign that your team is developing burnout.

But the thing about stress is, it is only obvious when it’s already really bad. When your team is super stressed, you might notice signs like irritability, arguments ormissed deadlines. Big problems that point to deep underlying issues. If those are the symptoms you’re noticing, burnout is probably not far away. And you’ve got a major job to fix things.  

But stress can be much more subtle. Delaying routine tasks. Headaches. Forgetfulness. Loss of concentration.

Symptoms like this aren’t easily visible – but that’s the whole point of an employee engagement platform like Winningtemp. By regularly gathering feedback from your team, Winningtemp helps you to easily spot the earliest and most subtle signs of stress – and act, to stop them from turning into bigger issues. Our platform suggests what to do next too, so it’s super simple to take control over your team’s well-being.

2. How does your team feel about their workload?

Wellbeing and workload are closely connected. The obvious issue is work overload – when an employee feels their workload is unmanageable, leading to pressure, stress, anxiety, and burnout. Research shows that over 80% of overloaded employees are also at risk of burnout.

Saying that, work underload can also be an issue. If someone on your team doesn’t have enough work, or work that’s far too easy, it can derail their sense of accomplishment – one of the major components of burnout according to the Maslach Burnout Inventory.

Chronic workload issues can point to the need for wider organisational change – for instance, redesigning roles – but managers also have a huge responsibility here. Workload isn’t purely objective: there’s no “perfect” workload.

Work overload or underload also refer to how your team feel about the work they’re assigned. You influence those feelings massively. The better you understand your team’s workload, personal situations, and pressures, the better you can accommodate and support them.

An employee engagement platform should make this super simple, so you can spot workload issues before they turn into burnout.  

3. Does your team feel recognised and rewarded?

Christine Maslach identifies insufficient reward for efforts as another major cause of burnout. And as Deloitte put it, “recognition is highly correlated with improving employee engagement, in turn improving job performance and capturing business value.”

In fact, Deloitte also say that employee engagement, productivity, and performance are 14% higher in organisations with a culture of recognition — driving a 2% increase in margins.

For managers, it’s crucial to understand whether your people feel appropriately recognised and rewarded for their contributions. Of course, there’s factors outside your control here like compensation. But financial rewards aren’t the only thing that matters here.

As a manager, you can create a team culture of recognition where your team members feel appreciated, heard, and valued for the work they do. Not just compensated. Read our guide for eight actionable tips to get there.

4. Does your team trust your organisation & do they feel trusted?

There’s alot of research to suggest organisational trust (or lack of) influences burnout. For example, a rigorous study of nearly 3000 participants across 18 sectors found that trust is a key factor both influencing burnout and turnover. In fact, lack of trust the the number one reason to why employees decide to quit, our latest report Fighting Turnover states.

In the study, both an employee’s trust in their organisation and their perception of the organisation’s trust in them correlated to burnout.

The authors suggest burnout arises from the mismatch of “job demands” with employees’ “resources” to complete those demands effectively – like tools, training, support, and emotional bandwidth. Trust, then, “acts as a resource”, helping employees feel they’re better equipped to handle their jobs.

And that’s where you come in, as a manager. Do your people feel trusted to do their jobs? Do they trust the organisation’s direction and leadership?  

These questions are especially relevant for many businesses right now, as trust-eroding employee surveillance tools become increasingly common. Likewise, crises always put leaders in the spotlight more than normal. One recent study found the cost-of-living crisis is eroding employee trust, for example.

5. Does your team have team spirit?

Team spirit is one of the core factors Winningtemp tracks, referring to the feelings of connection, pride, respect, and loyalty that exist within a team. When team spirit is high, it’s a marker that your team works well together, communicates well, and are ambitious to do well.

This strong sense of community is major ingredient of a high-performing team that supports one another and makes big targets feel small. Great protection from burnout, in other words.

You probably have an intuitive sense of team spirit but it’s helpful to quantify this. That way you can get ahead of emerging issues before they derail the team.

Imagine Sarah feels Jack spoke over her in a meeting, for example. Initially Sarah decides it’s not important and doesn’t raise the issue. But over time, those resentments grow into a bigger, more explosive issue that can damage team morale and make burnout more likely long-term.  

To keep your team on track, you need to understand and resolve the problem right at the start. Not once it’s already become a noticeable issue. But you’re not a mind reader! You need a platform that continuously measures your team’s well-being so you can spot issues instantly.  

6. Does your team feel they’re doing meaningful work?

Meaningfulness is another of the factors our engagement platform tracks. Meaningfulness refers to sense of purpose, including how connected your team feels to their work and motivated to do their best.

Like trust, this sense of purpose acts as another ‘resource’. That is, when someone feels connected and inspired by what they’re doing, they’re better able to cope with the demands of the work. AKA they’re less likely to burnout! And they're also less likely to quit. Our report, ranks lack of meaningfulness as the third most significant factor that impacts turnover - a trend largely driven by younger generations entering the workforce.

It’s the old ‘if you do what you love, work doesn’t feel like work’ saying.  

That’s why McKinsey find that when employees find work meaningful their performance improves by 33%, they’re 75% more committed, and 49% less likely to leave. But given that only 50% of employees say they find their work meaningful, this is an area you should definitely be tracking.

7. Does your team feel they’re treated fairly?

Lack of fairness is another major cause of burnout, according to Christine’s three decades of research. If your team feel you treat some members preferentially, or with bias, they’ll be much more susceptible to burnout and less engaged.

But there’s often a lot of fear around talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. One study found that 55% of people are afraid to talk about DE&I because they might say the wrong thing, for instance. And fairness is such a sensitive topic – it can be hard to uncover employees’ true feelings.

An employee engagement platform like Winningtemp provides a safe, anonymous outlet to bring these topics into the light in a sensitive, non-accusatory way. To support better non-scary conversations and so you can trust you’re doing the right things to create a fair, inclusive team environment.  

Burnout is one of the biggest issues facing the workforce today. But it’s not only employees who are suffering. Managers are also under huge pressure and struggling with burnout: it’s the burned-out leading the burned-out. An employee engagement platform like Winningtemp makes it way easier to be a better manager. Watch our two-minute demo video here. Or…

Looking for more practical management tips? Download the guide now for eight actionable ways to build a culture of feedback and unlock a happier, higher-performing team.

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 Rahat Joshi
About the Author
About the Author
About the Author
Om författaren
Rahat Joshi
Rahat is a Senior People Scientist at Winningtemp. She has a Masters in Industrial Management, with over 18 years experience as an HR/Organizational Behavior professional within a wide range of roles such as Organizational Development, HR Analytics, building and executing people strategies. At Winningtemp, her work centers around bringing a scientific mindset to organizational challenges and translating people data into actionable insights to improve business performance. She applies her HR experience to design solutions that provide a better world of work for employees.

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