Burnout is a widespread phenomenon that impacts most employees at one time or another. According to Gallup, as many as 76% of workers intermittently experience burnout symptoms, which takes a serious toll on employee and organizational well-being.

But what exactly is burnout? Where does it come from? And how can it be addressed?

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” They also clarify that burnout does not currently have a medical condition classification, but is instead called an “occupational phenomenon.” The WHO then goes on to classify burnout with the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Where does burnout come from?

Based on the WHO symptoms listed above, we may hastily pin the cause of burnout on external items, like working long hours, having too many tasks, and not enough vacation time. And naturally, looking at burnout in this way often leads individuals to focus on interventions that superficially address these symptoms-for example, taking a vacation or temporarily reducing work hours. While these kinds of interventions may help a bit, they likely won’t be a cure.

In terms of finding a better way to look at burnout-and to get to the real cause-we need to look at what is happening internally with employees experiencing burnout, rather than looking solely at the external circumstances these individuals are experiencing.

According to Gallup studies, “How people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than hours worked…When people feel inspired, motivated and supported in their work, they do more work-and that work is significantly less stressful on their overall health and wellbeing.”

From this, we learn that burnout has internal and personal components that are just as important-and possibly even more important-than external circumstances. As individuals, the way we conceptualize our experiences matters, and a great deal of burnout could be coming from the personal lens we view our work situation through. So with that being said, how can we start to address burnout from an internal perspective?

Addressing burnout

Before jumping ship on a current job when experiencing burnout, it’s helpful to address the internal influences that may be contributing to the symptoms. This means considering and making interventions around the following:

  • Re-evaluating and addressing how you perceive your work
  • Aligning your work with your values and personal mission to the best of your ability
  • Setting healthy boundaries with your workload, time, and manager
  • Taking breaks when you innately know you need them
  • Prioritizing the basics of health, like getting good sleep and eating well

Sometimes burnout is caused by our own inability to clarify and prioritize the things that are good for us. So start there, and look within to know what will be best for you and your long-term well-being.

What to do when burnout isn’t internal

There are instances where your work environment or manager relationship is really the main factor influencing burnout. Gallup studies confirm this and reveal that managers play a critical role in workplace well-being.

If your manager isn’t on your team, and in turn is doing more harm than good, it might be time to start looking for your next opportunity. But before taking this measure, make sure to do everything you can to improve the situation, especially if there are other positive elements of your job. Be willing to have some hard conversations and consider all the options available to you.

Now, one last important thing to remember is that burnout can sometimes mimic or be mistaken for depression. If you’re experiencing serious symptoms of burnout or depression, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Both conditions are treatable with the right interventions.


If you’re a VEST member struggling with burnout or anything else, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Care Center for support!

You can find access to the Care center by downloading the VEST Care app and entering your organization code. Email us or talk to your HR department to get this code if you don’t already have it.

If you have any questions about how VEST can help you improve your culture and provide your employees with the emotional resources they need through our Proactive-EAP, don’t hesitate to contact us at (866) 258-6688 or go@vesteap.com.

We are here to help!

Disclaimer: VEST content is not therapy and is not designed to diagnose or treat any condition you may be experiencing. Please contact a medical or mental health professional for treatment that is specific to your needs.