Skip to navigation
An employee suffering from burnout
5 Min Read

Here’s What the Latest Research Reveals About Employee Burnout


Has this ever happened to you? Your team is working on an important project when the deadline is extended yet again. Then, as assignments near completion, you start to notice a few mistakes. Nothing major, but enough to make you question how thoroughly and accurately the job is being done — particularly since several oversights were made by your star employees.

If any part of this scenario sounds familiar, burnout could be to blame. All of the above are telltale signs of overwork and exhaustion. And it’s impacting far more employees than many managers and leaders realize.

In Emplify’s annual engagement report, we found that a startling 62% of people are currently experiencing burnout at work. Of those employees, 32% experience burnout weekly and 21% contend with it daily.

In fact, the prevalence of employee burnout has become so pronounced that the World Health Organization now classifies it as a growing occupational phenomenon caused by chronic workplace stress.

Burnout has become a big problem. But what can you do to address it? While many organizations have attempted to answer this question in recent years, few have found truly effective long-term solutions.

To help, let’s take a quick look at what you need to know about the issue in 2020.

What does burnout look like in the workplace?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Symptoms include feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, negative feelings toward one’s career, and reduced productivity.

In other words…

Employees are working themselves sick. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as one in three workers report high levels of stress at work. They’re spending more and more hours on the job, and are experiencing all kinds of health problems as a result: depression, impaired sleep, heavy drinking, memory declines, and more. Even heart disease and diabetes have been tied to overworking.

The question we’re often left to wonder is: Where is all this employee burnout coming from?

There are numerous factors that contribute to burnout, and they tend to differ from one employee to another. Still, a couple of major contributors tend to apply in most, if not all, instances.

First, burnout tends to occur when an employee’s workload extends beyond their capacity. As a key driver of employee engagement, capacity plays a big role in the day-to-day. People need to feel equipped to put intellectual and emotional energy into their work. But that’s far less likely to happen when there aren’t enough hours in the day, or when too many tasks are piled on too fast. In these situations, the employee can become disengaged and burn out relatively quickly.

Another contributing factor to employee burnout is a lack of rest. Every worker needs time to rejuvenate and refresh, both by taking advantage of paid time off (PTO) and by finding balance throughout the workweek. But in many cultures, namely those that place a high value on the amount of hours spent working, time away is hard to come by.

That lack of rest can lead to big problems. In addition to the health problems mentioned above, studies show that employees who work 80 hours a week accomplish no more than colleagues who don’t. In fact, historical research has revealed that output can actually increase when employees spend less time on the job.

How does employee burnout impact your bottom line?

The negative health impacts of burnout alone are enough to cause concern. But when you factor in the toll it can take on productivity and profits, the problem becomes even more urgent. For example, consider these findings:

  • Employees who say they very often or always experience burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day, 13% less confident in their performance, and half as likely to discuss goals with their managers. (Gallup)
  • Nearly half (46%) of HR leaders say employee burnout causes up to 50% of annual turnover. (Kronos)
  • Once the workweek starts to exceed 37 hours per week, every 1% increase in working time leads to another 0.9% decrease in productivity. (Global Forum on Productivity)

What’s the current state of burnout?

Employee burnout was one of several key areas addressed in our study. In the course of our research, we discovered that three out of five employees may have negative feelings toward their jobs or be less productive because of burnout.

Unfortunately, burnout isn’t always easy to identify — at least not in the early stages. Your company will need to be proactive about identifying symptoms and addressing issues before they become full-blown problems.

Thankfully, plenty of proven best practices are available for companies looking to address this issue in 2020. In our recently-released report, Emplify’s employee engagement experts take a look at several effective methods, from regularly soliciting feedback to measuring and analyzing engagement scores.