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Is burnout the responsibility of the manager or the employee?

edited August 2019 in Diagnose

I shared this article from the Harvard Business Review with @Shannon Howard recently, and she brought up a great question: is burnout the responsibility of the manager or the employee?

Burnout is now recognized by the World Health Organization and is defined as "feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy."

Personally, some aspects of my job can be exhausting, but I always go home feeling proud of what I can accomplish at work and excited to get started on new projects. This doesn't negatively impact my feelings towards work, but sometimes I need a break or a helping hand. I know if I have something going on at work or in my personal life that I can go to my manager. Since I don't have any management experience, I was wondering how managers address burnout as well.

I wanted to open this up to the talent optimization community for insights. I think this could be analyzed from a case-by-case basis.


  • Hi Caraline,

    I think a part of addressing burnout is being able to successfully recognize the potential warning signs and understanding the situation.

    I've had the situation where I had an employee who was experiencing burnout- not of her position but of our workplace culture. Working together with my HR team at the team, we were able to transfer her to another store in a similar position.

  • If I had to take a side and choose who is more responsible for Burnout, I’d have to side with the employee and say the employer is liable. Self-awareness is great, and everyone should be aware of who they are and how they are wired, but the employer is in control of virtually everything in the employees work environment.  

    Understanding the behavioral pattern of each team member and understanding how much you may be pushing someone outside of their natural zone is imperative for a healthy environment. This burden falls on the side of the person or company, making the hire or assigning the work. 

  • I think this topic is so important yet so under acknowledged. While I agree that some responsibility falls on the individual to voice their concerns if they are approaching burnout, I do think majority of the responsibility falls on the employer. An employer has to be willing to listen to these concerns and change what they can accordingly. I know not all complaints/concerns can be fixed overnight but some effort needs to be made, especially if these concerns are being raised by multiple individuals within the organization.

    My personal experience with burnout was a perfect example of this. I worked for a company tirelessly for years. At one point, I went 5 months without a single day off and logged an average of 70-80hrs a week. While I loved my role, I was beyond exhausted. I raised these concerns to anyone in leadership that would listen and even provided simple solutions that may reduce the workload or at least better distribute it. I was always met with a "we're going to look into this!" and then the subject was put on the back-burner. It not only affected my morale at work but made me lose faith in the company, which ultimately led to me seeking out other opportunities.

  • All great considerations from all different perspectives. Thank you all for sharing!

    @AJ Cheponis I agree. I think being a thoughtful manager is a great sign of that person looking out for their team, but also an indication of leadership potential at any level.

    I love what Priyanka said about bringing it to the attention of leadership at a company. I wonder if there is any people data around burnout and its causes. Diagnosing a burnout stressor or agitator may help an organization support employees and determine needs (and weaknesses).

  • Great question, @Caraline Winch !

    I'm inclined to say BOTH! On the one hand, it's important for people to practice self-awareness. Often people who are treading water at work (I'm guilty of this, too) are people who take on too much and have a hard time saying on. While managers can help to moderate that, individuals need to take responsibility for setting boundaries. It shouldn't be someone else's job to set and maintain boundaries for another.

    On the other hand, the manager could recognize signs of burnout and work with the employee to prioritize, delegate, and offload work. That's part of a manager's commitment and responsibility to their direct reports.

    Ultimately, if the organization isn't set up to support employees suffering burnout (like @pupadhyay 's org where they kept saying, "We'll look into this."), there's not much a manager can do to help and the employee's best bet is probably to look elsewhere.

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